Michael Danner is the associate executive director of Church Vitality for Mennonite Church USA.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our lives, including life in the church. One area that has been impacted is pastoral searches. I know of some congregations at the beginning of their pastoral search process. Other congregations were near the end with nothing left to do but have an in-person weekend with their final pastoral candidate. How does a church conduct a pastoral search when physical distancing requirements make it hard to meet in person?
Here are a few things to think about:
- The search committee’s role is the same!
The search committee’s role is to vet potential pastoral candidates in order to provide the congregation with the best possible options for pastoral leadership moving forward. This is important work and the task remains the same — pay prayerful attention to the vision and mission of the church and the gifts and vision of potential pastors.
- Hire Slow!
Who you hire is more important than when you hire! Being without a pastor can raise anxiety, especially at times like this. That anxiety, however, can lead to a rushed decision. I would rather take too much time hiring the right person than take too little time and hire someone who is not as good of a fit. Hiring too hastily will cost you more, in terms of lost momentum and mission, than taking extra time to make a good decision.
- Utilize technology…but trust your instincts!
Many search committee tasks can be done through technology. Zoom interviews, especially early on, are fine. Committee meetings can be done online. However, there are some things that you can only discern in person. Watching a pastor preach on the screen can tell you something, but not everything. Talking to someone through a computer screen can tell you something, but not everything. In my opinion, a face-to-face interview and candidating weekend is important enough to wait. Again, that’s my opinion.
- Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility.
There are no best practices for hiring a pastor during a pandemic. No script. No norms. Nothing for certain. Even though I recommend a face-to-face interview and a candidating weekend, it may be wise and advisable to hire a pastoral candidate without it. How do you decide?
- Is trust of leadership high in your congregation?
- Is your congregation clear on its vision and mission?
- Have you done due diligence at every step in the search process up to this point?
- Do you, as a congregation, have a clear sense of the Spirit’s direction – that isn’t misinterpreted anxiety?
If you answer “yes” to these questions, take an informed risk!
- Creative, creative, creative.
Again, there are no best practices. If your congregation wants to move forward without an in-person engagement, be creative. Congregation members can engage potential pastors via Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. You can crowd source congregational questions, send them to a candidate and have the answer on video. Work with the pastoral candidate to come up with creative ways to engage one another.
- If it doesn’t feel right, wait!
You will lose far more by moving forward when you are not ready than waiting until you are. This goes for the church and the pastoral candidate. When in doubt, wait!
- Call your conference minister!
Please, call your conference minister. They are there to help. They have more experience than the average local church search committee. They are also the person you will call if it goes bad, so get their insight on the front end!
These are some things to think about if your church is searching for a new pastor. If you have a situation that doesn’t fit the above, or a question I didn’t address, email me at MichaelD@MennoniteUSA.org