By Nancy Kauffmann
Pastoral search processes can cause anxiety in congregational members. This anxiety creates a desire to simply find a pastor to fill the pulpit. As a result, the search committee is pressured to find someone as quickly as possible. And if too much time elapses (in their opinion) members may begin to wonder if there is something wrong with them as a congregation.
So the goal becomes filling a position rather than finding the right match for the congregation. The congregation may luck out in spite of the rushed search, but more often than not, the decision is detrimental to the congregation as well as to the new pastor.
Why? For starters, in the rush, God has often been left out of the equation—or at best not given time to work. Congregations settle for who is available rather than who has the gifts needed for the health of the congregation. And finally, the candidate chosen may have felt the same rush as the congregation. They are likely to end up with someone who was simply looking for a job without discerning if he or she is a match for the congregation.
Over the years, I have walked with a number of congregations during pastoral searches. Here are a few things I have observed that make for a healthy and successful search.
- The pastoral search begins by first taking the time to say a proper good bye to the former pastor. Give yourself time to grieve that loss and to let go of the former pastor so that you can fully embrace a new pastor. If the pastor is leaving on a bad note, take time to reflect on what went wrong and own up to the congregation’s part in the situation. Be willing to ask forgiveness of the former pastor.
- Next, assess the health of the congregation. What does the congregation need to work on to prepare herself for a new pastor? This is a good time to “clean out the closet” and lay aside structures, habits, secrets, underlying conflicts and anything else that holds the congregation back from growing in faithfulness to God. Putting the weight on the new pastor to make things better is not healthy for the congregation or for the new pastor.
- Embrace an interim period. This will give you time to work on a sound process for the pastoral search. Work with your conference to assess whether you simply need an interim arrangement of whether you need an intentional transitional pastor to help you work on deeper issues that interfere with the health of your congregation.
- Reclaim or create a new vision that gives the congregation energy and excitement to move into the next chapter of the congregation’s life. Your new pastor will impact that, but it’s a bad sign when a congregation must count on a new pastor for their vision.
- See this process as an excellent opportunity to strengthen the spirituality of the congregation. It quiets the fears and allows the Spirit of God to speak to and lead the congregation in the process. Believe that God is looking after your congregation and will make clear in due time as to who your congregation is to call as your next pastor. Pray daily for the congregation and for the search committee.
- Rely on your conference and conference minister to walk with you during this special time in your congregation’s life. Their experience in working with numerous pastoral searches can greatly benefit your process and save you some headaches later. The integrity of the pastoral search process impacts the health of a congregation and its conference.
- Select the search committee carefully. Choose representatives that reflect the congregation’s diversity. Select persons from this diversity who have the gifts and skills needed for the committee and who are willing to serve, rather than grudgingly accepting the assignment because they were asked or because no one else wanted to do it.
- Take the time needed to discern who the next pastor should be. This time should be spent assessing if you have a common theology, similar values, similar expectations, and similar commitment. Give time for mutual self-disclosure to each other and to learn the heart of the other.
- The Ministerial Offices of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada have developed a resource packet for congregations entering into a search process.
As you begin your search may you trust that God has a plan for you. Trust that God is at work within your congregation, your search committee, and within the person who will be called to serve as your pastor. Blessings.