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4 Things I Wish I New Before Hiring A Pastor

Updated: Sep 28, 2021


I have hired a lot of ministry staff. Hundreds of volunteers, dozens of paid interns and multiple pastoral staff including being part of a Lead Pastor hiring process. Internal promotions, external hires, use of search firms, networks and search committees. I have learned from mistakes; others input and have also hired successfully and celebrated others hires. I continue to learn.


What do I know now that I wish I knew before my first pastoral hire?


This question came to me recently and I had a lot to say. I don’t know if I was helpful though because it came out a bit disorganized. I don’t want to fumble it again because it is a great question and should be taken seriously. This is the result of that conversation. I am oversimplifying with the belief that I can be more helpful with less words.


Here are 4 of my go to tips before hiring any ministry position:


1) Establish the ground rules for the process

Church hiring can end up becoming very complicated because many people involved in the hiring of pastors may be experts in hiring practices in the marketplace, but have never done pastoral work or hired a pastor. They have never had to navigate the theological implications of a church hire. Even most pastors have never had to hire more than a few people in their entire career.


Those responsible for hiring in pastoral situations often err either by using only marketplace practices or disregarding all business practices to come up with their own way of doing things. Neither is complete.


My suggestion is to ask for outside help. Ask other churches, search firms, consultants, and seek out denominational resources. Be extremely transparent with staff and congregation before and during the process with anything related to the search. This includes basics like the job description and reason for the hire. Use best business practices to avoid glaring HR mistakes, but then be very clear that hiring a pastor is unlike any hiring decision this group has made before.


2) Hire people not skills.

This one is extremely easy to get backwards. A good job description describes what needs to get done with a list of skills or abilities needed. Then a search team evaluates sermons or other abilities to see if they can do the job. Caution. This is exactly where great search teams to often go sideways on a hire. Consider a job description that address both the skills and character in tangible ways beyond what may already exist.

When you focus on the person before the skills you remind yourself that ultimately pastoral success is not sermon downloads, social media following or even charisma.

This person will deeply impact the community you are asking them to come serve. Would you trust them to care for your aging parents? Would they with loving boldness confront sin in a fellow elder? Do they submit to others? In their presence are you blessed? I have found Patrick Lencioni’s writing in the Ideal Team Player excellent as he outlines a hiring practice looking for those who are: Humble, Hungry, and People Smart. Think holistically. Ask for help.


3) Hire like-mission rather than like-minded people.

Like-minded people can finish each other’s sentences, cheer for the same team and very often have similar childhood experiences. In middle school we call it a clique, in college a fraternity and in other group settings an echo chamber. If you look around the room and see a hiring committee that is more of a good ‘ol boys clubs than a diverse spirit filled team realize that will impact your hire. They are interviewing you at the same time you are interviewing them.


Like-mission people have bought into a way of reaching people, a way of reading scripture and a way of being together that is more naturally cross cultural. Churches throughout a city or even across the world who think nothing alike can align on a mission. When you hire based on a clear mission and values, you will find a more diverse group of people applying that could contain the right next hire. It could be who God is bringing to help you grow in your next season of fruitful ministry.

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. – Simon Sinek


4) Hire for character over charisma

This ties in with prior, but especially in a celebrity culture it is important to remind ourselves in the church what is most important. We are not hiring a CEO whose main job is vision and fundraising – or are you? Be honest. Consider Jesus, who nearly seemed to avoid crowds. Paul who was routinely stoned and driven out of cities. Would you hire either one of them based on your search criteria? So often we are wowed by incredible stage presence, dynamic preaching, advanced degrees or powerful vocals, but these can actually end up being a detriment if the character of your hire has cracks. Do they model what it looks like to be a faithful follower of Jesus?


If you hire for skills and charisma and find yourself having to fire for character it is messy. Every time. I have seen it too often. You will be questioned why you didn’t see it before the hire. You will be accused of not being gracious because now people love the stage act you hired. There is simply no good exit when confronted because the truth is that initially the committee was wowed by charisma in a way that excused character flaws.

Never mistake great gifting with great spiritual formation.
Any process you utilize will need to account for spiritual formation not just spiritual gifting.

Bonus

When it comes to hiring pastorally here is a lot at stake for the church. Let me also highlight how much is at stake for the pastor. They will be moving their entire family. Their spouse will change jobs, kids change schools, they move their home, establish new friendships and all this because they have discerned in prayer the new ministry opportunity is where God is calling them. If the committee does a bad job none of them have uprooted their families to make the move. When you make an offer of a job you are inviting that person into your church family. It is more akin to an adoption than a new car. Commit to treat every candidate as a gift from God to the church whether they ever work for you or not.


Better taking a year to hire than making the wrong hire and regretting it all year.

Reach out if I can help. I would love to hear what you have learned, how I can help your situation and explain how as part of Chemistry Staffing I help churches make great staffing hires. Set up a time here.

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