A Search Committee Is Not a Stealth Committee

We are in the process of getting a new search committee off the ground at University Reformed Church. Since Ben Falconer, our associate pastor, left this summer we have been down a permanent staff person. After taking several months to get our bearings, we are ready to form a committee and get the search process going to “replace” Ben. (If you are a URC member, you’ll be getting an update on Sunday, October 11 and a chance to hear more about the process and provide input on October 25.)

I’ve taken the opportunity before (both on my blog and in person) to recommend Chris Brauns’ excellent book When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search Committee: Biblical Principles and Practices to Guide Your Search. Although the book is geared for committees looking for a senior pastor (which is not our situation), this a valuable resource for any church looking for any ministry staff position.

At one point, Brauns highlights ten common mistakes churches make when looking for a pastor. Number seven on his list is “inadequate communication,” which refers to communication with the congregation and communication with the candidates. From personal observation and anecdotal evidence, I find that most churches understand the need to communicate with their people but don’t give nearly as much thought when it comes to communicating with the people applying for the job.

Our new search committee is just getting off the ground. We have an excellent chairman and a top notch group of lay people who have agreed to serve on the committee. At our first meeting, I gave a little speech that went something like this:

Let’s make sure we are extremely courteous and professional in communicating with applicants (when the time comes). While some people may apply for any and every ministry job they can find, more often than not people submit their application with a prayerful mix of excitement and apprehension. It’s a big deal to throw your hat into the ring for a new job. People may naturally start thinking about life in a new place or what they would do in their new job. Some applicants will apply eagerly, knowing they need or want a new job, while others will apply reluctantly and with many reservations. But everyone who applies will be very interested to hear where they are in the process. This means not stringing people along and not letting months go by with no communication. This means we should be as transparent as we can with our estimated timetable. Let’s make a commitment that even if people are disappointed not to get the job, they will feel like our church cared for them well and communicated clearly throughout the search process.

People know that these things take time, but there’s no reason we can’t say “Thanks for your application. Our next meeting is in two weeks, we should have more information for you then.” And then whether you have new information or now, follow up in two weeks. Search committees should be confidential committees, but not stealth committees. They should establish a regular pattern of updating the congregation and a consistent plan for communicating with every applicant every stop of the way. We aren’t loving others as we would want to be loved if we let candidates wonder for weeks whether their application was received and then let them languish for months wondering if the committee has made up its mind.

Communication has never been easier so there is no excuse for churches not to be more professional in this area. A quick phone call or a brief email is all that may be necessary to keep a candidate from spinning out a hundred “what if” scenarios in his mind for another month. Of course, the committee doesn’t need to divulge their own private conversations or concerns, but they should be able to let people know in a timely fashion whether they are in or out and what they should expect next.

Simply put, don’t leave the congregation or the candidates in the dark. Inform, educate, update. While the final decision will be a secret until the end, the process doesn’t have to be.