When it comes to calling a pastor/minister/priest, some ecclesial traditions have an appointment process (a bishop or someone in authority sends a new minister to a congregation), while others use some form of congregational call. Such is the case with my own tradition. In such cases, a congregation will likely form a search committee, and then, possibly, in concert with what some call "middle judicatories," the congregation will put together a congregational profile. Then, candidates will be matched with a congregation based on this profile. Then the real work begins, as the committee goes through the profiles of candidates, hoping to find someone who will fit their perceived needs. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't.
Having been on the "other side" of the Search and Call process, I have my own sentiments. No process is perfect, because the people involved are far from perfect. We hope both candidates and search committees have a good sense of what is needed, but that's not always the case. From a candidates perspective, it’s not always easy to see red flags. The same is likely true on the other side. We all put on our best faces.
Gary Straub, a Disciples of Christ minister and consultant, has offered a brief but helpful book of "tactful advice" to search committees. I would add, that the advice given here might be of interest to those on the "other side" of the process. Knowing how the process is supposed to work, as well as how it often doesn’t work, will be very helpful to both parties in this dance.
In this book, Straub takes the reader (search committee member?) from the point of "ministerial farewells" to the ever-present possibility of "buyer's remorse." He covers the role of interims, the transitional period, confidentiality, the need for fun and prayer, gathering of names, use of Skype (my last time through the process was in 2008, and we started with a phone interview), which is becoming more popular, site visits, getting to yes, negotiating, care and feeding of ministers (along with some other important points along the way). The book closes with a set of devotional reflections that can be of use in search committee meetings, another chapter with "Twenty Questions" that need to be on the mind of the committee, and then finally a list of additional resources.
The key to this book is Straub's reminder this is not simply a hiring process. It is a sacred process, in which a congregation is discerning who best fits who they are as a congregation as well as who they hope to be. Therefore, he makes regular mention of the need for prayer to cover the process. He also brings an interesting perspective to the conversation, in that he is a consultant to the "Bethany Fellows" project, which is an effort within the Disciples of Christ to help young clergy launch. He is aware of the difficulties many face as they enter a new realm of life. This comes through regularly in the book, as he tries to help committees recognize the needs and concerns that young clergy have, especially as they enter a first call. He brings into the conversation reports from candidates who have found the process less than satisfying. I expect that most clergy have a few stories about how things ought not to be done, much of which centers around a lack of communication. I have a few stories of my own.
There are several items that I found helpful. Among them is recommending that committees keep in good contact with candidates (see above), keeping them informed about where things are at in the process. I have had a couple experiences where I thought I was in the running, and I was waiting further conversation. Then I didn't hear anything. What I discovered was that the congregation was talking to another candidate, and it seemed as if I was being kept in reserve. It would have been better if they had told me that they were moving on, at least for the moment. The fact that the candidate they chose didn't last long may have been a sign that they were not totally in sync as a congregation. There is also good advice on matters of compensation, reminding congregations that often you "get what you pay for." One caution is that congregations tend not to be self-aware about their ability to afford a full-time pastor with seminary training. He suggests that it takes a congregation with over one hundred fifty in attendance to afford such a person. In many denominations today, including my own, a clear majority of congregations are under that mark (including my own). I don't know what this will mean in the long run, but it is something to keep in mind (both on the part of congregations and candidates).
I'm at the point in my ministry where I don't expect to go through this process again. But, looking back, I think that this book would have been quite helpful to congregations with whom I had contact. It probably would have been helpful to me as a candidate as well, simply to know what to expect. Finally, it’s my sense that middle judicatories should read this book so they might be better prepared to match congregations and clergy. Yes, this will prove useful!