Fatigue's impact on a new minister's ability to trust

Note: A version of this post was originally published on laurastephensreed.com. It was written to clergy, and it appears here to give search teams both a peek into what their new minister might be experiencing and encouragement to allow their incoming pastor an ample break between positions.

Recently I was coaching a pastor who was two months into a new call. She was excited about her church and its mission potential. She was also enjoying getting to know the people, but she was having trouble trusting them. She was a bit befuddled by this, because there was no overt reason for this hesitation. She hadn’t received any hurtful criticism or significant pushback. When I asked what the lack of trust was about, she thought for a moment. She then named relational fatigue as a key factor. In this pastor’s case, she had taken a full month off – a typical fallow period – before diving into her new ministry. And yet she was recognizing that she needed more time to tend to her (understandably) tender heart after leaving behind parishioners that she loved.

This pastor had just provided perhaps the most powerful testimonial for taking ample time off between ministry positions. We often cite physical and spiritual exhaustion as the primary motivators for spacing out calls. But bringing closure to relationships with people we’ve walked alongside during their personal milestones, with whom we have dreamed and argued, and who have been present for our own ups and downs is hard, good work. It can be overwhelming to think about opening ourselves up to knowing and being known by a whole new congregation. And yet, the bedrock of strong connections is trust, which we do not lend or receive without the willingness to make ourselves at least a little vulnerable.

This is not to say that it’s easy to take long stretches between ministry positions. Personal financial pressures are real. Churches that have been in long search processes are eager for the uncertainty to end and the settled pastor to arrive. (Search teams in particular are known to apply pressure to be on site as soon as possible. After all, the team members know the incoming minister best and are most excited about her arrival!) The new pastor is looking forward to a fresh start in a new setting. But before committing to a start date, consider not only what you need in terms of every manner of recovery, but also what time frame will allow you to enter the system with a readiness for mutual belonging. This is a mindset – a heart orientation – that attends to the long-term missional and financial health of both clergy and congregation.

If you are already in place and find yourself reluctant to trust even in the absence of conflict, then self-care is in order. When we are unable to risk exposure, whether we are new in a call or ten years into our tenure, we need time to rest. We need space for introspection. We need opportunities to view or create beauty. We need relief from the relentlessness of ministry. Because if we have not tended to our own inner lives, we will not be able to offer a quality of presence to others. And if we withhold, then we do not build trust and do not forge or maintain relationships that make bold ministry possible.

In the case of my coachee, we strategized ways to create space and clarity within her current personal and professional realities so that she could increase her capacity to trust. If you find yourself turning inward in your ministry setting, what changes do you need to make so that you can be the pastoral leader God has called you to be?

[Thank you to my coachee, who graciously granted me permission to share her story.]

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

Staff involvement with a senior pastor search

At a church with staff, there are often questions about whether and how staff should be involved in a senior pastor search. Here are some reflection questions to guide those decisions:

What does your polity say (officially and unofficially)? In some denominations there is a policy – or at least an expectation – that staff members serve at the pleasure of the senior pastor. This means that staff, ministerial and otherwise, typically have little to no input into a senior pastor/head of staff search. It’s important to know what your judicatory recommends or requires.

What do you need to know from the staff? Most laypeople don’t know much about the day-to-day operations of a church, much less the details of a pastor’s schedule and the weight of conflicting expectations. Staff could provide essential information that helps shape search criteria and interview questions.

Beyond “need to know” information, how might the wisdom of the staff positively inform the search? Pastoral staff in particular can speak to congregational needs and dynamics that could greatly impact ministerial fit.

How might the staff’s attachment to the search outcome potentially hinder healthy involvement? Staff at a church without a settled senior pastor are stretched thin (having picked up extra duties) and highly anxious (worrying about compatibility with the next senior pastor). And on occasion – if polity allows – a minister on staff might want to be considered for the senior pastor position. As a result, staff involvement might (unconsciously) be shaped largely by self-interest rather than investment in the congregation.

Use your responses to these questions to create clear expectations about what staff involvement with the search will look like: no involvement, information provider, ex-officio/non-voting role, or full member of the search team. No matter what you decide, remember to communicate frequently with staff to let them know how the search is progressing, and thank them often for their ministry during this challenging season.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Setting your pastor up to succeed

Your church has invested a lot of time, effort, and probably money in a ministerial search, and you no doubt want to enjoy a long, fruitful season with your new leader. The interactions the search team and congregation have with the incoming minister throughout the covenanting and start-up processes will directly impact that person’s level of engagement and length of tenure. Consider how you can offer the following:

Motivation. Ministers who feel heard and cared for (emotionally and financially) will be eager to come to work each day and give their best. This will translate into better sermons and Bible studies and more enthusiastic pastoral care.

Encouragement. Ministers who hear not just constructive criticism but also affirmation will see the pastor-parish match as a good one. They will be much less likely to jump ship for other ministry opportunities.

Flexibility. Ministers whose reasonable personal needs and family responsibilities are honored by the congregation will be more fully present when they are at the church. They will be less distracted by the tug of other roles.

Alignment. Ministers who understand (and have agreed to) what the congregation expects will know better how to concentrate their efforts. This prioritization will result in deeper engagement and broader creativity and will make it easier for the clergyperson to empower others in their discipleship.

Small gestures of hospitality around these four areas can make ministers feel focused, energized, and invested for the long term. Constantly be on the lookout for ways to build the clergy-congregation bond.

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash.

New resource: readiness checklist

When it was originally published, the Searching for the Called materials included a list of reasons your church might choose to use them. It did not include an assessment to help congregations assess whether this approach to ministerial searches is right for them. This checklist is now available.

Searching for the Called is best suited for congregations that resonate with the statements below:

There is high trust and good communication among the congregation and its leaders.

While eager to call a new minister, the congregation and its leaders are ready to take the time needed to search well.

The congregation and its leaders understand the search as a spiritual process, one in which God is at work and through which people can grow in relationship with God and one another.

The congregation and its leaders are willing to be curious about what God is up to, to wrestle with hard questions about the church’s past, present, and future, and to be open to the unexpected.

The congregation and its leaders want to encourage all candidates they encounter and bless the larger church through the search process.

The congregation and its leaders view the pastor-parish relationship as one of mutual ministry and care.

The judicatory affirms all of the above and supports the congregation in utilizing Searching for the Called.

[Note that the term “congregational leaders” includes the search team (once formed) as well as such standing decision-making bodies as deacons, elders, vestry, session, board, council, etc.]

Photo by Atish Sewmangel on Unsplash.

Will your church have an intentional or unintentional interim minister?

Among my clergy coaching clients, I’ve noticed a spike recently in ministers who realize they’re doing work that ideally would have been completed before their arrival: helping the congregation grieve the loss of the last pastor, addressing issues with under-functioning (and sometimes outright sabotaging) staff, creating or making long-overdue revisions to basic documents such as personnel manuals and by-laws, right-sizing lay leadership teams, and visioning for the next chapter of the church’s story. This work, which is time-intensive and emotionally draining, can leave clergy wrung out before they celebrate their first anniversary with a congregation. They find themselves asking, “Can I keep up this pace? Do I see myself here long-term?” More than occasionally, the answer is no, and the call these ministers envisioned lasting for many years ends up being an unintentional interim stint.

There are many good reasons to call an intentional interim minister in between settled pastors. Interims expect to enter systems in turmoil, and they are trained to handle the challenges. Interims can manage all the extra pastoral duties (with ample breaks, that is) that come with a highly-anxious congregation because they know their time there is limited. Interims, with one foot in the church and the other out, can offer insights that neither a consultant (outsider) nor a settled pastor (insider) is able to see and voice.

The costs to a congregation of an unintentional interim minister, on the other hand, are high. Full-blown pastoral searches are pricey, not just in terms of money but also time and energy. Severance packages can hamstring a church’s budget. Congregations are often hesitant to invest in the next settled minister, not wanting to get attached to a leader who could turn out to be another short-timer. Throughout all the uncertainty, trust among church members and between members and staff/lay leaders begins to suffer, and the congregation’s focus shifts from mission to survival.

With all the benefits of interim ministry and the downsides of not utilizing this transition resource, why doesn’t every church call one? There are a couple of reasons. First, congregations think the interim is a time to save money on personnel costs. They see stop-gap measures such as a revolving door of guest preachers as a way to protect the budget. Additionally, they want a settled minister in place as quickly as possible because they fear the loss of members and a decrease in giving during the transition.

But the second reason, I believe, is the real one. Churches think that calling an interim minister means that they’ve failed or that they’re unhealthy. There’s a myth that only “messed up” congregations need guided introspection during the time between settled ministers. In fact, it is a sign of health and maturity as well as an investment in the future to call an interim minister. It never hurts to breathe deeply, take stock, and move toward what’s next with purpose – in other words, intentionality.

Photo by Chris Brignola on Unsplash.

Clarifying expectations of your new minister

One of the most effective ways to help your new minister get off to a fast start is to make sure everyone – minister, search team, lay leadership, and congregation as a whole – is on the same page about the shape of pastoral leadership. Here are four key areas to cover:

Ministry definition

What counts as ministry? What work is your minister doing that no one else sees? Where is the minister interacting in a pastoral/professional role with church members and neighbors beyond the church walls?

Availability

How many hours or units of time are you compensating the minister for? How much of that time should be in the office, and what proportion is best used serving and making relationships out in the community? How should the minister make up for missed time off when funerals, weddings, or other special events fall on sabbath days? What is defined as a pastoral emergency, and how are these covered when the minister is unavailable?

Priorities

Where should the bulk of the minister’s time and energy be spent? What are the minister’s particular gifts and passions? What work must be done by the minister, and what can the minister empower other staff and lay leaders to carry out?

Oversight

To whom does the minister answer? What systems are in place for the congregation to share constructive feedback? What are the goals of an annual review, and who facilitates it? Who advocates for and supports the minister?

Clarification of expectations begins pre-call, as church and candidate discern the match and wordsmith the covenant. It continues through the first several months of the new minister’s tenure, and along the way there will be many opportunities (and likely needs) for educating the congregation about what this person’s role in this season of the church’s life will look like. Doing this hard but good work builds trust between parish and pastor and paves the way for the minister's long and fruitful tenure.

Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash.

Introductory webinar recording now available

Searching for the Called offers live introductory webinars on a regular basis. These hour-long sessions cover the story behind Searching for the Called, the unique aspects of this approach to ministerial searches, the applicability of this approach to your context, an overview of the search stages, a website demonstration via a deep dive into one search stage, and search team coaching information.

The advantage of a live webinar is that participants can engage with the presentation and with one another, sharing insights and asking questions. The webinar schedule might not line up well with yours, however, or you might not have an entire hour to spare. For those reasons a 31-minute recorded webinar is now available. The recording addresses the same topics as the live webinar but without the person-to-person interaction. You are invited to view the video and share it with anyone who might be interested.

Helpful principles for getting the word out about your open position

Is your search team unsure where to begin with getting the word out about the ministerial opportunity at your church? Or has the search team started advertising, only to be disappointed by the number or caliber of profiles and resumes received? Perhaps journalist Malcolm Gladwell can help. In his 2000 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Gladwell explores what it takes for an illness, a trend, or a message to go viral. Here are the implications for a ministerial search:

First, notice of your congregation's search needs to reach what Gladwell calls connectors, mavens, and salespeople. Connectors know and keep up with a wide swath of friends and acquaintances, simply because they enjoy the interactions. Mavens seek and share information, eager to improve the lives of those around them through the distribution of what they've learned. And salespeople persuade not just through their words, but also through their way of being in the world. Identify these three types of people in your search team/congregation's circles of influence - and there might be overlap - and leverage their natural amplification tendencies.

Second, ensure the notice about your open position that you give to your connectors, mavens, and salespeople is "sticky." Make it memorable by staying away from generic descriptors about your church ("welcoming," "loving," etc., even though these words hopefully apply to your congregation!) and hooking potential candidates with a compelling story or information about a ministry that is unique to your church.

Third, find the contexts in which candidates who might be good matches for your church are looking for position postings. Use official denominational channels. Buy space or airtime for your search announcement in print/online publications or on podcasts that your kind of pastor might be reading or listening to. Have your connectors, mavens, and salespeople work their contacts at the seminaries whose theologies align well with your congregation's and the conferences that potential candidates might attend. Use all of these outlets to push your sticky search message.

While your open position will not be a great fit for everyone who finds out about it, leaning on connectors, mavens, and salespeople, creating a sticky message, and seeking out the right contexts for identifying candidates whose skills and beliefs line up well with your church's needs will give you an ample stack of potential matches to consider.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash.

How Searching for the Called dovetails with intentional interim ministry

If you have an intentional interim minister in place or are considering calling one, you might be wondering how Searching for the Called fits with the self-study work your interim and transition team will lead. Great question! As a trained IIM, I have designed Searching for the Called to honor the interim process.

The work of the congregation during an intentional interim is to reflect deeply on the church's history, purpose, leadership needs (lay and clergy), connections with denominational and missional partners, and future. Notice that these areas are the focus of "befriending the past and anticipating the future," stage two of Searching for the Called. Follow the link to find reflection questions, best practices, and tools that can complement those that your intentional interim minister brings to the table. There's also an assessment that helps the congregation know when this self-study is complete.

When your interim minister shifts from coaching the church through this time of discovery to encouraging the search team, Searching for the Called utilizes the same intentionality and deep reflection your minister has been urging during the your movement through the five focus points. It helps create a seamless hand-off from transition team to search team and emphasizes the importance of building on congregational discussions. Since many denominations frown upon interim ministers becoming deeply involved in the search, Searching for the Called can pick up the coaching role as needed.

For those who would like to read more about how intentional interim ministry and Searching for the Called work together, check out this summary for interim ministers.

Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash.

Background checks: not the candidate's burden

Before your church extends a call to a candidate, you must run a thorough background check on that minister. This step will help your search team ask necessary questions, give your congregation peace of mind, reduce your church's exposure in case of litigation, and - most importantly - protect vulnerable people in your congregation. (For more information on what this search should include, click here.)

That said, payment for the background check should not be the candidate's burden. A check that includes all the information your search team needs is expensive. As a point of reference, the price tag for the service used by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is $150 per person. If your candidate is a new seminary graduate or between calls, $150 could make a deep dent in cash available for groceries or rent. Practicality and hospitality suggest that search teams build the cost of background checks into the search budget.

There are denominations that require candidates to submit to a background check before their ministerial profiles can enter circulation. In that case, make sure your search team plans to reimburse that expense upon extending a call. A note to leaders in these denominations: please consider shifting this cost to calling congregations or making scholarships available for those ministers who cannot afford background checks. There are excellent candidates who can't even get their information to searching churches because of this insurmountable, initial hurdle.

Photo by Mathieu Turle on Unsplash.

 

 

 

 

Common approaches to soliciting candidates

In some denominations, most or all resumes or profiles come through a national or regional office. For congregations that receive this candidate information directly, however, there are several schools of thought about which applicants to consider:

Everyone. The search team will look at all resumes, whether they were sent directly by the candidate or by someone else on the candidate’s behalf.

Pro: you might find stellar candidates who weren’t on any influencer’s radar.

Con: you might have a tall stack to sort through, with resumes that need a closer read than those who were referred.

Consider: what difference does it make to your search team - if any - when a minister self-refers?  

Only candidates who are not looking. Some congregations don't like to advertise at all. Instead, they look for ministers who are doing good work where they happily serving.

Pro: this minister is likely competent, already being at a church.

Con: there are many great candidates out there who are looking for reasons other than because they are un-callable. (Maybe their positions were downsized, or they were victims of sexual harassment, or they have just not yet found the right fit.)

Consider: would you would want another congregation to lure your (content) minister away?

Only candidates who are referred by trusted sources. It's becoming a more common practice to solicit names from seminary faculty, consultants, and ministers who are friends of the congregation.

Pros: these candidates have built-in references and are well-networked.

Cons: you might get roughly the same list from every source, who in turn might be giving that list to other churches.

Consider: what questions you might ask your sources to uncover less obvious – and therefore a better range of – candidates?

Whatever approach your search team chooses for gathering candidate profiles, consider ministers who would stretch your congregation and remember to be hospitable in all your interactions. Communicate with everyone whose resume or profile you receive, and affirm candidates’ gifts even as you tell them you will not be continuing conversations.

Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash.

What to put on your church website

When candidates find out your position is open, their first action will be to visit your church’s website. For a candidate to begin imagining a future with your congregation, it is essential to have a web presence that is informative and aesthetically-pleasing. Here are some important details to include:

High-resolution photos of church members in action. Use pictures of actual congregants (after asking parents to sign photo releases for the use of their children’s likenesses), and make sure at least some of the photos show people doing something other than sitting in a circle or around a table. 

Statements of identity and direction. Tell what your church values and what goals it is working toward.

Key ministries. How does your congregation connect with the community through giving money and providing hands-on help? What programs exist for the people who come through your doors?

Visitor information. Make it easy for candidates to understand more about your context with a map. Tell them about the culture of your church by sharing expectations about dress, accessibility details, and information for parents. Include a few carefully-chosen photos of the physical plant, such as a view of the church from the road.

Affiliations. A congregation’s denominational and community partners reveal much about its priorities.

Position announcement and related information. Putting your position description, church profile, and community snapshot on your webpage is an inexpensive way to share a lot of information with a wide swath of potential candidates. 

Your church’s website does not have to be expensive or overly-designed. It does need to be regularly updated, easy to navigate, and revelatory. The effort is worth it, not just for your pastor search but also for potential visitors to your congregation.

What would you add to this list?

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash.

Strengths versus skills

When searching for a new minister, it is vitally important to discern what each candidate’s strengths are and how they align with your position description. Strengths are God-given talents. They are central to a person’s identity. They are manifestations of passion and purpose.

Skills are a bit different. We pick up skills through education and experience. They are add-ons. They’re important too, but some skills are better indicators of fit than others. If the skill is built on top of one of my strengths, then it enhances my ability to live fully into my call. If the skill is something I’ve learned out of necessity – not because it aligns with my purpose – then it can actually be a distraction, even if it’s a really useful ability. For example, I have taken several pastoral care classes and spent many hours making hospital and home visits. I’m pretty decent at it. Pastoral care, however, is not my natural gift. It takes substantial time for me to rev up for and recover from this work. If your church needed someone who would spend 10+ hours per week checking on folks, then I would not be your ideal candidate. My energy is increased, though, by coaching people toward action, writing sermons, and attending to details, and I’ve developed a range of skills that build on these strengths. I would thrive in a context that wanted me to preach once a month, plan ministries, proofread newsletters, and coach ministry leaders.

Most candidate resumes and profiles will include strengths, skills that relate to these strengths, and skills that don’t. It is important for your search team to develop questions that distinguish among these three categories. When are you most engaged in ministry? What pieces of ministry drain you? How would you state your purpose in ministry in one sentence?

A great-fit candidate will be one whose strengths, associated skills, and sources of energy match your congregation’s priorities. That minister will be able to give maximum effort and be set up to thrive.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Introducing group coaching for search team leaders

Could your search team use additional guidance through the search process? Would it lower your anxiety to have pre-scheduled opportunities for working through the challenges of the search? Would you like to learn from and share best practices with other search team chairs?

If you answered these questions in the affirmative, I encourage you to sign up for group coaching. On the dates listed below I will walk participants through the designated phase of the search, then open up the conversation for coaching around the opportunities and obstacles each leader is encountering. All sessions will take place from 4:00-5:30 pm eastern.

September 9 - pre-search stages

October 14 - developing the search team

November 4 - designing process and core documents

January 13 - engaging with candidates, part  1

February 10 - engaging with candidates, part 2

March 24 - covenanting with the new minister

This group coaching will take place via the Zoom platform, which only requires an internet connection. The cost will be $100 per person per session, or $550 for all six sessions. If multiple members of your search team want to attend, the cost will be $150 per church per session, or $800 for all six sessions. Note that space is limited.

If you would like take advantage of this learning event in order to increase your confidence and competence for carrying out the search, sign up here. If you would like more information, contact me here. I encourage you to forward this post or this flyer about group coaching to others who might be interested. 

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash.

Welcoming a guest preacher

When your congregation is between pastors, there will be times lay leaders will need to arrange for pulpit supply. Here are some tips for extending hospitality to your guest preacher:

Pay generously, or at least fairly. High-quality sermons generally take at least ten hours to research and write. Do the math and make sure you are compensating a professional with an advanced degree accordingly. Multiply the pay if there's more than one worship service. And if your preacher is coming from out of town, reimburse mileage and cover a hotel room.

Think through what it is reasonable to request a guest to do. Worship logistics vary greatly from one church to another, and there’s a lot that isn’t written on the order of worship. Plus, it's odd for a guest to give the welcome (“Welcome to this church. I’m here for the first time too!”) and greet people coming forward to make commitments at the end of the service. (“I’m happy to invite you into this faith community that I don’t belong to.”) Minimize the potential for confusion and awkwardness by asking the preacher to do only what laypeople or staff cannot. 

Ask if the minister would like to take on particular piece of the order or worship. For example, I like to read the primary scripture text myself, because I use inflection and pacing that set the stage for the sermon.

Make sure the preacher has a point of contact who will be onsite. Give a name and a cell phone number in case your guest gets lost or has car trouble. Let the minister know where to park and at which entrance the point of contact will be waiting.

Physically walk the visiting minister through the order of worship. Related to point #2 above, help the preacher know where and when to sit and walk and stand. Rehearse the communion liturgy, if applicable.

Don’t make the preacher chase down the check. Give payment before worship. That way the minister isn’t worried that getting paid depends on making hearers happy, and the minister doesn’t have to ask to be paid.

Thank your pulpit supply. Many guest preachers do so on top of many other work and personal responsibilities. Appreciate them for taking 10+ hours to prepare a sermon, 1-1.5 hours to be in worship (more so if there’s a second service), and however long to drive to your church.

Aside from the gifts that hospitality offers to your guest preacher, treating your pulpit supply well will let potential candidates for your ministry position know that they should check out your church. (Clergy talk to one another!)

Ministers, what would you add to this list?

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash.

Supporting the pastor-parent, part two

Note: This post originally appeared on laurastephensreed.com. I am sharing it here so that search teams will know what it looks like to have a parent of a young child as a minister. I hope that this peek behind the curtain will allay fears that search teams might have about calling a pastor-parent and will encourage churches to build in more support for these leaders.

Last week I shared my positive experience with a congregation that worked with me so that I could live into my dual calling as pastor and parent. Since then I have heard from several clergy: those whose churches who have made similar efforts and those who have left congregational ministry or are considering doing so because their churches want them to compartmentalize their pastoring and parenting selves.

Sometimes congregations simply don’t know how to support the pastor-parent. Below I have shared a few ways a church can reduce parenting stress so that the pastor can better focus on ministry. I have thrown in some notes on how these actions benefit the congregation as a whole – beyond having a grateful and less frazzled leader.

If your church has a daycare or preschool, offer a reduced rate to the minister. Side benefit: the minister will undoubtedly be more involved in the school and will be a more informed and enthusiastic evangelist for it in the community.

Allow flexibility in work arrangements, such as permitting the minister to work from home or bring a child to work as needed. Side benefit: though it may seem counterintuitive, ministers will likely be more available and productive if they are not spending time and mental and emotional energies on arranging emergency childcare.

Set up a rotation of church parents/grandparents to help the minister’s child(ren) participate in worship – or to care for young children during worship, if there’s no formal nursery. Side benefit: the church will develop more cross-generational communication and investment.

Provide childcare for evening and weekend meetings that the minister must attend. Side benefit: other parents with young children will now be able to participate in those meetings when childcare is a given.

Help the minister manage the congregation’s expectations of the minister’s family. Side benefit: the graciousness extended to the pastor’s children and significant other can reinforce or help establish a church atmosphere in which everyone feels safe to be their true selves before one another and God.

Congregations need not be afraid to call pastor-parents. In addition to their many gifts, these ministers bring a deepened investment in the church as their child(ren)’s faith community, an instant means of connection with parents and grandparents in the church, and a unique perspective on hospitality toward and the spiritual formation of young families. For pastor-parents to call upon these “extras,” though, the congregation must demonstrate its willingness to welcome both aspects of the minister’s identity.

Photo by @nicholasgithiri from nappy.co

Supporting the pastor-parent, part one

Note: This post originally appeared on laurastephensreed.com. I am sharing it here so that search  teams will know what it looks like to have a parent of a young child as a minister. I hope that this peek behind the curtain will allay fears that search teams might have about calling a pastor-parent and will encourage churches to build in more support for these leaders.

I was in congregational ministry for over ten years before my child came into the world. During that decade it was sometimes necessary for my husband (a pastor in another denomination) and me to negotiate conflicts between our calendars, but we were both free for the most part to work odd hours, commit to all the ministry-related trips we wanted, and sleep off church-induced stress and exhaustion.

That freedom came to a full stop when our son was born five years ago. Suddenly I had to become much more thoughtful about my time and energy usage. While my call to ministry was (and is) as strong as ever, I now had a calling to parenthood as well, and my baby’s dependence meant that I had to figure out how to operate pastorally in a new way.

I was between church positions during my pregnancy, but I was ready to begin looking again soon after my son was born. I was extended a call in a congregation that was a great theological fit when he was two or three months old. After much hand-wringing, I turned it down because there were big red flags about the position’s flexibility. Not long thereafter I accepted an offer to a congregation that went out of its way to work with me on my office hours, provide me with reduced-price daycare, and set up Sunday evening childcare. This church got the best I had to offer as an experienced minister/new parent because of this extra effort.

While it is true that caring for wee ones consumes a lot of time and focus, parents can be great pastors. And congregations can promote excellence in ministry (and in parenting) by understanding the following:

Some (many? most?) pastor-parents see ministry and child-rearing as dual callings. They are committed to doing both well. A church can make living toward both purposes much easier…or much harder.

Pastor-parents are better able to focus on ministry if they aren’t always worried about their child(ren) or about how congregants view their parenting. The childcare arrangement that works best for the pastor’s family – whatever it looks like – is usually best for the congregation, even if it’s not what the church members would have chosen for themselves or for their minister.

Every minister will have a different pastor-parent style. Some will want or need to bring their child(ren) on pastoral care visits or to evening meetings. Others might choose to build in more separation between pastoring and parenting.

Pastor-parents typically welcome the congregation’s help and parenting wisdom. We can’t do it all, and we don’t know it all! Criticism of the minister’s child-rearing style and especially of the child(ren) is never welcome, however, and can harm the pastor-parishioner relationship.

The church is not just a pastor-parent’s workplace, it is also the PK’s (preacher kid) faith community. Just like with any other family in the pews, pastor-parents will invest more in the church if the church invests in their children.

Congregational ministry is one of the only callings in which the leader is evaluated primarily on a weekly take-your-child-to-work day. Bear that in mind when a minister’s kid has a meltdown on the front row during the sermon, and respond with compassion both to the child and to the concerned/embarrassed pastor-parent.

Next week I will offer a part two to this post, noting some ways your church can support the pastor-parent, thereby deepening the pastor-parish relationship and giving the minister opportunity to lead with a full heart.

Being church

In the secular world an employee is hired to perform a task, to fill a need. The process for hiring this employee is somewhat utilitarian and transactional.

In the church world a pastor is also called to carry out a particular position description. But beyond bullet points on a job announcement, clergy and congregation are brought together to belong to one another. Unlike in secular work, a minister cannot live fully into the role without developing deep bonds with parishioners, without journeying toward the heart of God with them, without working alongside them to be the hands and feet of God beyond the perimeters of the property. And sometimes the pastor has a family who joins in this belonging as well.

This is why the search for a clergyperson must be approached differently than the search for an accountant, a machine operator, a boat captain, or a cartoonist. A ministerial search is a chance for the search team and congregation to embody all of what we know to be true about Christ and that we hope to become ourselves. To grow in faith and understanding. To offer hospitality. To listen to voices others might dismiss. To work hard yet playfully with our ultimate purpose firmly in mind. To trust and be trustworthy. To face challenges head on. To pray fervently and often. In all of these efforts, we expand our capacity for belonging to one another and to God and make it possible for the new pastor to become one of us.

In short, the search is a chance for the church to be the church. I urge you to seize this opportunity!

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash.

The why behind all the paperwork at the end of a search

You might be wondering why Searching for the Called emphasizes trust-building with candidates (and other affected parties) throughout the process, then pushes for extensive discussion and clarity around the nuts and bolts of the agreement in the covenanting phase. If congregation and clergy trust each other, shouldn’t that be enough? Why do we need to name and put expectations of one another and the terms of call in writing?

Leadership changes. The chair of your search team or governing board might know all the details that went into covenanting and compensation conversations, but what happens when that person is no longer in that position, leaves the church, or dies?

Memory fails us. We often give our recall ability more credit than it deserves. It’s easy to forget or mis-remember, and often the people in the room will later recount the same conversation in divergent ways.

Documents provide touchstones. How is the pastor-parish relationship going? You can compare its current state to the promises you put on paper, then course-correct as needed.

Assumptions breed problems. Unvoiced ideas lead to clashes in expectations, which can quickly escalate.

Transparency breeds even greater trust. Nothing undergirds a healthy relationship more effectively than meticulousness and forthrightness.

Get the details in writing. Your church will save itself a lot of conflict and heartache – which distract from the work of ministry - down the road.

Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash.

The church as candidate

Scenario 1: Your search team is interviewing a candidate by Skype. You’ve told the candidate to expect an hour-long conversation. At minute 57, you ask if the candidate has any questions for the team. The candidate looks miffed, flustered, or a combination of the two.

Scenario 2: Your search team has narrowed the pool of candidates still in consideration to two, and you’re ready to start setting up in-person conversations. One of the candidates asks about your intended timeline for the remainder of the search, because this candidate has been invited to preach to another searching congregation in the coming weeks. You are taken aback.

Scenario 3: Your search team and finance committee have agreed on a salary package for the candidate of choice. The candidate, upon seeing the package, has lots of questions and a counter-offer. You start to worry if the church and candidate will be able to agree on terms.

Your search team is listening deeply for God’s guidance throughout the process. Sometimes, though - in the midst of details and excitement and church members’ anxiety – it is easy to forget that candidates are doing their own discernment work. Candidates need space to ask their questions about the congregation and the position. (You want them to ask! Their queries can tell you a lot about their experience, perceptiveness, and interview preparation.) Candidates are likely talking with other pastor-less churches who are at various points in their searches, unless you and the candidate have agreed that you are in the negotiation phase. Candidates want to make sure that they will have the compensation they need to pay off seminary debt, live close to your congregation, and focus on ministry.

For the fit to be great, both church and candidate must explore every data point, every issue, and every gut feeling, praying that God will speak clearly through the collated information. As a search team, don’t hesitate to ask at each stage, “What questions do we need to answer and what information do we need to provide to our candidates before they even ask?” This openness will breed trust and assist discernment in both directions.