candidate perspective

Installation budgeting

When a church calls a new clergyperson, formally marking the new partnership is essential. In many denominations an installation worship service is the primary means for doing so. Installations typically take place after the new pastor has been in place for 1-3 months. This delay gives the minister (at least some) time to get acclimated and to meet people in the congregation, judicatory, and surrounding community that would be good to involve in the planning and leadership of the installation service. It also allows the pastor to invite family, friends, and mentors who need advance notice in order to travel.

An installation service is a celebration. A new season in the lives of the minister and congregation has begun. Installing a leader gives church members and the pastor the opportunity to express gratitude to God for accompanying them through the transition time and for bringing them together for mutual ministry. An installation service is a time of covenanting. During the service the clergyperson and the congregation make promises about the ways they will journey alongside one another on mission for God. And an installation service connects church and minister with a broader community. Often a judicatory or denominational representative, clergy colleagues, leaders from community organizations, and/or someone from the pastor's seminary will participate in some fashion.

For all of these reasons, installations promote positivity and connection that can lead to momentum for the congregation and minister. Often, though, churches and search teams do not think to budget for this worship service. Costs could include honorarium and travel expenses for the installation preacher (who often comes from out of town because the inviting clergyperson is from another area), a gift for the pastor being installed (such as a stole or a chalice and paten), and finger foods for a reception after the service. Larger congregations might easily be able to absorb these costs by pulling from line items such as pulpit supply and hospitality. Many small to medium congregations cannot, however. And having the forethought to include installation expenses in the search budget - no matter how many resources the church has - sends a message about welcome, attention to detail, and the desire to develop a long, fruitful ministry with the incoming pastor.

Wherever your search team is in the process of calling a clergyperson, consider the budget for the new pastor’s installation. If there isn't one, consider why that is and use the channels appropriate to your context to correct the oversight. If your church has never formally installed a minister, begin educating your fellow church members now about an installation service’s purposes and benefits. After all, it is not just for the good of the clergyperson. It glorifies God and lays the foundation for both your new minister’s leadership and the church's future.

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash.

'Tis the season for nominations

In churches that have January-December lay leadership terms, fall is the nominating committee's active season. In many congregations the nominations process consists of looking at the rosters of all the committees and boards, noting who is rotating off, and plugging in (often recycled) names. It's not uncommon for nominees to be approached with either apologies ("I'm sorry - I know you're really busy - but we need you to fill this spot") or guilt ("If you don't fill this spot, I don't know what we'll do").

I believe we can do better.

A big part of the problem is that we're starting the nominations process too zoomed in. There's no reason to look at the rosters of committees and boards until we've spent some time considering why we have these working bodies and how they fit into the overall direction of the church. Here, then, are some questions to help nominating committees broaden their thinking.

What is God inviting our congregation to consider doing in the next nine months to three years? Hopefully this question will have already been discussed at the congregational level. If not, the combination of nomination and stewardship seasons could provide opportunities for discernment.

What is the relationship of each working body to that invitation? If a new initiative is in the cards, that will impact what committees and boards do and how they work together.

What will the capacity of each working body be to live into that relationship when members with expiring terms rotate off? Notice that even three questions in, the focus is still on the bigger picture.

What gifts are needed to help each working body hold up its part of God's invitation going forward? Think broadly about spiritual maturity, talents, perspectives, energy, and expertise.

Who are the people with those gifts or with the potential to develop them? Look for a balance of experienced and new nominees, making sure that all the various constituencies of the church are represented across the rosters. When contacting nominees, name the gifts the nominating committee sees in them, how they would strengthen the working body, and how the working body helps the church live into its mission.

If we still have holes after hearing back from all of our nominees, what does that mean? Consider what barriers to participation exist, whether committees and boards need to be right-sized or combined, if there is good understanding about what each working body does and how it contributes to the overall direction of the church, and whether further big-picture discernment is needed before resorting to the any-warm-body-will-do approach.

What lay leadership needs do we anticipate beyond the coming year, and what work can be done now to prepare those who are not yet ready to serve? Here we broaden back out to lay the groundwork for a pipeline of ready leaders. Communicate responses to this question to pastoral staff or designated spiritual leaders (e.g., elders, deacons, session, vestry) for further deliberation.

The nominating committee might kick into gear at only one time of the year, but its work is significant. Getting the right people on the right working bodies ensures not just functionality but energy and creativity that in turn propel the church toward its God-given vision. This is critical during a pastoral transition, as it makes a new minister’s entry into the system much smoother. Blessings upon this hard, holy work.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash.

Thriving in clergy, congregations, and communities

It is important for your minister to thrive. Matt Bloom, a professor at Notre Dame, is well-known for his research on what contributes to thriving in various vocations. Here are some of the factors he names as crucial for clergy:

  • physical health

  • everyday happiness

  • the opportunity to be authentic

  • good boundaries

  • a sense of meaning (and purpose within that bigger picture of meaning)

  • relationships with others

  • the ability to self-reflect

You can read more about Bloom’s work here.

But why is it so important that clergy thrive? Well, as it turns out, there is a link between flourishing ministers and flourishing congregations. One party’s health contributes to the other’s. (The same is true of languishing.) Wouldn’t you prefer to be part of a church that has some of the characteristics of thriving mentioned above rather than one that pretends to be something it is not, is constantly conflict-ridden, has no self-awareness, and doesn’t connect to a larger sense of purpose? I know I would.

Ok. But why, then, is it important that congregations thrive? This is often where the reflection stops. We don’t need clergy and churches that flourish simply for flourishing’s sake. We need to be able to contribute to one another’s thriving so that together we can then answer God’s call to contribute to a more loving, just, and generous world. Our congregations are situated within local and global contexts that are hungry for love, justice, and generosity. And these contexts are part of God’s good creation and our spheres of influence, just like our little patches of physical plant are, so our partnering with and participation in them is a condition of faithful stewardship.

But back to the minister. What can congregations do to help that clergyperson thrive, so that the minister then offers quality pastoral leadership and a good model to the congregation, so that in turn the church’s flourishing takes it into the world to do great things alongside God? This is an important question for congregations to consider as they search and negotiate with pastoral candidates. Ministers want to thrive, but they often jump into new calls with both feet without first thinking through what they need to flourish. They are so quickly consumed that it is then difficult to back up and set good practices. Search teams can help incoming pastors not only by giving them permission to set up the conditions for thriving but also by covenanting with their clergy at the start around maintaining those practices.

Here are some questions search teams can ask their ministerial candidates to form the basis for this covenant:

  • What do you imagine thriving might look like for you in this context?

  • What practices would you like to put in place to make this flourishing possible?

  • What time do you need to carve out to implement these practices?

  • What spaces will it be important for you to inhabit?

  • What support do you need from the congregation to follow through on your plan?

  • How might you share with the church about the impact of your practices?

Putting the conditions for clergy thriving into place at the outset will reaffirm for that minister that your church is a great fit and is invested in mutual care. You’ll have laid the groundwork for a long, fruitful ministry together.

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash.

Is your congregation ready for a woman in the pastorate?

I first sensed a call to ministry when I was a youth. I tried to talk with my youth minister about the vocational stirring I felt, but he wouldn’t engage. I met with my pastor, who encouraged me privately. (He didn’t think our church was ready to throw support behind a woman in ministry. He was right, but he also wasn’t pushing the culture.) For a long time, then, my mentors were either strong women who weren’t clergy or clergywomen I “knew” through books and periodicals.

In seminary I found a congregation that had no qualms about bringing me on as an intern and later ordaining me. That business about women being barred from ministry because they were “first in the Edenic fall” (see: 1984 Southern Baptist Convention) seemed far removed from my burgeoning career in more progressive contexts.

And yet, it wasn’t. Microaggressions abounded among staff and congregants, sometimes making churches unpleasant places of ministry. Clergywomen peers found themselves toeing the glass cliff, looking over their shoulders at church people who were willing to “take a chance” on women’s leadership only as a last-ditch effort to slow decline - and then crowding them on that precipice when the long skid was not reversed quickly enough. Other highly-qualified women ministers noted their male counterparts professionally leapfrogging them as they heard “no” again and again from search teams. All of this was – is – happening in mainline denominations that have supposedly conquered sexism.

The Church needs women in the pastorate. It is shrinking, in part, due to the lack of tenacity, wisdom, innovation, and compassion that women in ministry have to offer. Time and again, though, women pastors hear that churches are not ready for them, or these clergy realize after accepting ministry positions that congregations had misjudged their own preparedness. The ramifications for this miscalculation are huge. If a clergywoman is not successful because of the church’s failure to lay groundwork, that congregation often thinks, “Well, we tried having a woman as a pastor, and it just didn’t work out” instead of examining its assumptions. The church hesitates before calling another woman, thus missing out on deeply-needed gifts and perspectives. Additionally, that pastor might begin to question her effectiveness and call rather than her fit with the context, possibly leaving the ministry for good and ensuring that no congregation benefits from all she has to offer.

Here, then, is my attempt to give churches an assessment they can use to judge their true openness to a pastor who also happens to be a woman. (I want to thank alumnae of Young Clergy Women International for their input on the points below.) You can download a PDF of the assessment here, which I encourage you to share.

Pre-pastor search work:

  • The church has had a woman in its pulpit as a guest preacher, and it referred to her sermon as such rather than as a “talk” or a “devotional.”

  • Church leadership has discussed any members’ protest (such as staying home from worship or walking out before the sermon) of inviting a woman to guest preach and publicly re-affirmed support of the preacher.

  • The church has had women in significant lay leadership roles (elder, deacon, warden, clerk of session, moderator, etc.) and has worked through any conflict that arose as a result of their election/selection.

  • The church has eliminated exclusively male pronouns/descriptors on its website and in its social media.

  • The church regularly uses curricula or other materials written by women (e.g., seminary professors, pastors) with theological authority.

Pre-interview pastor search work:

  • The pastor search team is representative of the demographics and commitments of the congregation as whole, thus making it better able to reflect accurately the fullness of the church’s story to ministerial candidates.

  • The pastor search team has structured its work so that it is rooted in listening deeply to God’s guidance.

  • The pastor search team has discussed its assumptions and the congregation’s about a great-fit pastor, probing the reasons behind them.

  • Having surfaced these assumptions, the search team has named specific competencies (rather than personality traits) as the criteria for a great-fit pastor.

  • In communications with the congregation, the pastor search team has helped the church broaden its imagination about a great-fit pastor.

  • The pastor search team has eliminated exclusively male pronouns/descriptors for the hoped-for pastor in all search team documents (e.g., position description, position advertisements, church profile).

  • The church as a whole has earnestly prayed that God will lead it to the best-fit ministerial candidate, no matter how that candidate might differ from church members’ expectations.

  • The pastor search team members have covenanted to run all questions to and about candidates through the filter of “Would we ask this of a male candidate?” (Examples of questions to be sifted out: “Who will watch your children while you’re working?” and “How will your spouse’s employment affect your ability to move here/stay here for a long time?”)

Interview/call phase pastor search work:

  • The pastor search team is aware of and open with all candidates about potential challenges that await.

  • With all candidates the pastor search team inquires about the needs of the candidate’s family to ensure hospitable on-site visits, and later, to help integrate the incoming minister’s family into the life of the congregation (to the extent the family desires).

  • The church leadership has discussed the possibility of conflict arising from calling a woman (noting that this conflict might come disguised as an issue about something else) and is prepared to stand behind the candidate of choice/incoming pastor.

Ways you can use this assessment:

  • Churches in pastor searches. This assessment provides a readiness test for calling a clergywoman.

  • Churches with settled pastors. This assessment offers action steps to lay leaders and current pastors. (The “getting ready,” after all, doesn’t just happen. It takes intentional work. And if your church is not willing to do this work, spend some time mulling the reasons why and praying about them.) Even congregations that think they are ready to receive a clergywoman – including those who have or had women ministers – could benefit from working through the points above. Often moderate to progressive churches think they are more welcoming than they actually are.

  • Clergywomen. Use this assessment in your call processes to help gauge whether a congregation might be a good fit.

  • Judicatory bodies. Use this assessment to help congregations and search teams work through the steps needed to set up the possibility for long and fruitful ministries between churches and clergywomen.

Note that some aspects of this assessment can be adapted for considering a congregation’s preparedness to be led by a pastor who would be another kind of “first,” though there would be additional work specific to the variety of first. Often a candidate will be more than one kind of first – identities are intersectional, after all – making it essential for a church to take readiness steps in multiple areas.

This welcoming work is worthy of intentionality and intense listening to the movements of the Holy Spirit, and not just because of the clergyperson in question. This attentiveness and the resulting actions can lead to spiritual transformation, deeper discipleship, and increased connectedness among people and between people and God. These benefits are available to all involved.

Download a PDF of the assessment here.

Learned helplessness vs. learned optimism in congregations

In the field of psychology there is a condition known as learned helplessness. The subject is put into a challenging environment - for example, there might be a persistent, sharp sound - with no way to overcome the issue. After experiencing that initial lack of agency, the subject gives up trying to alter the condition or escape. The subject accepts the situation as permanent, and this learned helplessness induces a passivity that becomes a default response in other, unrelated circumstances.

In contrast, another subject is given the means to change the challenging condition, such as by pushing a button that stops the noise. This subject learns that the problem is temporary and that the means are available to address it. This subject bounces back quickly from adversity, because the agency claimed instills a sense of optimism.

While many studies of learned helplessness and optimism have focused primarily on the impact to individuals, I think these phenomena are very applicable to congregations. Take a church that considers itself in decline, for example. This congregation tries everything it can think of to reverse the trends, such as sending postcards to the neighborhood, hosting a community cookout on the church lawn, sprucing up the nursery, and offering a grief support group. At most, a couple of new people start attending on Sundays from these efforts. The church accepts that it is helpless to stop its slide. It gives up trying to reach out to the community, and it dwindles until a discussion about permanently closing the doors becomes imminent.

On the other hand, a church in similar circumstances might claim a sense of optimism by finding agency in its situation. This could involve the congregation naming and ministering out of the gifts that a small church has to offer that a big church cannot. It might mean reframing growth so that it is not about Sunday morning attendance and offering but about numbers of unique individuals involved in leadership in the congregation and community or the length of time it takes a youth group to name all of the ways it saw God at work during the week prior. It could entail using perceived failure as a springboard for ongoing discernment and deeper dependence on the Spirit.

Learned optimism is not fanciful or untethered from reality. It is a secular term for the hope we claim as people of faith, rooted in the partnership that God invites us into. Whereas helplessness and passivity prevent growth, optimism creates the possibility for all kinds of positive change and for relationship development and strengthening.

This grounded hope is important for congregations seeking new ministers. Most searching clergy are not interested in churches where they will simply pass the time. Your pastoral candidates want to serve a congregation that dreams, that rises to challenges, that recognizes and lives toward its calling. Where, then, does your church need to recognize its God-given agency and begin to act out of hope instead of helplessness?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

Networking that doesn't feel icky

{Note: this post originally appeared at laurastephensreed.com. It is offered here to let search teams know what hard-working candidates and potential great fits might be doing as they move toward engagement with your processes. This means of networking is in contrast to the self-interested version that is always focused on getting ahead - whatever that looks like and wherever that lands the networker - rather than on sincere engagement and mutual discovery.]

The last semester of seminary was an anxious time for me. Every day I felt more unemployable as my classmates were appointed or called to their post-graduation churches. Meanwhile, I went on interview after interview, breaking the top two or three several times before hearing the “no” that every minister in a search process dreads.

A big factor in my failed searches was that I didn’t know a lot of people. I was a name on a page, with too little experience to make search teams want to find out more about me. One reason for my small network was that I simply had not met a lot of people. I had only recently found my way to the progressive Baptist world, which was where I wanted to serve, yet as a Candler student most of my friends and professors were United Methodist. But there was also the side of me that rejected networking as I understood it: schmoozing and getting ahead based on the connections I had, not the work I had done or the skills I possessed.

In time I realized that “networking” is one of those words that needs to be re-claimed, like evangelism. Good, healthy networking is not about ladder-climbing. It’s about showing interest in other people and their work. It’s about learning from and sharing wisdom with others. It’s about, in short, understanding our interdependence and strengthening relationships such that both parties can more fully inhabit their personhood and their call.

Putting on a Murphy Brown suit and making it rain business cards won’t accomplish those ends. But in his WorkLife podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently offered up ways to network that do build genuine bonds:

Build your skills. As you learn, you not only increase your range and expertise, you meet people in the areas where those skills are needed, some of whom are regularly contacted by organizations looking for those talents. So in the world of ministry, seek out parachurch trainings about how to be a head of staff or mediate conflict or navigate the interim time between settled pastors. Attend continuing education events offered by seminaries. Get coached. Go to denominational gatherings that offer practical workshops.

Give help. Want to learn how to do something new and show your willingness to be a team player? Offer to pitch in. Take on a project at the middle judicatory level. Mentor a new minister. Offer your expertise in a consultant-type role. Lead a retreat. Tread with intentionality, though, making sure you aren’t just accumulating tasks that no one else wants or that others expect women to do.

Ask for advice. Not everyone loves to be asked for help. That can, at times, feel like a burden. But who doesn’t like to be asked for their wisdom? Contact someone who is doing something you’d like to do and ask a few brief questions about how that person got there. If you want to serve a big-steeple church, reach out to a large-church pastor you admire. The same goes if you’re feeling called to be a CPE supervisor, judicatory or denominational leader, or any other role. The veteran will feel recognized for work well done, and you will gain knowledge and plant your name in that person’s memory.

The key in all of these types of network is to be sincere in your interactions. Truly be interested, and you will likely be amazed at the doors that will open for you.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash.

Post-interview thank yous

Recently I had a conversation with a minister who is searching for a new call. The minister inquired whether it is appropriate to send a thank you note after an onsite interview, particularly one for which the search team has gone all out in terms of hospitality. “Of course!” I replied. Not only are thank you notes courteous gestures in general, sending one as a candidate provides yet another ping to keep your name fresh in the search team’s mind. And if the search team has obviously worked hard to tend well to all those little moments that add up to a multi-day interview, you can assume that noticing that hospitality will be much appreciated.

There was something behind this minister’s question, though. As it turned out, this minister had been discouraged from sending thank you notes by people who had previously served on search teams. To those folks, thank you notes looked like a candidate was “trying too hard” or was “too eager” to leave their current situation. Past search team members said that in their work, they were looking for pastors who were happy where they were.

Ok, a couple of things.

For pastors in searches (and I want search teams to overhear this): if manners mean you’re trying too hard, you’re probably looking at a church you don’t want to serve. Something is going on in a congregation where the default assumption about politeness is that it is a tool for manipulation.

For search teams (and I want clergy to overhear this): bracketing my feelings about poaching clergy for the moment - spoiler alert: those feelings aren’t rainbows and unicorns - just because a minister is ready to move on doesn’t mean that pastor isn’t very capable. Sometimes clergy outgrow their circumstances. Sometimes the fit isn’t good for whatever reason. Sometimes there’s that one toxic member who makes the minister’s life hell, and the pastor is just ready for a fresh start. Additionally, you want a clergyperson who acknowledges effort. Churches are full of volunteers who can get easily discouraged if their ministry efforts go unrecognized, which is a recipe for apathy and inward focus.

In sum, I encourage search teams and candidates to lean in hard to hospitality. Worry less about decoding on another’s intentions and more about building relationships.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Women, ministry, and emotional labor

[Note: this post originally appeared at laurastephensreed.com. I offer it here as an opportunity for search teams to listen in on all that their ministers - particularly their clergywomen - carry.]

I have a decade-old memory of weeding with great ferocity. In the process I was telling my husband – who had joined me in yanking up a root system that spanned the entire backyard – that I was so tired all the time. I was constantly doing, and if I wasn’t doing, I was recalling information or researching or planning. How did people find the leisure time they seemed to have? I was truly befuddled.

Part of my problem was due to my personality. I am interested in a lot of subjects, and it was (is) easy to let myself become occupied. I also have perfectionist tendencies, so it’s hard to leave projects be when they reach the “good enough” stage. But I’ve come to realize that there is another reason it is so difficult to let myself rest – mental load and emotional labor.

Mental load is bearing the responsibility of remembering all the things. Emotional labor is tending to the feelings of everyone affected by those things. Both mental load and emotional labor are both invisible and labor-intensive, draining energy and leaving us to wonder where it went. And women are culturally-conditioned to be responsible for both.

But wait, there’s more! Ministry is itself a vocation laden with emotional labor. We hold the big picture for our congregations, with all the hopes and disappointments of individual church members wrapped up in it. We sit with people in intimate moments, deeply listening to thoughts and feelings so personal they might not have been shared with anyone else.

And then…parenthood. That added layer upon layer of remembering – when was the last time my baby pooped? what did he say his best friends might like for their birthdays? what time is karate, and who will take him and pick him up? – and tending to big feelings (his and mine).

All of this hard work was brought into the light by reading Gemma Hartley’s book Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward. I took away a couple of pieces of wisdom from the book that are currently helping me address the heaping pile of emotional labor in my own life. One is that I have to talk about all of that invisible work, proactively rather than when I am at my wits’ end. Only then can I begin to shift some of it. The second suggestion that struck me was that I am sometimes undermining my own desires to share the emotional labor load by thinking that things can only be done one way. If I have a standard that no one else can live up to, or if I go behind others to “fix” what doesn’t look like I think it should, then the emotional labor will be all mine, for all time. I must admit that my way isn’t the only or even necessarily the best way.

Where do you feel doubled-over with emotional labor? What strategies might you employ to hand some of it off, not just so that you can breathe but also so that others can enjoy the breadth and depth of emotional and relational life?

Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash.

Gifts gratitude calendar

“I don’t have enough time to do all the things.”

“I don’t have anything worth contributing.”

“Our congregation is so much smaller and grayer than it used to be.”

“We’re gonna have to send these church budget requests back to committees to be pared down, because our projected giving is down 10%.”

Do these sentiments sound familiar? They play in loops in individuals’ heads and reverberate through sanctuaries of all sizes. They are the product of scarcity thinking, of focusing on what we don’t have. The scarcity mindset is rampant in our culture, manifesting in the beliefs that we need to guard what we have and prepare for the worst possible scenario. And unfortunately, while we worship a God who created the universe out of a dark and formless void and follow a Savior who was all about opening up the law and the bounds of community, this thinking has trickled down into our churches. The result is that many of our people are afraid to dream and reach out, instead turning inward and wondering how long our congregations will be able to hold on.

The scarcity scourge is a huge barrier to growing our faith in and love of God. (It’s also a huge hurdle in a pastor search, because few clergy want to lead a church that can’t imagine a vibrant future.) Luckily, the season focused on removing such obstacles to our discipleship is almost upon us, and I want to offer a resource that might help individuals and congregations note the abundance that God has blessed them with in the form of resources, talents, connections, hopes, and ministries. The calendar below gives a gratitude prompt for each day of Lent and the first day of Easter. (A printable PDF is available here.) Feel free to download and/or share it. I hope that those who use this calendar will talk with one another about the unexpected ways they have realized that God is at work in and around them.

Gifts gratitude calendar.jpg

Consider the co-pastor model

In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to coach several co-pastor teams, each a bit different in its composition. Some of the teams are comprised of married couples, others are not. A few of the co-pastors have solo or lead pastor experience in their backgrounds, but the majority are in the first chair for the first time.

In addition to coaching these co-pastor teams, I have received inquiries from search teams about whether they should consider calling co-pastors. These questions often come from congregations that started out looking for one person to fill the role of pastor, then candidates have asked whether the church would be willing to call two ministers to fill the position.

Since the co-pastor model seems to be growing in prevalence, I think it would be worth most (if not all) search teams’ time to have a discussion about what that paradigm of leadership could look like in and whether it could work for your context. For search teams that seriously explore this staffing possibility, here are some advantages I have noticed from the co-pastors’ perspective:

Each co-pastor has a built-in sounding board. This cuts down on isolation, allows budding ideas to be more thoroughly thought-through before they are acted upon, and lets the congregation know that at least two minds are always at work on problems that pop up.

Complementary gifts mean that each co-pastor can lean more fully into strengths. There are some combinations of skill sets that are extremely rare to find in one person, causing solo pastors to have to work at times out of areas that are very challenging for them. It is very possible, however, to find co-pastors who are each good at different things. Thus more ministry areas are covered with greater competence, with less pastoral energy expended on working out of a growing edge.

Co-pastors can be in two places at any one time. Ministers often feel like there is not enough of them to go around. With co-pastors, the hospital visit and the finance committee meeting can be  covered simultaneously.

There are challenges to the co-pastor model, of course. Married co-pastors will, naturally, want to be on vacation at the same time. (I would argue, though, that this presents no more issues than a sole lead pastor being away.) And married co-pastors need to be careful that their ministry doesn’t consume their home life in unhealthy ways. On the whole, though, it is definitely worth search teams’ time to mull calling co-pastors if great-fit candidates present themselves.

As with any candidate, search team members should ask themselves what excites them about co-pastor possibilities, what support the co-pastors would need to thrive, and what educational pieces would help the congregation embrace this new-to-it way of doing ministry. These questions are opportunities for the church to grow in imagination and faith with the potential to expand pastoral leadership capacity.

Photo by James Balensiefen on Unsplash.

Eight Cs for growing trust

The most important ingredient in any process isn’t expertise or charismatic personalities or financial resources. It’s relationships. When the bonds are strong among the people involved, there can be productive disagreement, a full exploration of possibilities, deep investment in the work, and mutual support and accountability, all leading to forward progress.

The foundation of relationships is trust. Not simply predictability - I know your passions and hot buttons and how you’ll react to each being tapped - but shared vulnerability and risk-taking. Many pastor search teams start with some sense of predictability by virtue of the members attending church together for a long time. But most (if not all teams) will need to dig in before the search begins to develop the second-level trust that will allow for the most thorough and faithful search process.

What does it look like to grow that deep trust? Here are eight Cs - from lowest to highest risk - to guide that essential work:

Clarity is getting straight within ourselves about our thoughts and commitments, then being honest with others about them.

Communication is putting our clarified knowledge and understanding out there, and in turn listening to others with open hearts and minds.

Curiosity is admitting we don’t have the whole picture and wondering about what we don’t know.

Compassion is showing care to and connecting at a heart level with others, believing the best about them as we do so.

Companionship is being present and authentic while still maintaining the boundaries that allow us to be clear and compassionate.

Consistency is showing up the same way every time and admitting when circumstances have thrown us off balance.

Conflict is being willing to disagree and to have our ideas improved upon.

Control release is relinquishing attachment to the outcome, trusting that the process will end up as it should so long as we bring our whole selves to it.

In pastor searches, these Cs and the resulting trust can strengthen relationships not just within the search team but between the search team and congregation and between the search team and candidates. The effects of deepened connections, in turn, extend beyond the search itself, cultivating beloved community with the Source of love at its center.

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash.



Aligning responsibility and authority

[Note: this post is written to clergy about a common problem in ministry. It is posted here to allow search teams to eavesdrop and thereby make sure expectations of the incoming minister are clear and appropriate.]

Do you feel like you cannot dig your way out from under an avalanche of work, but when you make a request or propose an idea, no one listens?

Do you feel like your congregation looks to you too often for guidance, yet during your office hours you find yourself bored and unsure how best to use your time?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might be experiencing a mismatch between responsibility and authority. Responsibility is what you are assigned - by self or others - to do. Authority is the weight people give to your perspective, and it comes from a combination of role, experience, and earned trust. Part of developing a healthy pastoral identity and creating right-sized expectations is making sure responsibility and authority are not out of proportion with one another.

If either your responsibility or authority level is too high, here are some questions to consider:

  • What are the roots of my over- ( or under-) developed sense of responsibility or authority?

  • Which roots can I pull up?

  • What specifically am I gifted and called to do?

  • In this context, what work is truly mine to carry out?

  • How might I shift, in whole or in part, the work that isn't mine?

  • What authority do I, in actuality, have?

  • How can I use this authority wisely and on behalf of the most vulnerable?

  • How might I utilize less obvious sources of authority when needed (e.g., a lay leader with whom you have mutual respect and who is trusted by the congregation?

Aligning responsibility and authority is key to leading well and avoiding burnout. If your levels are out of whack, take the time to consider why that is and what you can change.

Photo by Jason Ortego on Unsplash.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The impact of the 3 Ps on candidates in the call process

Note: this post was originally published at laurastephensreed.com, but I wanted to share it here to give you a peek into what candidates often go through when they search for a new ministry position. 

Searching for a new call is hard. Congregations are eliminating positions due to shrinking budgets. Systemic inequalities make it difficult for some candidates to get a good look from search teams. Call committees often don’t understand how covenanting with a clergyperson is different from hiring an employee.

And those issues don’t even address the mental, spiritual, and emotional toll of the search process on a candidate. In a previous post I described psychologist Martin Seligman‘s three Ps – personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence – and the ways these shame responses show up in congregational life. They also manifest in powerful, potentially debilitating ways in search & call. When candidates hear “no” over and over, they can begin to think that:

  • the problem is on their end (personalization),
  • every call committee will see their supposed unworthiness (pervasiveness),
  • they will be stuck in this vocational purgatory forever (permanence).

The three Ps can suck any energy for a minister’s search and for the current position in a hurry. Let me assure you that you are a gifted and called minister and that with time you will find a great fit. I really believe that.

So now you feel confident and ready to hit the interview trail again, right? Yeah, I didn’t figure a positive word from me alone would make the difference, even though I truly, deeply mean it. Then let me propose a few ways to combat the three Ps and their pernicious effects during that trying search season.

  • Pray. Make sure your search is deeply rooted in your relationship with God.
  • Seek encouragement from people who know you. Spend time regularly with a friend or small group that recognizes and affirms your many talents. Getting an attitude boost from those who cheer us on can help when it feels like we’re hearing a lot of rejection.
  • Approach every interview as an opportunity to network. Not every church will extend a call to you, but with every encounter you expand your exposure and gain invaluable interview experience.
  • Debrief interviews. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes to mull what you thought went well, where you felt hesitant, what questions bubbled up in you during the interaction, and what your prayer is going forward. 
  • Ask for feedback from search teams. Did you get a no from a church you were excited about? See if the search chair will give you a few pointers based on your time with the team.
  • Focus your search. Have you been scattershot with your search approach? It might seem counterintuitive, but it could be time to cull your options. Create a one-sentence mission statement and self-refer only to those congregations whose positions would allow you to live well into that purpose. You’ll be better able to explain why you’re a good fit – and you’ll be much happier if you end up going to that church.
  • Work on telling your story. Of the parts of the search process we can control, none is more important than good storytelling. Refine your paperwork, making sure you have included action words and vivid examples. Think before interviews about what you want to be sure a search team knows about you by the end of the hour. Role play with a colleague. Spend time picking out an interview ensemble that tells the story you want.
  • Remember that you were called before, and you will be called again. If you are serving or have served a church, a search team has seen and responded to your gifts. It will happen again! (For years I held onto my first congregation’s newsletter that announced my call for this very reason.)

The church needs you and your gifts. Hang tight – a great fit is out there.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.

Profiles in hospitality: First Presbyterian Church, Fernandina Beach, Florida

The Rev. Julie Jensen began in February as Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Fernandina Beach, Florida. I got to see Julie’s search for a new call through a few different windows, and it seemed clear that something special was unfolding when she began communicating with FPC. I asked her to share how FPC’s hospitality impacted her acceptance of the position and the start-up of her ministry in Florida.

When did you discern that FPC was a great fit for you?

Julie said that her inclination grew throughout her interactions with the search team. As someone who is experienced at reading congregational profiles and position descriptions, she could tell that the search team had taken care to show their heart and their story in these documents. When her initial Skype interview was rescheduled due to a hurricane threat in Florida, Julie noted that she had family in the path of the storm as well. When the Skype call took place, one of the search team’s first questions was about her family’s safety, and the team members noted that they had been praying for Julie’s loved ones. In the various rounds of interviews, the search team asked thoughtful questions that provoked candid conversation. For Julie’s on-site interview, the search team was flexible with her about timing, the scheduling of events during the visit, and her transportation and lodging options, all the while being clear about the ways they would cover her expenses. There was a basket of goodies in her hotel room, along with a handwritten note of welcome. Her one-on-one time with the Senior Pastor/Head of Staff was spent in conversation, prayer, and the building of a truly collegial relationship. As Julie sat in the airport after her on-site visit, she reflected on all her experiences with the search team to that point. Realizing that she would like to serve this church and these people even if they were far from a beautiful beach setting, she knew she had found a new home. Her discernment was confirmed when the congregation put her on speakerphone following their vote to extend a call, and the people in the pews burst into thunderous applause.

After the congregational vote, how did church folks begin welcoming you?

Julie began immediately receiving friend requests on social media, and her new church members were understanding about her decision not to accept them until her new position was public. The search team contacted her weekly to see how she was holding up during the impending transition. The church was generous with moving expenses and helped her secure housing. The staff cleared out the Associate Pastor office, and upon her arrival Julie was given a budget to decorate it as she liked. Two church members helped her with the project, which was a fun way to get to know them better. Julie's name was already on the permanent sign for her first day, and someone brought her flowers. The church threw her a “welcome wagon” at which church members were asked to bring their recommendations for local services and an item that represented what they loved about their community. Three months in, people are still taking Julie up on her offer to meet one-on-one or in small groups so that she can build relationships with her parishioners. She also notes that her Senior Pastor/Head of Staff cleared considerable time on his calendar during her first two weeks to help her enter well. One of the first things they did together was pray in the sanctuary for their ministry. He made himself available, as did the rest of the staff, to help ease the transition and answer questions Julie had. 

What difference has the hospitality of the search team and congregation made in your mindset and ability to do ministry?

Julie says she started her position wanting to work hard for these people who had already accepted her not just as one of their pastors, but also as a human being. Through the way she has been welcomed since the beginning of this search, Julie felt the desire on all sides to build good, healthy working relationships with members and staff.  These relationships have provided a foundation of people she can reach out to when she needs questions answered or systems explained. She still hears the thunderous applause in her head when she has a hard ministry day and knows that her church is still cheering for her, which allows her to focus on the tasks at hand. The warm welcome of the congregation, staff, and others in the community has allowed her to find her way in a new place with confidence.   

Hospitality doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money, just some attention to detail. But it makes all the difference in a church and a minister’s excitement for learning to love and live well together.