nuts and bolts

'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.

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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.

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KonMari-ing your church's ministries

The latest rage on Netflix is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, an eight-episode series in which an internationally-renowned organizational consultant goes into cluttered homes and helps families cull their possessions. All of the people that Kondo works with are at some sort of transition point in their lives. Some are newlyweds or new homeowners. Others are readying themselves for the arrival of a baby, grieving a loss, or wanting to move from living like students to inhabiting more adult personas. These changes provide the urgency for making their home more welcoming.

The tidying method Marie Kondo uses is not a light-a-match-and-walk-away approach. Instead, she asks her clients to hold each article of clothing, book, or tool and note whether it sparks joy. If it does, keep it and find a more efficient way to store it (for example, the KonMari method of folding clothes). If it doesn’t, say “thank you” and donate, recycle, or dispose of it. The overall purpose of the tidying is to be grateful for the past and to imagine the future you want to move toward, being more thoughtful about what you need in order to get there.

There is much about the KonMari method that is worthy of churches’ consideration. Lots of congregations, even (maybe particularly) small ones, are stooped over from the weight of so many ministries. As more are added, few to none are brought to an intentional close, making the church’s mission unclear and stretching congregation’s financial and people resources much too thin. What might it look like, then, to identify what God’s purpose for your church is? To name everything that the church is doing, just as Marie Kondo requests that her clients put every clothing item on the bed and every book on the floor to look through? To examine each ministry, noting whether it is an essential part of the present and/or future and saying a sincere “thank you” to those that are not? A pastoral transition is a great time to do this work, because there is already ongoing discussion about who we are as a church and what we believe God wants us to be and do.

At the end of each episode of Tidying Up, the families have worked through clashing priorities and conflict styles to create a home that reflects who they want to be. And while I realize this is a tv show that is comprised of carefully curated clips, the struggles the subjects go through are a microcosm of congregational community, and the desire to move forward with intentionality rings deeply true. So consider capturing the cultural moment, taking the best of what the KonMari method has to offer and assessing your church’s ministries for a more peaceful, purposeful future.

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Lagging and leading indicators

The easiest measurements of how things are going are quantifiable, such as money or attendance. Unfortunately, they are not the most helpful. One reason is that unlike in the business world, where the number of widgets produced or the profit margin does tell much of the story, numbers don’t necessarily reveal the kind of spiritual growth we’re (hopefully) aiming for in church.

Another reason that nickels and noses don’t give us much useful information is that they are lagging indicators. This means that they are backward-looking.

Leading indicators, by contrast, give us benchmarks toward progress. We ask, “What are we going to do to work toward our hoped-for outcomes?” When we name our part in bringing about change, we acknowledge our responsibility, build in accountability, give ourselves an assessment tool to measure our progress along the way, and set goals that we have actual control over.

So, for example, a lagging indicator might be a certain percentage of growth in worship participation. A leading indicator, however, might be that our church develops a team that prays for those who are seeking a faith community like ours to find their way to us. It might be offering training on better including people with disabilities. It might be offering a Bible study on hospitality. It might be learning to tell the story of God’s work among us to our surrounding community in a more compelling way. It might be revamping the bulletin to make it more visitor-friendly. It might be pulling out a pew or two and creating a prayground. All of these efforts emphasize imagination, not fear. They are in service to a larger goal, but with the emphasis on what is now within our control and requires our investment and ongoing discernment. They lay the foundation not just for growth in numbers but also in understanding of our connection to God’s story, God’s work among us, and the gifts God is asking us to use on behalf of others.

I encourage you to assess your current measurements. Which ones are lagging? How might you transform them into leading indicators, and in the process allow yourselves to be transformed?

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Focus on what you've got, not on what you don't

These are interesting times indeed for the church. Membership, budgets, and staff in many mainline congregations are shrinking. Attendance patterns are changing such that “regular” participation is now 1-2 times per month instead of 3-4. The Sunday morning and Wednesday evening time blocks, once considered off-limits by school, sports, and other community activity schedulers, are no longer so. Many people define themselves as spiritual but are uninterested in the institutional church.

For these reasons some congregations are fearful about survival. This anxiety often manifests in a scarcity mentality, a focus on what we no longer have (or never had). In turn this mindset generates a wide range of potential “solutions,” which are rooted either in personal preference or observations about has worked for the megachurch down the road. This is a recipe for scatteredness - as everyone’s preferences will likely be different - and discouragement, since what works for one church rarely lands the same way in another.

Luckily, there’s a different approach we can take, one that is grounded in abundance. (Don’t we believe, after all, that God’s love and creativity know no bounds?) Instead of beginning by naming what we need, let’s start by laying out all that we already have. This is called asset mapping, and it’s a tool we can borrow from the world of community organizing. Gather your lay leaders, or possibly even your entire congregation. Write down on sticky notes all of your church’s advantages:

  • Physical plant

  • Geographical location

  • Finances

  • Leadership (lay and staff)

  • Current ministries

  • Skills and interests of members

  • Denominational connections

  • Relationships (congregational or individual) with community institutions, associations, or influencers

  • Name recognition

  • Any other assets you can think of - be creative!

Step back and look at all the gifts. Ask what God might be telling you or inviting you to do through them. Combine your assets together in new ways to birth initiatives. These are the efforts that will bear the most fruit, because they are rooted in who your congregation is and what it has.

This activity is very helpful during a pastoral transition. Congregations can have a hard time imagining what the future will look like now that the former leader is gone. Mapping assets can remind them that they are the church and that God is still at work through and around them. This exercise can also help a congregation understand what kind of pastoral leadership is needed to help them leverage their strengths and share a more accurate narrative and expectations with pastoral candidates.

Go forth, then, to take stock of what is good in your church and to plan out of grateful awareness.

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Follow your curiosity

In a recent TED interview, author Elizabeth Gilbert talked about creativity in terms of following our curiosity. We are often told to follow our passions, she said, but that is advice that can lead to unnecessary risk and discouragement. Attending to our curiosity, in contrast, is more gentle. It involves asking questions before making big leaps: what's going on in me/us? What is God nudging me/us toward? What would it mean for me/us to make a major change? What would I/we need in order to take that step? The ultimate outcome might be the same, but it would derive from discernment and come with a more settled spirit. (The point is not to abandon passion, after all, just to probe it a bit.) Or the queries might lead to a previously-unconsidered way of being faithful to God.

This curiosity is not just useful for individuals but also for groups such as search teams. Sometimes teams want to drive right in to their work, or they are drawn to a particular candidate from the first encounter. Asking questions can help flesh out the process, provide needed touchstones, situate the work in service to God-given vision, and allow us to explain why the candidate of choice is the best fit. These reflection points might also reveal that the team is not yet ready to get into the meat of a search or that a candidate - while charismatic - does not meet essential criteria, saving a lot of heartache down the road.

As you consider what is going on in and around you (as an individual and as part of a collective), where would a bit of curiosity help you listen deeply, plan faithfully, and move forward confidently?

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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.

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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?


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?


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?


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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