Over the past three years since graduating from seminary, I’ve been actively pursuing pastoral ministry positions. During this time, I’ve been interviewed as a candidate for pastoral positions at a number of churches, and my experience for the most part with search committees has been mostly positive.
In this article my intention is not to critique search committees since these are men and women who spend hours sifting over resumes, interviewing candidates, and doing hard work at their day jobs to support their families, while most of them volunteer in a variety of roles at their local church. As someone who is actively involved at my local church and has a front row seat to several of these search committees, I can testify that these men and women work hard, love Christ, and want to serve the local church. My intention in this article is to hopefully provide some helpful advice (as one who is actively pursuing a pastoral position), on what I would like to hear from search committees with regard to feedback from them.
What I Want To Hear From Search Committees
When hearing back from a search committee, I want to hear more than generic feedback. Recently I interviewed for a position and had what I thought was a fabulous conversation with one member of the search committee. Before this interview I spent a considerable amount of time looking at this church’s social media and website in order to learn as much as I could about their ministry philosophy, statement of faith, and how they do life as a church. When I got a generic email from them (as I have from several churches) saying I was a strong candidate, but wasn’t given any feedback, I was disappointed. This made me wonder what else I could have said or improved upon in my process as I continue to look for ministry opportunities.
Search committee members have a hard job. They don’t want to discourage those actively looking for pastoral positions. This is why I’m writing this article. I’m actively applying, interviewing, and learning as I go and want the feedback. What I want to hear from the search committee are some positives and some areas of opportunity. As a future pastor, I want to learn from any lapses in my communication with those I’m interviewing.
Search committee members: pastoral candidates want to hear from the church they are being considered by. My experience with other pastors has taught me they care why the church has turned them down. I want to hear specifically why I wasn’t chosen. I want to hear positive things like, “I liked your resume, your philosophy of ministry; I liked how you talked about your testimony, your previous ministry work,” or, “How you’re happy where you are but actively pursuing future ministry opportunities as the Lord leads,” etc. In addition to this, I need your feedback in order to grow. I haven’t arrived, nor do I believe I am perfect.
Areas of Opportunity
My advice for pastoral search committees is to be as specific as they can if they decide to provide feedback. As I mentioned, it’s discouraging to get a generic letter getting told you weren’t selected. I understand why these letters are sent and appreciate some communication rather than no communication. But we are needing more than this.
When giving feedback to your pastoral candidate please tell them you appreciate the time they’ve giving to you on studying your church’s website learning about the various ministries in your local church, and how they see themselves fitting into the life of your church. Serious pastoral candidates want to hear feedback. Any member of a search committee should want to help your brother in Christ grow as a future pastor. It’s healthy for him, and it’s healthy for the Body of Christ.
By phrasing any critique as areas of opportunity you’re inviting the candidate to learn from this experience with your church. Many search committees may not want to do this, and there are good reasons for not wanting to do this. As a pastoral candidate, I’m wanting to hear how I “didn’t meet your expectations as a candidate,” so I can learn and continue to progress in my search. This is why I suggest only giving one or two areas of opportunity so as to not overwhelm the candidate.
Search committees: please be prepared that some candidates like myself, for example, may want to interact with you on the feedback you give. Please allow them to interact with you, even after you’ve said no to them in regards to the position at your church so they can grow. This also allows for learning to take place and improvement to be made on both sides.
You might hear from the search committee and they say, “We really think you have a great education, but we’re looking for someone with more experience in this particular area.” Pastoral candidate, please don’t take this as a discouragement in your search for a pastoral position; rather, take this as a compliment that you have a great deal of educational experience. Please take what they say about getting more experience seriously. What helps me is to keep the following mindset known as F.A.T. (Be Faithful, Be Available, Be Teachable) in mind. In this way, you’re taking the advice of this search committee to heart and learning from it while you continue to serve the Lord where you are. In the next article, I’ll outline some areas to encourage pastoral candidates and search committees.