Well, having told everyone how to fire their preacher, it seems only fair to talk about how to keep him. I mean, firing the preacher is always traumatic for everyone, especially the preacher and his family. And studies show that churches grow best when they keep a preacher for 10 or more years.
Therefore, the wise eldership makes a diligent effort to avoid having to ever fire their ministers. It’s not easy. And there’s no cure all. After all, some firings are 100% the preacher’s fault. You can’t eliminate the problem, but you can certainly shift the odds in favor of stability and growth.
a. Check references. Always. All of them. Every single time. No matter what.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve known churches to hire someone without bothering to check references. I know of men who’ve put bogus references on their resumes just assuming no one would call — and more often than not, they don’t!
I mean, for every 10 times I’ve had someone put me down as a reference, I get about 1 call! I mean it. (So if you have no bona fide references, just put me down. They won’t call! Then again, my name really may not help you get hired.)
b. Check the references they didn’t put down.
If you only talk to the people the candidate lists, then you’ll only hear from people he’s pre-approved. Not smart.
If the minister lists an elder at his old church, call two or three others. After all, elders are notorious for giving good references for someone they fired.
If they seem to be hedging, keep pressing and call others until you find out what they’re hiding. Often, it’s no big deal (they may think he’s a “liberal,” while you consider him quite sound).
Look for other people who can help — former staff members, former professors. Check the guy out, because it’s a whole lot easier to do your homework thoroughly than to go through the hell of firing him later.
c. Be skeptical of the reason he left his last job.
If your children’s minister candidate says she was fired because her old church was prejudiced against women, figure they knew she was a woman when they hired her and dig a little deeper.
d. Being fired is not always a black mark.
Ministers can be fired for reasons that have nothing to do with whether he’s a good fit for your church. There might have been a personality conflict, different vision, different theology … who knows?
Be fair, open minded, but do your homework. Remember than some churches fire men for the very same reason you’d hire a man! We can be that different in the Churches of Christ.
e. Do a criminal background check.
Your insurance policy likely requires it. And if you hire a guy with three arrests for homosexual solicitation, statutory rape, pedophilia, or the like, you are going to look like idiots when the congregation figures it out. You may even get sued if he abuses a child with a conviction on his record.
f. Make sure women are involved in the hiring process.
Women see things differently. They pick up on things men are oblivious to.
They may notice tension between him and his wife. Or that he seems to be flirting inappropriately. Or that the children seem badly disciplined. DO NOT CUT THE WOMEN OUT!
g. Don’t hire someone you have doubts about.
Absolutely 100% of the time, when I hire someone I’m not sure about, I live to regret it. Trust your instincts.
h. But don’t let the doubts of people who don’t him well drive the decision.
There will always be some opposed to hiring one guy or another. You can’t expect unanimity. And if you’re a half-way decent elder, you should know who has good judgment about people and who doesn’t.
i. Be sure the other ministers are involved.
They have to work with the guy. And they see things from a perspective the elders can’t really duplicate.
And let them talk with the elders absent. This lets the potential hire ask frank questions — which will tell the staff a lot about who he is.
A yes from the staff isn’t always a yes, but a no is always a no. If you force a hire on them they don’t like, you’ll regret it.
j. Have more than one interview.
Yes, airfare is expensive. And, yes, you’re desperate to fill the pulpit. But a one-interview hire is dangerous. In particular, the elders need to have more than one interview, preferably in more than one setting.
Maybe one is just the elders and another is with the deacons or the ministers. Or maybe one is in a restaurant halfway between his hometown and yours and the other is at church. Just try to get more than one angle on him.
If he’s putting up a false front, getting him before different audiences and in different settings gives you more chances to see it. And, besides, it gives you a way to involve more people in the process.
Then again, don’t wear the guy out with interviews. We used to put candidates through a grueling weekend of multiple interviews. We overdid it.
k. Insist he stay at a hotel.
He and his family need some down time. If they have to be “on” all weekend, the stress will be too much.
l. Search far and wide.
I imagine that most elderships know this, but preachers for hire generally get the word out via the Christian colleges. Most of universities have a professor or administrator who serves as an unofficial matchmaker. Of course, many also run websites to help automate the process.
But the website only has the names of ministers whose congregations know they are looking. The matchmakers know the ones looking to leave who haven’t yet made the announcement.
This is actually a very helpful system, as the matchmaker-professor won’t recommend to you preachers with the wrong theology for you or who is out of your salary range or otherwise a bad match. It simplifies things a lot!
Generally, an eldership is wise to talk to more than one university and to not limit themselves to men from the immediate area. Ministers are much more willing to move several states away than used to be true.
Also, don’t be prejudiced against single men. Every minister I’ve known who committed sexual sin (far more than you’d think) was married at the time. Jesus and Paul were single. It’s not a sin — nor is it a disqualification.
Oh, and don’t forget about women. I’m not quite sure how Alan will react to this, but we have two women ministers on staff, and they’ve been great hires. One is our children’s minister and the other is a co-youth minister with her husband.
m. Take enough time to do it right.
Hasty hires are bad hires. Take your time. Don’t let the congregation stampede you. We once went a full year between preachers. And grew!
Preachers are very, very important, but they aren’t so important that a bad hire is better than no hire.
In couple of days: “How to Keep the Right Guy” — of course, I use “guy” in its gender neutral sense. Rather like a Yankee, I suppose.