How Not to Have to Fire Your Preacher: Hiring the Right Guy

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. :)

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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0 Responses to How Not to Have to Fire Your Preacher: Hiring the Right Guy

  1. Nick Gill says:

    n. Look among your number. If your congregation is really doing the work of 2 Tim 2:1-2, you might find the perfect candidate on your own pews.

    o. Look outside the box. I'm not suggesting that you think this, but the university is not the only method God is using to raise up ministers for the world. Many gifted men are struggling in "secular" vocations when they'd love nothing more than to invest themselves wholly in kingdom work.

  2. jdb says:

    Very good article. A couple points that I think really need emphasizing. Communicate from the very beginning what his role is in the congregation and with the eldership. This avoids his coming into conflict with the elders over his:
    a. Overstepping his bounds and doing things the elders believe are reserved for them.
    b. Not doing the things that the eldership believes he should be doing.
    I know that's simple but you'd be surprised (well, maybe not you, but many in the brotherhood) how that one simple step can help trouble from creeping up in the future.

    Also, your point of bringing the existing staff into the equation is a very good one. As someone who was on the "other" end and forced on the existing minister, I can tell you that it is counterproductive in the extreme! I came in wanting to preach half the lessons and the elders agreed to it before ever talking to the pulpit minister. It caused a lot of friction between the staff that we really never got over. The good news is that we became closer after he left the congregation for another work, but during our time together we never were able to bound the way we would have liked.

    Again, very good article!

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Nick,

    I agree with both your points. We have ministers on staff who do not have a Bible degree. And one of our ministers was hired from among our own members.

    jdb,

    I totally agree that the job needs to be made clear. This is especially important as we hire men to be involvement minister, spiritual formation minister, education minister, and such. The relationship between the preaching minister and the new hire is hardly obvious in such a case.

    On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of formal job descriptions, as they tend to get out of date quickly — and tend to pile too many responsibilities on the new hire, as the search committee tends to want to describe the ideal minister.

    I'd really rather just talk about the job with candidate and existing staff. Sometimes this leads to entirely unexpected insights about how the hire can be most helpful.

    Getting the existing staff involved from beginning to end works best. They usually have better contacts in the ministerial community to help you find good candidates. They'll raise questions that don't occur to you. They'll take ownership of the new hire and help make it work.

    If you don't have a good enough relationship with present staff to include them in the process, you need to fix that before embarking on a search which could just exacerbate the problem.

  4. jdb says:

    Jay…I agree with the wisdom of your statements. When we would bring in Youth Minister candidates, I simply ask the elders to make it clear that we had a Pulpit Minister. There were times when we would want to hear from him on the direction the youth program was going. There would also be opportunities when I was gone. However, if their heart was in a preaching ministry, we would be better served if they kept looking.

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