Advice to a New Elder: Group Dynamics, Part 3 (Search Committees)

shepherd3Among the most important decisions made by elders is who to hire as a minister. Traditionally, Churches of Christ do this by search committee.

I’ve posted a series in the past on the search process. I’ll not repeat those materials here. Rather, I want to talk about how you appoint a search committee.

Here are the rules:

  1. The rules about group dynamics apply to search committees. Don’t pick one too big or else you’ll (a) dump all the work on the chair and (b) empower/force the chair to make every decision himself/herself. It may seem very democratic to let nearly everyone who cares about the hire be on the committee, but it will make for a miserable experience for the members. The meetings will drag on forever and the members will not enjoy their service. It’s almost cruel. Don’t do it. Don’t let it happen.
  2. Don’t empower a bureaucrat. Government employees are trained to do job searches in a very objective, impersonal way because the government is bound by all sorts of rules and laws. If a government-type chairs or controls the committee, it will be run as he/she has been trained — which is the very opposite of what you need. I know of search committees run by bureaucrats (good and godly people all) where the question of prayer and doctrine and walk with God never came up in the interview — because the government is not allowed to ask such questions. But the church is not the government.
  3. Don’t put teens or college students on the committee. Ever. No matter how much they beg. Putting them on the committee will seem very reasonable and generous — and will be a popular move, but it’ll be a mistake. I’ve served on a youth minister and campus minister search committee with teens and college students — and in both cases, it was a disaster. Never again! Now, the teens and college students should certainly have input in the choice. They should get to meet and comment on any potential hire before a decision is made. Their approval should be essential to the hiring decision. But don’t let them see multiple candidates and then ask them to agree on just one. They are not ready for that level of maturity yet.
  4. Don’t charge a committee to find the two or three best candidates. In today’s world, the best ministers have to be recruited. It’s a seller’s market. You can’t recruit someone if you aren’t sure you’re going to hire him. If the committee has to name three, then they can only name candidates that no one else wants to hire — because the guys who have real job offers will likely take the real job offer rather than your highly contingent, uncertain job offer. The right charge is to find the guy (or gal) you want and go after him (or her). Recruit. Pursue. In fact, I might call the team the “Recruitment Team” rather than “Search Committee.”
  5. I don’t know what it is about church work, but some search committees become tyrannies for petty people. The power of the committee chairmanship goes to the head of certain personality types — and they “recruit” by acting entitled and assuming they are doing the candidate a favor by even considering them for a job. (One more reason to limit membership to adults.) The committee needs to understand that they are being interviewed just as much as they are interviewing the candidate. You need to charge the committee particularly to recruit with humility. Put your selling shoes on, as one of my clients likes to say, but in the world of church, “selling” means acting like Jesus. Good ministers want deeply spiritual, real, authentic, Spirit-filled, Jesus-centered churches — as shown by a search committee that has these characteristics. If the committee acts like children, if they are entitled, if they see this as a secular process focused on legalities rather than God, you won’t be happy with the results.
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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to Advice to a New Elder: Group Dynamics, Part 3 (Search Committees)

  1. Charlie M. says:

    We had a good cross section of our group: A widow, elderly married man, young married professional woman, y p m man, divorced woman, single dad. They said the preacher they chose was not the best speaker but was the one that “fit” the fellowship best.

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