Many of these I learned the hard way. This was not my first preacher search, by any means, but the Churches of Christ are changing, and every search brings new lessons.
And so, some of these I learned a long time ago. Others, I should have learned a long time ago, but didn’t. And a few are brand new, just because times change and so you have to learn as you go.
1. Immerse the search in prayer. We got this one right. It sounds trite to modern ears, but if you believe in prayer at all, this is one time you need to begin with prayer. Don’t wait until human efforts fail and then only turn to prayer in desperation. This is a bigger task than humans can handle alone. Get on your knees and pray — and do so often.
2. Beg the church to do the same. Spend time in prayer for the search with the congregation. Devote Sunday morning assembly time to it. Do it often.
3. Preacher searches take longer than you expect. I’m told that the typical search time for a pastor in a Baptist Church is two years. Many internet articles warn pastor search committees to expect the search to take more than one year. I have no idea what the statistic is for Churches of Christ, but I imagine that the time frame is getting longer.
You see, as the denomination fractures, the pool of talent gets smaller. The odds of finding a match go down.
Moreover, progressive Churches of Christ are, on average, larger than more conservative Churches, on average. Therefore, the talent pool of young ministers ready to move to a larger church is smaller. There aren’t as many smaller churches within the progressive ranks — comparatively.
Also, many talented progressive preachers have left the Churches of Christ, relocating to nondenominational congregations and Christian Churches.
Ministers that have left the Churches of Christ denomination may well be very happy to consider relocating to a progressive Church of Christ, but many have left the informal networks through which churches find preachers. And, of course, even many progressive congregations would be challenged to hire a minister who’s left the Churches of Christ for part of his career.
In short, don’t be surprised if your search takes more than a year.
4. Salaries are being bid up. Wrap it up in all the church-talk language you like, the laws of supply and demand apply to preachers, just like gasoline and apples (and lawyers). If you compare the year-to-year salary surveys conducted by Abilene Christian, you’ll see a definite upward trend in salaries for ministers. Presumably, the churches that participate in the survey lean heavily toward the progressive end of our denomination.
This confirms that there is less supply than demand, as noted above, and explains why searches will often take longer than they did 10 or 20 years ago.
This is a good thing. We in the Churches of Christ have long underpaid our ministers, and I’m glad to see wages moving up to be more comparable to the pay of the membership.
Here’s a summary from the most recent survey that’s been completed, 2011 —
|Average Weekly Attendance||Average Total Compensation|
Total compensation includes health insurance and other like fringes. And pay varies a lot in each category.
Pay varies more on church attendance and contribution than education, age, experience, or years with the church. In other words, churches tend to hire as well as they can afford.
5. Prepare your congregation for the wait. Those of us who grew up in church remember 6-month preacher searches — or less. And we expected to have the three best candidates put before us to select among. Nowadays, it’ll take longer, and you’ll be very unlikely to be able to court three ministers at a time. (I’ll explain in a bit.)
Tell the congregation to expect a long search at the very beginning. It’ll take 3 or 4 months, at least, for the church to be emotionally ready to even consider a new candidate. They’ll have to spend time letting go of their old minister.
And then it just takes time to identify candidates, listen to their sermons, interview them, check references, etc. Plus, they won’t all come to your attention at once. It takes time for word to get out and for candidates to respond.
Even then, not everyone you call will be interested, and many you interview won’t be a good fit. A few will seem like great fits and break your hearts by turning you down.
It’s like dating. Sometimes you marry the first girl you date. Sometimes it takes a few false starts and broken hearts. Be patient.