Are We There Yet?: Knowing the Steps in a Pastoral Transition (Part 2)

In the previous post, I discussed indicators to help a pastor know whether it’s time for a transition from one church to another. Let’s assume the answer is yes—it is time for a change. And let’s also assume you have your resume and references together, and you’re actually talking with different churches about openings. You’re out of the starting blocks fast and clean.

When I coach pastors during a season of transition, there’s something they often don’t understand but should: the steps involved in a search process and where you’re at within that process. It sounds simple, but it’s not always as simple as it sounds. And a lot of frustration ensues when the process is jumbled in the mind of a candidate. This confusion manifests itself when someone—a spouse or friend or family member—asks how close you are to being hired. The response goes something like, “You know, I’m not sure. The church said something about an interview weekend, but also something about a theology examination and calling references. But I don’t know exactly when and how all of this happens.”

Look at it like this. If you live in rural Pennsylvania, consider what you need to do to go on a vacation to Los Angeles. Do you know how you’ll get there? Will you fly? Will you drive? And if you drive, will you stay in hotels, at campsites, or with friends? Will you make a sightseeing road trip of it, or will you drive as efficiently as possible, with you and your passenger taking eight-hour shifts at the wheel, stopping only for gas and coffee?
The same goes for knowing how you’ll be hired. If you don’t understand the process, you’ll be like my children when we go on a road trip asking if we are there yet when we’ve only just begun.

It’s likely that two Baptist churches that are otherwise equal in every major way will have vastly different steps in their own hiring processes. For example, near the end of the process, the elders or the search committee might come to visit you on your home turf. Or they might fly you to visit them in their context. They might do this once, or they might do it several times.

And when will your spouse, if you’re married, become involved? Will she be interviewed relatively early in the process (which is typically better for everyone involved) or very late in the process? If variations like these exist between two churches in the same denomination, it will certainly exist among nondenominational churches even more so.

The Process

Let’s get more concrete. In broad terms, the following is what one hiring process might look like. Some of the steps may occur in a slightly different order in your situation, such as the timing of when a church calls a candidate’s references and when you negotiate salary. Additionally, other steps may be skipped altogether, such as the optional steps early in the process or the video conference interview (especially if the candidate is local).

Preliminary Steps of the Hiring Process

1. Former pastor announces resignation (or is terminated) and the transition process begins.
2. [Optional] Leadership conducts an exit interview with the outgoing pastor.
3. [Optional] Leadership (and congregation) evaluates the need for an interim pastor and acts accordingly.
4. [Optional] Leadership conducts a congregational survey.
5. Search team is assembled and begins to meet.
6. [Optional] Search team and leadership have meetings with denominational representatives and other consultants.
7. Search team and leadership create an official job description and compensation package. They also create, whether formally or informally, the profile of their “ideal” pastor (age, experience, education, skillset, theological and philosophical DNA, etc.).
8. Possible internal candidates are considered and potentially asked to participate in the public process.

Public Steps of the Hiring Process

9. Position advertised publicly.
10. Resumes are received.
11. Candidates complete a pastoral information packet.
12. Phone interviews (possibly several of them).
13. Request for (more) sermon samples (or worship videos, etc.).
14. References are contacted.
15. Video conference interview (possibly several of them, with one including the pastor’s spouse).
16. Background check completed.
17. In-person interviews, but not over a weekend.
18. Potential hiring details are negotiated, including start date and salary package.
19. Candidating weekend (maybe longer than a weekend and will likely include many formal and informal interviews, possibly a sermon, a congregational Q&A, and a vote).
20. Hiring details are re-negotiated.
21. Church issues a formal call for candidate to pastor their church.
22. Candidate accepts formal call.
23. Church sends official letter of hire outlining terms of employment.
24. Installation of new pastor.

Twenty-four steps! That’s a lot of steps, right?

It sure is, but again, not every search will involve each step. Still, in the best churches the process will always be long and involved. Author and pastor Chris Brauns writes in his helpful book When the Word Leads Your Search, “The number of interviews will depend on factors that vary from church to church. In my experience, it would not be unusual to have more than fifteen hours of interviews [with the candidate who ultimately gets the job]” (146). This estimation likely only includes the formal interviews; if all the informal social interactions are included, especially from across the candidating weekend, the total hours would be far higher.

Conclusion

Simply put, don’t shy away from asking questions about how you’ll be hired. Knowing what’s coming next will help you prepare for the individual steps as they unfold. Is the next interview a theological one? Great, you’ll be ready. Is it an informal discussion with your spouse where they’ll ask to hear her testimony? Great, prepare for that one too.

Knowing the process and what’s coming next will also help you prepare emotionally. It will be deflating to think you’ve reached the end of the road only to find out there’s more to be done. After four straight days in the car on your road trip to LA, you don’t want to confuse crossing Arizona’s border with California’s; you still have ten hours to go.

* This post has been adapted from Benjamin Vrbicek’s new book Don’t Just Send a Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church. If you’re considering a transition in pastoral ministry, please check out this helpful resource.

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