Broken and Ineffective? The Pastoral Search Committee Process.

Ever wait for a pastoral search committee to make its selection? 

Ever get frustrated with the length of time you have had to wait? 

Two months. Six months. Nine months. Eighteen months … 

Read on. 

Any pastor that has ever decided to seek another pastorate, for any reason, has probably found themselves patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for long periods. I have always found the pastoral search committee process one of the most ineffective, and perhaps, laborious and drawn-out tasks I have ever witnessed (or been a participant). However, I should note that I have worked in the world of business. 

As a former restaurant owner and operator, I was the executive in charge of the hiring process, sometimes of two restaurants simultaneously. My restaurants were high-end establishments; finding qualified chefs and the wait staff was priority one. Sifting through resumes, vetting people, and seeking recommendations was a minuscule part of the daily operations but an imperative one.

The Problem

So, to say that I am dumbfounded by the amount of time it takes for a church committee to “call” a pastor has at times made me nearly re-consider my “calling.”  While I believe in the wisdom of counsel, sometimes I perceive a lackadaisical approach to the process. 

            To clarify, I would never state that any individuals are purposefully or maliciously lazy in their duty—to the contrary—most pastoral search committees are volunteers that work other jobs. They are required to usually meet once every other week or even once a month—they make reports back to the church about the candidates they have chosen. Sometimes the church may even receive hundreds of resumes, just like any other business in the world. But what if these individuals were tasked at their occupation to hire an individual, and they waited two years?

The Results

In the name of “prayer” and “seeking God’s wisdom,” there is a languid pace of selection that does not seem to validate the lengthy process beneficially. Statistics demonstrate that the average search committee takes between 18-24 months from start to selection.[1] That’s two years! In my mind, that is absurd and ineffective! Let me tell you why.

LifeWay research indicated that the average pastoral tenure in a church is 3.6 years. In contrast, a recent Harvard study found that the average tenure of a CEO was at least 7.2 years, double that of the church.[2] The average hiring process for a C-suite level individual was 76 days (less than three months). I utilize the C-suite level statistics to illustrate a point since the senior pastor is viewed on the same level. Additionally, I think it’s appropriate since the average college graduate is hired in 24.5 days and the average across all industries is 43 days.[3] I utilized the largest number.

            Imagine waiting nearly two years to know if a specific company has hired you? Imagine the frustration, angst, and not to mention, the difficult task of performing day-to-day activities in a position that you know you are leaving. I have to wonder, would a president of a company question a recruiting agency or inside committee that took nearly two years to fill a position?

A Real Issue

            Here’s one of the real issues. The average pastoral tenure is 3.6 years, and the average search committee process takes 18-24 months for selection. In that case, the pastor has proverbially “left the building” a long time before he submits his resignation. Statistics might illustrate that the average tenure could technically be 1.5 years, but I’m not making that case. My point is the search committee process is broken and ineffective. The secular world is much more effective in its hiring process. 

            Ok, I know what you’re thinking. The church isn’t “hiring” anyone; the pastorate is a calling that necessitates the wisdom of God to make sure of a perfect fit. Sure, I agree, but to what extent? The numbers state that the “fit” was never there, certainly not in the sense of longevity. So, what’s the solution?

Solutions?

            I don’t propose to be the expert, only someone that sees hindrances, innovation, statistics, and paradigmatic trends. However, the lengthy pastoral search committee process seems to be a hindrance to the church. How so? If senior pastors proverbially leave their positions two years before the resignation, we have pastors in pulpits that are not focused, unhappy, and probably “going through the motions.” The church needs to be doing a better job at prayerfully and speedily choosing the pastor. The early church chose an apostle by drawing straws (Acts 1:26). 

            While I don’t think we should be reduced to casting lots, perhaps Luke’s point in Acts is that God is sovereign. Maybe we hone down the selection process quickly and let God do the rest. If you think that the long, drawn-out process of two years will be more beneficial, you might want to re-think that—statistics demonstrate otherwise.

            Another solution may be that the church is not raising leaders from within. The church “hires” from outside, bringing in a person that needs to learn the DNA, nuances, personalities, and inner workings of the community and church people. However, I have also found this troubling since most congregations will not respect or trust a leader from within (Mark 6:4). But that’s another topic. 

            So, my best advice (maybe you have an opinion, too), let us heed and obey the words of Christ, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).


[1] National Association of Congregational Churches, https://www.naccc.org/resources/pastoral-search/

[2] Dan Marcec, “CEO Tenure Rates” https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2018/02/12/ceo-tenure-rates/

[3] “How long does it take to hire an executive” https://www.ghrr.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-hire-an-executive/