The Preacher Who Is Being Considered #1

how were you approached?

What’s the least amount of money it’d take for us to get’cha to come and be our preacher?” This conversation was the first contact with this church—the worst approach I’ve ever received inviting me to consider working with another church.

Elders and search committees tell much in the first contact. Are you interested in just some preacher or me? What have you learned about me that makes you think we might be compatible and I would be effective where you are? What will be your selection process? I’m not interested in a “beauty contest”—asking ten to twelve preachers to come in successive Sundays, select the best sermon, and invite him to be your next preacher. I’ve participated in that when I was desperate. It’s better not to be desperate. Let me share with you a welcomed contrast to that approach.

Elders and search committees tell much in the first contact. Click To Tweet

The Best Approach I’ve Ever Experienced or Heard

  • On June 4, 1984, I received a call from Bill Kirkpatrick. He said he and another man wanted to talk with me 25-30 minutes. He was in Montgomery, Alabama. They would be in Dalton, Georgia, at 4:00. When he and Kenneth Jones arrived, they introduced themselves as two elders from the Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas. They were looking for a preacher. They had an impressive introductory packet of information about the church. They wanted me to read it, and they would get back to me. I told them I wasn’t interested in moving to Texas. They replied, “We aren’t asking you to move to Texas. We want you to read the information, and we’ll talk to you later.” I told my elders Wednesday night about their visit and my response.
  • In about two weeks, they called requesting me to answer some questions to see if we were compatible. I told them I wasn’t interested in moving to Texas. Kenneth Jones said, “I’m not asking you to move to Texas. The elders would like to know more about you, what you believe, and how you work. It may be we wouldn’t fit.” They were the same questions they asked prospective members and which they used to evaluate Bible class teachers. I told my elders about the questionnaire.
  • In another two weeks, I received a call, requesting my family and me to visit Arlington. They wanted to acquaint us with the area, meet the other elders, and talk some more. We flew out on Thursday and returned on Saturday. They wanted to arrange another visit. I told them I wasn’t interested in moving to Texas. The only way I’d return was with a consultant, James Jones, from Atlanta, Georgia. He was a marriage and family therapist and a consultant with churches. I said, “It isn’t fair how we interview and hire preachers. There’s eight of you and one of me. When one of you is talking, seven of you are thinking. When I’m talking, nobody’s thinking. I need help. Coming to Arlington would be a major move for my family and me.” See: Who Is Your Counselor?. I told my elders in Dalton before and after I went.
  • In about two weeks, they called and said they were ready for James and me to come. We spent seven hours talking with the staff and eight hours talking with the elders. The elders and James had an hour without me. I discussed this trip with my elders in Dalton.
  • The Friday before Labor Day, I received a call inviting me to come to Arlington to work with them. We had an understanding I would have two or three days to think if they invited me to work with them. My family and I discussed it. On Labor Day, I called and told them I had decided to stay in Dalton and thanked them for one of the most challenging and growing experiences of my ministry. It was the best deliberation process I’ve ever known.

The following Wednesday night, I talked with my elders at Central in Dalton. I knew many in the congregation had heard about our talking with Pleasant Ridge. I told them if I’d damaged my relationship with the church, I’d resign and begin looking for another congregation. After discussing this, they told me they wanted me to stay. We had another four years of good ministry in Dalton.

Observations about the Process

  1. We took the time we needed to think. Often a church invites a preacher in for a Sunday. He teaches Sunday morning Bible class and preaches Sunday morning and Sunday night. He and the elders meet an hour before Sunday night services. Then they make a decision affecting the church, the preacher, and his family for years to come. We involved three months from the first contact to the final decision.
  2. They were willing to invest time, effort, and money to make a good choice. The brethren at Pleasant Ridge had the names of several preachers. They visited each one, delivering information for each to consider. That was a long missionary journey from Arlington, Texas, to Montgomery, Alabama, to Dalton, Georgia. They thought it was important.
  3. As the summer progressed, I had the idea they were interested in me—not just “a preacher,” and I would be fortunate if they chose me.
  4. They and I were willing to ask questions and make statements to get to the issue of whether this move was good for Pleasant Ridge and my family and me. We talked about what we liked and didn’t like. We expressed what was impressive and how we were disappointed.
  5. We used outside help. They had a counselor in the congregation, Mike Walker, who participated and observed many of our discussions. James Jones was helpful to them and me. James and I talked between sessions. He observed the discussions. He suggested questions and areas needing more exploration. My family met with James several times during the summer.
  6. The elders at Pleasant Ridge told me the summer was helpful to them and gave them wisdom in selecting their next preacher. This process should involve more than a weekend.
A church selecting a preacher and a preacher selecting a church is more important than, “Where would you like to eat tonight?”. The time, thought, effort, research, and prayer should demonstrate that. Click To Tweet

What are things you’ve observed that were helpful in making a good decision about preacher or church choice?

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When and How Will the Next Preacher Leave?

How long do you plan to stay? How do you plan to leave?

What’s something you need to discuss with your prospective preacher before you sign the job description and contract? I think there needs to be a clear understanding: how long do you plan to stay and how do you plan to leave?

This Needs To Be Discussed For The Benefit Of The Church
How Long Do You Plan to Stay?

Growing churches have preachers that stay a long time. Preachers staying a long time doesn’t guarantee church growth. But I’ve never seen or heard of a growing church changing preachers every two to five years.

If a preacher’s making this move as a stepping stone to a larger congregation or if he’s taking this opportunity to hold him until a church opens up in a more desirable location, it may not be wise to choose him as your next preacher.

How Do You Plan to Leave?

A preacher can destroy his previous ministry and damage the congregation if he leaves with a bad attitude.

He can make the transition easy when he cooperates with his departure, regardless of the reason. It’s easy to think elders are wise when they want us to come and decide they lose their wisdom when they ask us to leave.

This Needs to Be Discussed for the Benefit of the Preacher
What Would it Take for You to Ask Me to Leave and How Will You Treat My Family and Me Should That Happen?

Some churches have a plan to change preachers on a regular basis. I talked with one preacher who’d been at a congregation for four and a half years. The church was growing. The congregation seemed to be happy. The preacher and his family were enjoying their work. The elders informed him it was time for him to be looking for another congregation.

“What’s wrong,” the surprised preacher asked.

“Nothing’s wrong,” the elders answered. “We have a policy we change preachers every five years. You’ve been here four and a half years, and we want to give you plenty of time to find another church.”

That would’ve been a good discussion four years and seven months ago!

“We have a policy we change preachers every five years. You’ve been here four and a half years, and we want to give you plenty of time to find another church.” Click To Tweet

The best time to plan a funeral is before a terminal illness. It’s easier to select caskets, clothes, a preacher for the funeral, pallbearers, songs, and other special requests when everyone is well and happy.

The best time to discuss how dismissal might be conducted is when elders think they’re selecting the best preacher in the brotherhood and the preacher thinks he’s found the perfect church. There’s no conflict then. Emotions are pleasant. Everyone’s happy. Let’s talk about a possible head-on collision no one saw coming and decide how we’ll treat each other if the tragedy occurs.

Elders Preparation for This Discussion

The best way for elders to prepare for this discussion, it to have the same understanding about their tenure and departure. One of the most destructive things that can happen in a church is for there to be a “leadership suicide.”

“I hereby resign as a…of this congregation—effective immediately!” There may be a nod of the head, his wife rises, and they exit the back door. Or a gasp when even his wife didn’t know it was coming. I’ve observed or heard of it happening from elders, deacons, and preachers. Without discussion or planning, an angry or discouraged leader expresses his frustration by leaving without warning.

When elders have an understanding in place, they introduce this discussion by telling the prospective preacher, “This is the way we operate. We have a ‘no-suicide’ agreement in our eldership and with our deacons. We believe smooth transitions are important in any group and especially in the Lord’s church. Let’s discuss your leaving when we’re excited about your coming. Our commitment to you: we’ll follow Jesus’ teaching to treat you as we want others to treat us.” To read more about this: Preventing Leadership Suicide: we never saw it coming!

It would be good to continue to have this discussion during the annual review. Providing financial incentives and checking to be sure the preacher is preparing for eventual leaving by choice, retirement, disability, or death is a kindness shown by caring shepherds.

It’s better to have hard conversations when they’re easy! Click To Tweet

What suggestions do you have for good partings?

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Preacher Search Suggestions 4

suggestions about looking for a preacher

You may want to read the previous three posts: Preacher Search Suggestions 1Preacher Search Suggestions 2Preacher Search Suggestions 3.

  • Keep the congregation informed.  On a regular schedule (two to three weeks), give a brief report with no names mentioned.  Communicate with specifics:  “We’ve received 25 suggestions from members here, and we’ve received 37 résumés.  We’ve contacted all but six who weren’t available.  Ten said they weren’t interested in further consideration.”
  • Be sensitive to the family.  The wife and children will be part of the decision and will be vital to the happiness after the move.  A special activity for the children when they visit will impress.  Leaving them in a motel to watch TV while Dad is being interviewed will also leave an impression.
  • When the family visits to begin making the final decision, continue to plan activities to give them information about the church and community, but also leave adequate free time.  They need time to pray, talk about you, question, doubt, make calls for advice, and think.
  • Checking references is essential.  Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, NKJV).  It’s been my experience that many people do an inadequate job of learning about prospective preachers.  It’s my opinion you aren’t ready to select a preacher (and the preacher isn’t ready to select you) until you know—not only what you like—but also what you don’t like and how you’ll put up with it.  If you aren’t aware of his weaknesses, you don’t know him well enough.  See Reference Interview Form.
  • Besides checking references, both the ones submitted by the candidate and more references suggested by his references, you should:
    • Do a criminal background check.
    • Do a credit check.
    • Discuss with the preacher any unfavorable reports you received from all sources and discern truth which will set you free proceed or stop the process with this person (Matthew 7:12).
    • Check laws in your state about proper permission to do a criminal background check and credit check. You may need to get written permission to do these.
  • Plan a Funeral—Graduation Party at the conclusion to celebrate your good work and to reflect on what you have learned about God, about His church, about others, and about yourself.

Remember the three Main Rules for the Preacher Search…

My policy for being a reference at an interim congregation is included in my last paragraph of this training document, Suggestions for the Preacher Search:

I appreciate your willingness to work on this significant task.  I’ve enjoyed our time together.  I’m glad to give thoughts on looking for a preacher.  I won’t discuss the persons you consider.  I won’t be a reference for or a critic against men who apply.

May God bless you as you seek His wisdom in this process.

What suggestions do you have for the search?

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Preacher Search Suggestions 3

suggestions about looking for a preacher

Please read previous suggestions: Preacher Search Suggestions 1; Preacher Search Suggestions 2.

  • Don’t promise prospective preachers much.
    • Each member of the search team should be careful not to discuss your preferences and give an indication to a preacher he’s the “top pick” when the group hasn’t reached a decision.
    • Avoid feel-good phrases without specific meaning, “We’ll take care of you when you get here.”
    • Think before you promise, “We’ll call you Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.”
  • Do what you promise. One of the most disappointing things in my years of ministry is a failure of elders and search committees to call when they promised. Often an interview would end with the statement, “We’ll meet and discuss this. We’ll call you Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. to let you know what we decided.”

    My question, “Central time or Eastern time?” When clarified, I wrote the telephone appointment in my DayTimer™.

    As Tuesday night approached, I told my children, “I have an important call Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. If one of your friends calls from 7:45 on, tell them, ‘Daddy has an important call coming at 8:00. I’ll call you back.’ ”

    8:00 came and went; 8:15, 8:30, 9:00. No call. My reasoning: elders usually meet on Wednesday night. That’s what they probably meant. They’ll call after services. On the way home from Bible study, the conversation with my children, “I may have an important call coming in tonight. If one of your friends calls, tell them, ‘Daddy is expecting an important call. I’ll call you back later.’ ”

    No call on Wednesday, Thursday—often never. I’d learn about their new preacher when I read an announcement in the Gospel Advocate. This happened time after time.

    This practice was so pronounced that one elder who did what he promised stands out. In 1988, I learned at Freed-Hardeman lectures the church in Amory, Mississippi, was looking for a preacher. I called one of the elders, Jimmy Vaughan, and talked with him. He told me, “Yes, we’re looking. We heard you might be available. We may want to talk with you. We’re talking with one man at a time. We’re talking with a preacher now, and it looks like we may come to an agreement. If we don’t, we want to talk with you next. We plan to decide this weekend. I’ll call you Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. and let you know, either way.”

    “Central time or Eastern time?”

    “Central time.”

    My conversation with my children, “I have an important call Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. If one of your friends call from 7:45 on, tell them, ‘Daddy has an important call coming at 8:00. I’ll call you back.’ ”

    Tuesday night came. I was waiting. At 8:00 p.m., 7:00 CST, my phone rang in Dalton, Georgia.

    “This is Jimmy Vaughan from Amory, Mississippi.” That’s when he said he would call!

    From that day, every time I saw Jimmy Vaughan, I would address him, “There’s Jimmy Vaughan from Amory, Mississippi, the elder who tells the truth.” In notes in my Contacts list on my iPhone under Jimmy Vaughan, I have this written, “the elder who tells the truth” – 1988. In notes below Contacts information in his daughter’s entry, “Daughter of Jimmy Vaughn, Amory, Mississippi, the elder who tells the truth”.

    I’ve labored this point because in my experience, and in the experience of many preachers who’ve talked with me, this practice is common. That should not be!

    During the time of looking for a preacher isn’t time to disregard principles or Biblical morality of telling the truth and being considerate of others.

  • Keep everyone in the process informed. Considering moving is a time of stress for many people: the preacher, his wife, his children, the congregation where he’s working, if they know about his consideration, and other congregations he’s considering. If a person is no longer in consideration, let him know. If it’ll be longer to complete a particular phase than you stated, let the people involved know. If it’s been some time since you communicated to those involved and you don’t have anything to say, let them know you don’t have anything to say.

Notice Three Main Rules for the Preacher Search above in the post. Both preachers and churches should study verbal and non-verbal communication. We’re beginning to tell each other how we’ll treat each other when we get together.

What suggestions do you have for the search?

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Preacher Search Suggestions 2

suggestions from observation and experience about looking for a preacher

This post is second in a series of what I’ve learned “trying out” and serving as an interim in seven congregations. Read first: Barber Bullets 1

  • Consider a “no suicide” contract for the search team. Sometimes people get tired, disillusioned, or frustrated when working on a project. They may quit unexpectedly in disgust: “Now they’ll know how important I was.” A better way is to keep current. It may be during selection that one or more will have a good reason not to complete the assignment. Communicate to the group your intentions and reasons and give them time to adjust to your absence on the committee. Rule # 1 is to let God be a part of the process. It’s not Christian conduct to ignore the teaching of Jesus when you’re searching for a preacher—or any other time. Considerate family members don’t disappear and never explain where they went and why they didn’t show up when expected.
  • When you’re pursuing a “good preacher,” your first task is not to “hire” him. The first goal is to help you and him decide if this church is a good fit for him and you. When and if you talk with a “good preacher,” and you or he decides it’s not a good fit, you’ve been more successful than if you’d “hired” a “good preacher” that didn’t fit.

Some good eligible men don’t need to marry some good eligible women—not because either is bad or unChristian. They just don’t fit. Many good preachers don’t need to be preaching in many good congregations—not because they’re bad preachers or the churches are bad churches. They’re good. But they don’t fit. From my perspective, this is one of the first tasks of the search team and prospective preacher—determine if you fit. If you don’t fit, you’re wasting time talking about salary, insurance, vacation, number of weeks off for meetings, workshops, and lectureships, retirement plans, and whether to rent a U-Haul or call North American Moving Company.

When you're pursuing a “good preacher,” your first task is not to “hire” him. The first objective is to help you and he determine if this church is a good fit for each other. Click To Tweet
  • Remember it’s not only the preacher that’s “trying out.” The congregation is also “trying out.” Both have choices. If he’s a “good preacher,” he’s watching and investigating every aspect of this congregation just as you’re watching and investigating him.

Our family served as Shoney’s and Captain D’s mystery shoppers for six years. We ate at the restaurants once a week and filled out a form, answering questions to check the restaurant, staff, and food each week. As soon as we ate, we mailed the form to their headquarters to help them know how they were doing. They took our suggestions and made adjustments.

When we moved the next time, we made a Shoney’s Mystery Shopper form for each church where we were “trying out.” The church was “trying out” from the first contact until we completed our decision where we were moving.

Here are samples of notes I made during one move in my ministry.

Church 1

Church 2

At one church where I served as an interim, they narrowed their search to four men. They invited each of them and his wife to visit on successive Friday-Saturdays. They interviewed, showed the community, and continued their evaluation of each other.

On one weekend, the preacher stayed over on Saturday night and visited Bible classes and worship the next morning. I wasn’t aware of this, and very few in the congregation knew—just the search team who saw him. I asked the congregation the next Sunday if they were aware they were “trying out” the previous Sunday. I told them one of the four top preacher candidates was present. He was watching and listening, observing singing, praying, friendliness or unfriendliness, the condition of the building and grounds, and getting on-site impressions of what kind of church this was and whether there was a fit. Often search teams go to a prospective preacher’s congregation, observing him. It’s also valuable for a preacher to do this. I call this “equalizing the pressure.”

During a search, both the preacher and the church have choices. Both are trying out. Click To Tweet

What suggestions do you have to help in searching for a new preacher?

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Barber Bullets 1

suggestions from observation and experience about looking for a preacher

This started as a hand-out during the training workshop for the group looking for and evaluating the next preacher. These are things I’ve learned from the University of Hard Knocks. Consider what I say and feel free to use the wastebasket.

  • Invite God to be part of this process. Remind yourself and others that His wisdom is available to those who pray for it (James 1:5) and work for it (Proverbs 2:1-5). You’re starting a lengthy, difficult, invigorating, enlightening, and frustrating journey. Neither you individually nor the group collectively has the wisdom to deal with all issues, individuals, families, and churches you’ll be affecting as you carry out your task. Each person, including yourself, is a creation of God deserving to be treated with respect and love. God’s word gives us principles for every situation in life. God promised to give us wisdom when we realize we don’t have it. Click To Tweet I suggest you begin this search being poor in spirit and begging God for wisdom you need.
  • The process is as important as the product. Christians on the Search/Interview committees are not just doing a job. You are participating in an opportunity to grow spiritually. You can learn about God, others, and yourself. Be aware of your hopes, fears, prejudices, and faith. Watch for growth. Thank God for the opportunity to take part in this good work and the strength and wisdom He furnishes.
  • What are your rules? What are the spoken guidelines? What are the unspoken expectations? Don’t start talking until you agree, as a group, how you’re going to talk. Some suggested guidelines: Discussion Rules. Good agreements are ways of reducing conflict before conflict begins. If you don’t have conflict—differences of opinion—several of you are unnecessary. The reason we have a committee instead of a CEO is to get different perspectives. Click To Tweet The goal is to create an atmosphere where each person feels free and is encouraged to express every viewpoint. What may seem trivial to you, may spark an idea in another person that will make a difference in the outcome.
  • Spend five minutes at the end of each session to evaluate the process. How did we do? Was I heard? How am I feeling about what we’re doing? How am I relating to others in the group? Do I feel part of the team? It’s easy for a dominant personality or two to monopolize and unduly influence the group. Many people won’t talk unless they’re asked. Be concerned. Be honest. Be interested in the best choice possible. The chairman should ask each person about the process and how they feel about how they interacted during the meeting today.

What suggestions do you have to help in searching for a new preacher?

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Checking References

do you want to know the truth?

“Everything looks good. This man is impressive. He’s devoted to Jesus. His sermons on the net are outstanding—Biblical, interesting, challenging, authentic, and applicable to daily life. His wife and family seem to be dedicated and a compliment to the preacher’s ministry. His interview was outstanding! He answered questions well. His questions were relevant and challenging for the search group. I say let’s offer him the work before someone else gets him!”

What about checking references?

“What else could you want? He preaches, lives, and applies God’s word. He was recommended by a friend of mine who said he didn’t know anything against him. We better call quickly or he’ll be gone.”

Checking references is often a distraction in the process. Many people who call me as a reference for a preacher come across as someone who wants me to confirm the decision they’ve already made to secure this man.

It’s the responsibility of the search team to find a disciple of Jesus who is a competent, caring, and clean man who will be the next preacher. To do that, the searchers need to do due diligence to find the truth which will set them, the preacher, and the congregation free to enter into a good relationship.

There’s no problem of securing the “chief of sinners” to be the next preacher if he’s received mercy, has put off the old man, and is continually putting on the new man. It’s a problem if the old man is denied, still lives in the back bedroom, and visits in his life frequently.

If the preacher has no issues with most forms of immorality, but is lazy, filled with uncontrolled anger, incompetent, dull, or uncooperative, the best time to learn about any of these things is before he loads up the U-Haul™ coming your way.

If the preacher has no issues with most forms of immorality, but is lazy, filled with uncontrolled anger, incompetent, dull, or uncooperative, the best time to learn about any of these things is before he loads up the U-Haul™ coming your way. Click To Tweet

What do you ask a reference?

You need to address many aspects of the prospective preacher’s life to contribute to a good fit for the ministry you want in your congregation. The best material I’ve seen came from the Minister Transition Packet, prepared by Dr. Charles Siburt. I bought a copy several years ago. It’s full of good ideas about the transition process. They now have different packets for securing preachers, youth ministers, and for ministers looking: Transition Packets.

Click links to see the reference form I’ve modified for search teams:

Call the reference to make an appointment to do the interview. I plan on forty-five minutes to an hour. I prefer a personal meeting, but often it isn’t practical.

I like to go over the rules: why I’m calling, confidentiality for the person answering questions, the importance of providing information, and our desire to do what’s best for the preacher, his family, the church where he’s working now, and our congregation. I want to know his strengths and weaknesses. If a reference doesn’t give any weaknesses, I disregard that contact. Either he or she doesn’t know the person well enough or isn’t being forthright with the information.

I want to know his strengths and weaknesses. If a reference doesn’t give any weaknesses, I disregard that contact. Either he or she doesn’t know the person well enough or isn’t being forthright with the information. Click To Tweet

A church isn’t ready to invite a preacher to work with them until they know what they like, what they don’t like, and how they plan to put up with what they don’t like. A preacher isn’t ready to move to a church until he knows what he likes, at least a thing or two he won’t like, and how he plans to put up with what he doesn’t like.

In addition to a thorough checking of references—both the ones submitted by the candidate and more references suggested by initial references, you should:

  1. Do a criminal background check.
  2. Do a credit check.
  3. Discuss with the preacher any unfavorable reports you received from all sources and determine truth which will set you free to proceed or stop the process with this person (Matthew 7:12).

Check laws in your state about proper permission to do a criminal background check and credit check. You may need to get written permission to do these.

I don’t know how to over-emphasize the necessity of working hard to know the person you’re considering to work with you and your people in the intimate and essential areas of life, death, sin, holiness, family, discipleship, loving God, and our neighbors. Regardless of his eloquence and pizzazz, if his life doesn’t back up his message, he isn’t the man for your pulpit.

What has worked for you in finding vital information about a prospective preacher?

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Preacher Search — Interviews

what will you ask and what will you be asked?

The search team has read recommendations and resumes. They’ve sorted their first impressions into A, B, and C categories. It’s time to continue the evaluation.

The search team and prospective preacher should consider, compile, and practice two sets of questions:

  1. What will I ask?
  2. What will I be asked?

If I’m concerned with only one side of the interview, what I want to know, I’ll be half-prepared. That will come across when the other party begins to ask questions. I need to prepare a repertoire of responses to every question I may be asked by the other person(s).

Some Presuppositions

  • The purpose of the interview isn’t to “get the job” or “hire this good preacher.” The purpose of interview-evaluation is to see if we fit. There are many good preachers and many good congregations that don’t need to be together. They don’t fit. They may be equally righteous and faithful. But they don’t fit. There are many good men and good women that don’t need to be married. They are good Christians following Jesus. But they don’t fit each other.
  • Each of the interviewing parties should be equally eager to give and receive critical information that will help the other make a good decision.
  • Both the church and preacher are trying out. Both have choices. Either can reject the other. If one wants to work together and the other doesn’t, they don’t fit. It takes two to make a match. It takes one to reject an offer.
  • The best time to get a divorce is before you get married. If there’s anything that would be a disappointment and deal breaker, it’s better to come out during the interview than six months after the new preacher has moved and someone is surprised — the church or the preacher.
  • Faith grows through creative doubt (Mark 9:23, 24). Ask what you need to know and check with independent sources to sustain or question answers during the interview. Read the post on Checking References.
  • An excellent principle of the search process:

     Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).

The purpose of the interview isn’t to “get the job” or “hire this good preacher.” Click To Tweet


Church to Preacher

The general principle: ask what you need to know to make a good selection of the preacher and church. Ask enough to discover what you like about the other, what you don’t like, and whether you can put up with what you don’t like to enjoy what you like.

For sample interview tools, on the Search page, click on Interviews.

You’ll find (click on tabs at the top of the page or download PDF or Word files on the links below):

  1. Phone Interview.pdf; Phone Interview.doc.
  2. Pulpit Minister Interview Questions.pdf; Pulpit Minister Interview Questions.doc.
  3. Minister Interview Summary.
  4. Letter to Applicant.pdf; Letter to Applicant.doc.
  5. Letter of Regret.pdf; Letter of Regret.doc.

In addition to these questions, I suggest:

  • Discuss media involvement on Facebook, Twitter, other media. Exchange friendship, follows, and check the past year of posts.
  • Discuss how the preacher deals with political issues, your philosophy of the Christian and government, and how it should be handled from the pulpit, in classes, bulletin, and on social media.
  • Ask about sermon preparation. What % of your sermons come from preparation from scratch, what % from reworked sermons of lessons heard on the internet, lectureships, etc., and what % copies from internet sources such as Sermon Central.
  • Ask about previous involvement in pornography in print, on the internet, movies, or other sources, and how he guards against this. This is a problem for many ministers: Here’s How 770 Pastors Describe Their Struggle with Porn. If you decide this is unimportant, be prepared to deal with an angry, depressed preacher who will have to be right on every issue, or who’ll have to change everything his way to grow and please the Lord, and could have sexual issues acted out with members of the congregation. To prepare for this question, practice with all members of the Search Team and elders in case the preacher prospect is interested in the same issue with you (Matthew 7:12).

You may find these questions inadequate for your needs. Delete the questions you think are unnecessary, add questions you think are vital, and you’ll have an ideal list for your search.

I suggest a practice session before your first interview. I did this with one interim congregation. I was the preaching candidate. They asked me their questions. I answered. I asked questions a preacher might ask.

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Preacher to Church

If you’re on the Search Team or if you’re an elder interviewing a prospective preacher, what will he ask you?

For a sample of questions four preachers have used, click on Questions for Elders.

Questions by three preachers (click on tabs at top of page or download PDF or Word files on links below):

  1. Dale Jenkins.pdf; Dale Jenkins.doc.
  2. Bryan McAlister.pdf; Bryan McAlister.doc.
  3. Jeremy Houck.pdf; Jeremy Houck.doc.
  4. Chad Landman, 25 Questions Every Youth Minister Should Ask.

You may find these inadequate for your needs. They ask the wrong questions. They don’t ask the right questions. Delete the unnecessary questions, add vital questions, and you’ll have an ideal list for your search.

What suggestions do you have for an evaluation by both parties that will lead to a good fit?

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Interim Ministry Workshop

Nashville, Tennessee, September 21-23, 2017

Front Row: Alisa Leonard, Susan Sandefur
Back Row: Roger Leonard, Dean Miller, Ron Sandefur. We had an elder and wife, a preacher and wife, and another preacher.

Our schedule:
Thursday and Friday: 8:00-12:00; 1:00-5:00; 7:00-9:00
Saturday: 8:00-12:00

I appreciate the brethren at Charlotte Heights Church of Christ allowing us to use their building and helping in every way.

Some of the topics we discussed:

  • Three Rules.
  • Introductions.
  • Discussion Guidelines.
  • My ministry today — my ministry ten years from today.
  • Family Systems.
  • Questions to Learn More About Your Family.
  • When to Leave…Before You Go, “mustard seeds”.
  • Elder Rules.
  • Staff, elder, deacon evaluation.
  • Contracts.
  • Learning from past elders.
  • Getting the word out about your availability.
    • Blog, website.
    • Emails from Contacts.
  • Interim Ministry Network.
  • Leadership classes:
    • God’s Great Servants.
    • Learning to Love my Friend(s).
  • Preaching during the interim. (Workbook).
    • Sermon series I always preach.
    • How to Treat the New Preacher.
    • Every Christian Is an Interim Minister.
  • Staff meetings.
  • Different ways of doing interim.
    • Sundays.
    • Weekend.
    • Residence.
  • Transitions, “mustard seeds”.
  • Jesus and Peacemaking—how to reduce conflict in a church.
  • Compensation for an interim preacher.
  • Setting goals.
  • Transition Monitoring Team.
  • Gail and ladies discussion of wives of interims.
  • Expressing gratitude, appreciation, recognition.
  • Self-study.
  • Timeline.
  • What Preachers Wish Elders Knew About Preachers.
  • Evaluation of workshop.

I’m considering another workshop next year (2018). Please let me know your interest and preferences as to the month and which three days in the week.

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Search Team Training

how do you look for a new preacher?

How do you suggest searching for a preacher that will be blessed by and a blessing to this congregation at this time? In this post, I give experience from 1961 to the present, with five congregations in full-time work and interim churches since 2007. This is an outline of a training day for the team directly involved in the search process. As always, the wastebasket is available for any ideas that aren’t helpful.


     I begin the training process with some presuppositions.

  • I believe God loves His church. Jesus built it and died for it (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28). God is not only concerned about the church universal but each congregation individually. Several letters of the New Testament are to local groups of believers.
  • Since God loves His church and wants the best for it, we should invite Him to be part of this process. Remind yourself and others that His wisdom is available to those who pray for it (James 1:5) and work for it (Proverbs 2:1-5).
  • The process is as important as the product. Christians on the Search and Interview Teams, including the entire eldership, are not just doing a job but you are participating in an opportunity to grow spiritually. You can learn about God, about others, and about yourself.
  • Each committee should become a group before they see the first résumé or mention the first preacher’s name. A friend used to say, “I dream of a place and a time where Christians can get together and tell the truth.” The interview and selection process should be one of those times and places.
  • If one holds back, does not speak his mind, doesn’t ask important questions, doesn’t add helpful insight, or is in any way intimidated or compromised, the group and the church is deprived of group wisdom. Becoming a group will require several meetings before they “get on with the Lord’s work” of selecting a preacher. I believe learning to get along with each other, discussing how we’re going to conduct business, including how we’ll settle conflict when it arises, and getting to know each other in order to “stir up love and good works” is part of “the Lord’s work.”
  • The training day is designed to begin this process. It’s only the beginning. Usually, a group goes through three stages before it  is ready to function:
      1. Forming.
      2. Storming.
      3. Norming.
     I include activities in the training to begin those stages. I conducted these training sessions on a Saturday.

7:30     Breakfast. We start with a light meal. Eating together begins the group process. Many things happen when we are eating to bring us together.

After breakfast, I get the group into a circle. Everyone is facing everyone else. Everyone is on the front row.

Prayer is a part of our day at many different times. We pray for wisdom. We pray for the members of the search and interview team. We pray for the elders. We pray for the next preacher. We pray for the men who will be considered who will want to come but will not be selected.  We pray for this church and the body of Christ over the world.

8:00     Guidelines. I begin any group (counseling session, Bible class, Family Meeting, Stress Session in a monthly ministers’ workshop) with negotiating guidelines. Family (group) rules are usually unconscious, unspoken, but understood. That makes for difficult communication. I want the rules to be spoken, conscious, and understood. These are the boundaries that improve the possibility that “Christians can get together and tell the truth.” “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed” (Amos 3:3, NKJV)? The answer to that question is, “No!” Many discussions end in chaos or miscommunication because we didn’t talk about how we were going to talk. You can receive a free copy of the guidelines I use by subscribing to my blog post reminders: GUIDELINES FOR A GOOD DISCUSSION: how to lead a peaceful conversation about powerful things .

8:35     Mixer, introduction. The people line up according to birthdays: January – December. They get into pairs. Each person interviews the other, preparing to introduce the partner to the group. Tell something about yourself and include something that no one knows about you until today. Each person introduces his/her partner.

8:45     What do you bring to this process? It is interesting how different people contribute to the search process. Some are good at calling, recording, leading the meetings, writing letters or emails, asking interview questions, arranging for visits to the congregation, keeping spreadsheets of where each candidate is in the process, preparing sermons on CDs or MP3s for others to hear. We learn more about that in this section of the training session.

9:15     What will you get out of this? Each person needs to examine his motives. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The search process is long and sometimes difficult and frustrating. Unless there is adequate motivation, the members will get discouraged. That can result in some people quitting and/or rushing the process to “get it over with” and end with less than excellent results.


9:45     Centertown Church of Christ now—10 years from now. After the break, I bring people to tables with crayons and large drawing paper. I ask each person to draw a line vertically in the middle of the page. On the left side of the paper, each person draws his or her impression of this congregation now. On the right side of the page, each person draws his or her hopes and dreams for this church ten years from now. After everyone is finished, we come back into the circle and discuss the pictures. Everyone is learning what others see now and what they want to see in the future. These ideas will help form what they want to see in the next preacher.

10:30    Book “mustard seeds”. A few weeks before, I have given everyone a book on the selection process. During this session, each person shares some ideas gained that may be helpful in selecting the next preacher for this congregation. Some suggested books for preacher search . My recommended book is The Search Committee Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to Hiring Your Next Minister, by Don Viar.

11:15     Search Committee, Interview Committee, Elders. This is where we discuss the job description of each committee and the elders. It is necessary to have a clear understanding of what each group is and is not to do in the process.

12:00    Lunch.

12:45     Chain Letter. After lunch, I read a chain letter about preachers I received by email: Preacher Chain Letter .

1:00      Preacher of your dreams—preacher of your nightmares. It’s back to the drawing board for this exercise. As before, I ask each person to draw a line down the middle of the paper. On the left side, please draw a representation of the “Preacher of Your Dreams.” If you could get the perfect preacher, what would he look like? What is the kind of preacher would you want to come to this congregation? This will certainly include something about his stand for truth but also attitudes, mannerisms, and attitudes—both in and out of the pulpit. What should be his emphasis? In what areas would you tolerate weaknesses in order to have strengths in other areas?

     After everyone is finished with that, on the right side of the paper, please draw the “Preacher of Your Nightmares.” What would the opposite of the “Preacher of Your Dreams” look like?

     When all are finished, we get into the circle to discuss these works of art and visualizations of our expectations of the next preacher. I allow each one to tell about their picture and their preacher.

     My final question in this exercise is, “What if the preacher of your dreams is someone else’s nightmare?”. How will you work with others who have different expectations of the next preacher? That is the challenge of the selection committee—whether it is the elders during the whole process or whether a group makes recommendations to the elders for their consideration before making the decision. Will each person listen to the other and will each person express their thoughts and feelings freely to contribute to the final selection?

1:30      Barber’s Bullets for Preacher Search is a collection of my thoughts and observations as I have experienced and watched this process. I express my best judgment. As always, the wastebasket is available for anything not worth taking home. 

1:45      Evaluation. A good way for me to learn is to do the best I know how and ask others to help me improve. In evaluating the training session, I ask two questions?

  • What did you learn?
  • How can this training be better next time?

     We conclude at 2:00 with a prayer for God to bless the process and bless us to take advantage of this opportunity to grow in our faith in God, connection to each other, and improvement in our wisdom, skills, and attitude.

What suggestions do you have to prepare people for the new preacher search?

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