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,… 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… 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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4 thoughts on “Checking References

  1. Never ask for anything you are not prepared to provide.

    Asking for a resume? Prepare one for your congregation.

    Asking for references? Provide more than you ask for … former members, former preachers, former volunteers.

    Asking for case-study responses? Be prepared to answer his.

    Open your joys and shame, your highs and lowest lows, your vision and your blindness. Be humble and focused. Be exemplary and real. Be your best self while exposing the real you.

    Be prepared to be rejected because you had a smudge on one shoe and prepare to get less bang for your buck than expected. And if you are offended by talk of salaries, prepare to be treated as the hypocrite you are perceived as being.

    Stop looking for an employee. Preachers, if worthy of the apellation, will never be your employee. They were called by Jesus and work for Him. You might just be their next assignment … IF you should be so lucky. Prepare to pay commensurate with the wage of your top earner in the congregation … UNLESS you are willing to get just average effort at best. If you are not ready to receive this man and his family as special envoys from Jesus Himself, you are NOT prepared in the least.

    The issues with most congregations is that they haven’t got a clue what their own issues are, but they think they are ready to sit in judgment over others of whom they require a healthy self-awareness just to get a minute or two from 3 or 4 of us in an interview.

    If you can’t answer who you think you are, both individually and congregationally, in 25 words or less, you aren’t even close to getting ready to tell anyone you are beginning a search.