The Church Search
SCENE ONE: OCTOBER—A SUNDAY SCHOOL ROOM IN MICHIGAN
Lisa sighed in frustration. “Why did Joe have to leave? He was a great pastor—he was why I came to this church and stayed here. And now we have to look for someone new. I’ll do it. I’ll be a part of this search committee. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Well, you could always turn to that old saying of God opening a window when he closes a door,” countered Jason. “I’m not happy that Joe left either, but it was a great opportunity for him—we can’t begrudge him wanting new challenges. And maybe this provides new opportunities for our congrega-tion—perhaps we’ve become a bit complacent with Joe’s ministry, and this is just what we need to
even were gathered around the table, all members of a midsized congregation of a Protestant church. Their longtime pastor had recently accepted a calling to a new church, and these seven had been selected as the search committee for the new pastor. They had a lot of work ahead of them and chose Nancy to head the committee. She got straight to the point.
“OK,” said Nancy. “Let’s get to work. We need to start by developing a profile of our church and con-gregation. Who we are, what we do, and where we think we’re going? And then we need to think care-fully about what kind of pastor we want for our future. What are the critical characteristics for our new minister? Is preaching the most important? Evan-gelism? Spiritual development? Community service and social justice? And then we need to think about the questions we’ll ask when we get to the interview process. Who will be involved? What kinds of activi-ties should we include? And then we need to think about how we’ll welcome the new pastor once we make a decision about who it will be. And then …”
Everyone at the table began to laugh as Nancy’s list of “and thens” grew longer and longer. “Uh, Nance,” interrupted Rick, “we only scheduled a two-hour meeting. Sounds like you’d like to have us here through the night.”
“Nope,” Nancy responded, looking at the circle of already tired faces. “We’ll just have to have a lot more meetings. But let’s get to work for now. And let’s have a quick prayer before we get started. I think we’ll need it.”
SCENE TWO: FEBRUARY—A LIVING ROOM IN MISSOURI
Marsha sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by piles of spiral-bound documents. “Who knew that so many churches could be looking for a pastor? I mean, it’s good news for someone like me, but it makes the whole process so much more confusing.”
Marsha’s husband Ron—also sprawled on the floor—flipped through some of the papers. “We just have to be systematic in looking through these profiles
and think about what you want in a position and where you can best serve. You have gifts in music min-istry and youth ministry that could make a big differ-ence for some congregation.” Ron looked up from one profile. “This one, for example, would probably be a bad fit. It’s a big church, and they’ve really divided up the ministerial jobs. I’m not sure you’d ever see the kids in the church much, let alone get to work with them in the way you’d want to.”
Marsha looked up. “I know. We should just be careful about looking through everything. It’s just such a scary prospect. I’ve been really comfortable in my role as a youth minister, and moving to a larger role seems like a big step.” She started laughing. “I know we’ve been through all this before, and we’ll go where God calls us. But this discernment thing is really tough sometimes!”
Half an hour later, Marsha and Ron were both engrossed in the church profiles. “Hey,” Marsha said. “Here’s a good possibility. It’s not a very big church, but the values and mission really match a lot of my own commitments. And they’re clearly big on encouraging music and youth programs. What do you think about moving to Michigan?”
SCENE THREE: APRIL— A RESTAURANT IN MICHIGAN
Nancy looked across the table at Marsha. “I’m so glad to finally have the chance to meet you in person after all our time comparing profiles and talking on the phone. This process is sure a lot more compli-cated than I ever anticipated!”
Marsha smiled in agreement. “You’re telling me— I’ve almost been tempted to change denominations to one where pastors are appointed by the conference. Sure would make this process simpler.”
“True,” said Nancy. “But I must admit that I like a system that empowers the congregation and the pastor. I mean, I love our conference minister and have great respect for him, but I’ve never liked that idea of ‘matchmaking’ for the church.”
Nancy then pulled out a notebook and began sort-ing through some pages. “As you know, Marsha, we’ve got a pretty full weekend ahead of us. After we finish dinner, we’ll head over to the church, where
you’ll meet with the entire search committee. And then we have more meetings with the committee in the morning and we’ll give you a chance to tour the com-munity and see what life here is like. And then, on Sunday, we’ve arranged for you to preach at a ‘neutral pulpit’ so committee members can hear you. And then the committee will be able to make a recommendation to the congregation, and you can think and pray about what you want to do. And then …”
Marsha laughed. “Rick told me you were the queen of ‘and thens.’ But, yes, it looks like we have a busy weekend ahead of us and a lot of challenges to consider. Let’s start with supper.”
Case Analysis Questions
1. How have Marsha’s experiences so far repre-sented aspects of the anticipatory socialization process? Is it also possible to consider anticipa-tory socialization from the point of view of the church searching for a new pastor? What does anticipatory socialization look like from the organization’s point of view?
2. During the weekend ahead, what questions should Marsha anticipate during the interview process? What questions should she ask? What are the various functions that the interview will serve for both Marsha and the congregation?
3. Assuming that Marsha eventually takes on the role of pastor with this church, what should she anticipate during her first few months in her new role? Are there steps that she can take before and after moving to Michigan to ease her transition? Are there steps the congregation can take to help her make sense of life in the new church?
4. A pastor’s role is one in which the supervisor could be seen as the congregation. How could the leader-member exchange model be adapted to account for these kinds of organizational positions?