When a church loses their lead pastor—for whatever reason—the process to find a new lead pastor can be a lengthy one. Some churches are unprepared for what the pastor search process involves—especially when it comes to the time involved.
How Long Does a Pastor Search Take?
According to experts, a pastor search can typically take one to two years. While this may sound like a long time—even to people who are familiar with the typical hiring process—there are good reasons why the pastoral search process is such a lengthy one.
Hiring a new lead pastor is a very important task, and should be approached with due diligence.
The process involves several important steps, each of which could take multiple months. Typically, a volunteer search committee will be chosen. The search committee could be made up of church board members, church staff members, and/or trusted and involved church members. Often, it’s made up of a combination of all of these types of people. It might take a while to decide who should serve on the committee, and then some of those people might not accept the position, which could send church leaders back to the drawing board. Then, because these people will have other responsibilities (full-time jobs, other volunteer positions, families, etc.), they might only be able to meet sporadically.
Once the committee starts meeting, they will need to put together a job description for the new lead pastor. This involves not only assembling a list of the lead pastor’s tasks, but also articulating what type of person would be a good fit for the church. It also can mean putting together a church profile. These steps will help attract the right types of candidates, but will take a good amount of time. The committee will also need to set up a procedure for reviewing applications, interviewing candidates, and evaluating them.
Once the job is posted and applications start arriving, the committee will need to systematically go through them and make decisions on who to grant initial interviews to. Then, there will likely be second and third rounds of interviews. All the while, the committee will be watching sermon videos and checking references. This all takes a tremendous amount of time.
At any time during the process, candidates could remove themselves from consideration, because they were called elsewhere, because they don’t feel they are a good fit for the congregation, or for any number of other personal reasons. If a candidate was far along in the search process, this could set the process back months! There is also the possibility that the search committee could recommend a candidate, only for him to be rejected by the congregation or the church board.
When you take all of this into consideration, it starts to make sense why a pastor search can take more than a year.
What Churches Should Do During the Pastor Search Process
In what is probably the best-case scenario, the current lead pastor will stay on for a time while the church conducts a pastor search for his replacement. This typically happens when a pastor decides it is time for him to retire in the near future and gives his church a timeline in which to find his replacement. In this type of situation, the church still has leadership in place while they conduct the pastor search.
In many cases, however, the church is not given this luxury. When a pastor suddenly resigns, is asked to leave, gets too sick to continue in his position, or passes away unexpectedly, it can put the church in a tough position. In larger churches, there may be other pastors and leaders who can step in and fill in the gap, but many churches aren’t equipped for a pastoral absence. In these scenarios, some churches opt to bring in an interim pastor. An interim pastor can not only provide consistency in preaching from week to week, he can also provide much needed leadership and stability for the church staff and congregation. Some interim pastors are even able to help with the pastor search process by guiding the committee.
Having an interim pastor in place can help take some of the pressure off of the pastoral search committee to find a new pastor quickly. An interim pastor can also provide an important outside perspective help a church work through some issues that may hinder the success of the next lead pastor.
According to VitalChurch Ministry, an organization that provides interim pastors to Christian churches throughout the country, “Your church’s current leadership may be made up of people who have been a part of the church for many years—even decades. While this isn’t a negative thing, it can definitely mean that an outside perspective would be beneficial—especially during a time of transition. An interim pastor can look at things with fresh eyes. When interim pastors from VitalChurch Ministry go into churches, they assess everything from staff roles to discipleship pathways to church governance systems. They look for areas that can be improved and then work with the existing church leadership to make any needed changes.”
VitalChurch Ministry advises churches to see their time of transition—while they are searching for their next lead pastor—as an opportunity to make much needed changes and re-evaluate their mission and vision.