If your church is searching for a new pastor, it’s not alone. Just like Vaughn Forest Church, Montgomery (see https://thealabamabaptist.org/vaughn-forest-churchs-pastor-search-process-takes-unusual-path/), many other Alabama Baptist churches are currently going through a pastor search process.
With Southern Baptists’ bedrock foundation of the autonomy of the local church, the pastor search process is as unique as each church, but the ultimate goal is the same.
“Traditionally, Southern Baptist churches have utilized search committees made up of church members when a pastoral transition occurs,” said Bo Rice, dean of graduate studies and assistant professor of evangelism and preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Once the committee is chosen by the church, typically there is some time of spiritual preparation (special attention on prayer) and general equipping (often by the state convention or local association),” Rice said.
The pastor search committee, as it begins its task, often uses a survey, he explained, “to gain a better understanding of what the people desire in a pastor.”
Then, the committee begins to receive and review resumés of potential candidates, sometimes receiving in excess of 100 resumés. Then begins the process of narrowing the field before scheduling interviews and presenting a selected candidate to the church for a vote.
One benefit of the traditional process, Rice said, is “it keeps members actively involved in the search process. … The committee members have direct access to the church as a whole. This allows for feedback, suggestions and interaction among the church body.”
Yet this benefit can also become a challenge. “It’s not unusual for search committee members to get overwhelmed with the constant input from church members,” Rice said.
Sometimes, it becomes difficult for a search committee to reach consensus, which can lead to “burnout of the original search committee with the church deciding to enlist a new team, only to see the process start over from the beginning.”
Beyond the traditional search approach, however, some Southern Baptist churches utilize new or different approaches, including “pastors choosing their successor as well as churches using consulting firms,” Rice said.
Some believe that pastors choosing their successor is not a new model, with some biblical and historical examples, Rice said. Although this process is still not the “norm” in Southern Baptist life, “I hear of this happening more often.”
Larger churches tend to turn to consulting firms to help with the pastor search process, Rice explained. Consulting firms use resources to “help assess pastoral candidates’ overall personality and interests” and often conduct “thorough social media checks on candidates as well.”
Using a consulting firm that can consider “the emotional health and relational aspects of candidates helps churches consider important aspects of a minister’s life that occasionally are missed in the traditional model,” he said.
Still “no firm will have knowledge of every gifted and qualified candidate” and a firm may “miss the uniqueness of a local congregation.”
Sometimes a pastor search that is a unique combination of the various approaches is a good fit for a church.
“The traditional approach supplemented by some of the new approaches has much merit,” Rice said.
First Baptist Church, Woodstock (FBCW), Georgia, recently called Jeremy Morton to serve as co-pastor alongside longtime pastor Johnny Hunt before Morton eventually becomes lead pastor. The church used a unique process in its pastor search.
Hunt, who had served the church for 33 years, announced his intention to transition out of his role as senior pastor. With the affirmation of the congregation, Hunt appointed a transition team that he would help in finding a new senior pastor.
After a few meetings, Hunt “suggested the person (Morton) he felt like the team should meet with to investigate,” said Jim Law, now with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) but executive pastor at FBCW at the time of Morton’s call to be co-pastor.
Hunt, who now serves as NAMB senior vice president of evangelism and leadership, told Georgia’s Christian Index, “In praying through this … I asked the Lord to show me His man. I feel that Jeremy fits every quality I felt [was] needed to lead FBCW to its best days.”
The team met with Morton several times before inviting him to preach in view of a call. The church voted unanimously to call Morton as co-pastor, to serve alongside Hunt for up to 15 months. The transition started in October 2018 and will be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2019, Law said.
“I do not think it (the nontraditional pastor search approach used by FBCW) would work in every situation. It depends on the health of the church and the degree of trust the church has in their leader,” Law said.
Whether a church uses a traditional, nontraditional or unique approach in selecting a new pastor, prayer must undergird the search, Rice noted.
“Ultimately every search for a new pastor must be bathed in prayer from beginning to end,” he said. “Churches must trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Search committees must be patient in seeking God’s man. Seeking God’s direction will always result in Him placing His desired undershepherd to lead the congregation to grow up in every way into Christ, the head of the church.”
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