Look out for these red flags when searching for a pastor

"Red flags can come in many shapes and sizes. As I have worked with numerous Pastor Search Committees throughout the past decade.... If you have ever served on a Pastor Search Committee, you probably have some stories to share as well." - Jason Lowe

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Bert Perry's picture

My church didn't see these red flags, but one thing I did catch a few times on search committees was a general pattern of participation in ministries that my church would disagree with on critical issues.  I've also caught candidates repeatedly who really had learned more "what to think" than "how to think", and that's really troubling because people who are on the margins turn people like that "off" and leave.  Not a good way to reach people in my experience. 

We were on the lookout for what Jason notes, but didn't see it much.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Craig Toliver's picture

We had a guy who unilaterally ended children's church - every child should be in the worship service.

  • Was not brought up with pulpit committee
  • Was not voted on or discussed
  • He alone made the decision and ended our children's church ministry.

We lost some people over this.

Steve Newman's picture

Too many of them are formed by "shotgun weddings," where the church and pastor are kind of "thrown together." Like quick marriages, they can work, but I'm grateful that in the last two pastorates God has put us in, that we have had extensive dealings with the church folks before accepting a pastoral call. 

I'm concerned due to shortages of pastors, that issues like these are going to get worse and worse. Churches really need to vet their candidates a lot more, and candidates also need to "vet" their potential churches!

Jonathan Charles's picture

“Overly concerned about finances.”  

That will be a matter of interpretation.  I heard a pastor say that if he was going to hire anyone and they wanted to talk about pay before he accepted the ministry position, he knew that the man was not the one God wanted them to hire.  I know of a pastor who was about to accept a church, and the board totally neglected to work on a compensation package.  He had to ask.  I know of a church where the board had let the salary of the pastor salary fall behind, not even keeping up with inflation, so that the prospective pastor had to point out that, given their ability to do better and given the needs of his family, the compensation was very insufficient.  I know of a church in the DC area looking for a pastor, and they’ve realized that most prospects aren’t even interested in sending in a resume once they look at housing on  Zillow.  Housing is nearly twice as expensive as anywhere a pastor will come from.  In their case, talking about compensation comes early in the process. 

I don’t know what being “overly concerned about finances” would look like.  If a church says, “This is the compensation package,” and the pastor says, “It isn’t enough,” is that being overly concerned?  I guess it would be if he was demanding compensation far better than what most people living in the area earned.  But if that was not the case and a church could do better but wasn’t, then I don’t think so.  People might interpret a pastor’s concern as being “overly concerned,” but maybe they falsely think that the spiritual thing to do is to accept a salary less than what is needed and less than what the church can do and for the man to just trust God. 

I have two children who are business professionals.  Talking about compensation is normal.  There is no awkwardness or shame about it when it has to be talked about with their current employers or a prospective new employer.  No pastor I know of expects to earn what equally educated professionals in his area earn.  But that a pastor must show less concern for the care of his family than the people in the pews show when they have to deal with pay issues at their workplaces is wrong. 

If a pastor feels he can’t talk honestly and discreetly about his pay before he takes a church, then it might not  get any easier. 

On a side note: a book I read years ago gave this rule of thumb: Most union contracts with public schools are available online.  If a pastor has 15 years of experience and a Master’s degree, look at the public school pay scale for a teacher with the same experience and education.  The author suggested that as a guide to paying a pastor, with health insurance and retirement benefits on top, given the church can afford it.      

Larry's picture

Moderator

Housing is nearly twice as expensive as anywhere a pastor will come from. 

This is a good case for a church owning a house for the pastor to live in. It helps churches in areas with high housing costs and limited resources. Lack of equity can be made up in other ways. 

Jonathan Charles's picture

Yes, United Methodist Churches use a worksheet that goes through all aspects of a pastor's compensation.  One line I have seen is "equity adjustment."  It is meant for when a pastor has to live in a parsonage, to give his pay an adjustment for what equity he would have gained in a year.  I suppose it is figured so that after a career in ministry, at retirement he has enough to pay cash for a house.  

Don Johnson's picture

Larry wrote:

Housing is nearly twice as expensive as anywhere a pastor will come from. 

This is a good case for a church owning a house for the pastor to live in. It helps churches in areas with high housing costs and limited resources. Lack of equity can be made up in other ways. 

yes, I think this will become an acute problem in our area. Average price is now somewhere close to $1 million for a single family home. Townhouses/condos not far behind, but often too small for a family.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Steve Newman's picture

One of the indicators that God was moving us to a different ministry was the fact that we would be going broke if we had continued on. I had switched out of working IT work because of what it was doing to my brain for less lucrative work. God was good to put us in a ministry where we are well compensated and work, not because we have to, but to meet people in the community. 

T Howard's picture

Has anyone heard of a man leaving his current church to pastor a church where he'd make less money? When God "calls" a man to leave a church after 2-5 years and to go to another, it's almost always the fact that the new church is bigger and pays more.

Funny how that works.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Has anyone heard of a man leaving his current church to pastor a church where he'd make less money?

I have. I have also known people who turned down bigger churches and more money to stay at a smaller church with less money (which is essentially the same thing). 

Steve Newman's picture

I hope you were just putting that up to be funny. I worked bivocationally, several years with no pay, in a rural church. 

I was at that church for 10 years. I would have come where we are now, regardless of the salary. 

Jeff Howell's picture

I work closely with a Christian university (formerly Bible college) and seminary, and have also been pastoring in one location for over 28 years. It is my first church family to shepherd. It is an honor to be here still, knowing that the perseverance for this has worked both ways through this time. When I consider my age, the pace of ministry, and the reality of eventual physical slowdown, it is a wise thing to begin anticipating how to help them transition from a long-term pastorate to the next man sometime in the next decade, if I continue to be here and serve. The  reality, currently, according to GARBC rep from last fall, as well as placement office in aforementioned university, is that there are more ministries looking for pastors than there are available men to fill the spots. The approach of shepherd relocation is only passing along the heartache to others. As much as possible, I continue to advocate for churches, my own included, to raise up its own leadership. We must become more intentional about challenging men to consider either bi-vocational or full time, however it may work. We try to regularly bring young men in for internships to aid in getting experience and learning more about "real life pastoring." Then, we try to help them get sent out and placed. Some of our younger men go elsewhere for that training. Those who have time in ministry still need to prayerfully and intentionally look for their Timothy, and invest. Invest in men! My brother in law is full time dairy farmer and also full time pastor. Neither job pays the full freight of compensation, so he also has a lawn mowing business. He was a Timothy, from a very small and somewhat rural setting. Men came along, taught, trained, provided experiences, and eventually he began to do pulpit supply. That led to interim work, and finally being brought on full-time. As we consider our current political and spiritual climate, it is hard to see things getting better in the traditional sense. Time to look within with greater intentionality. My take. ~ Jeff

T Howard's picture

Perhaps my experience is unique, but I've seen multiple pastors come into a church, say they planned on staying there for the long run, then 3-5 years later say God was calling them to another church (which happened to be bigger and pay better).  I've never seen a pastor from a larger church leave after 3-5 years and claim God called them to small-town church.

It has always amazed me how God works like that. 

dgszweda's picture

T Howard wrote:

Perhaps my experience is unique, but I've seen multiple pastors come into a church, say they planned on staying there for the long run, then 3-5 years later say God was calling them to another church (which happened to be bigger and pay better).  I've never seen a pastor from a larger church leave after 3-5 years and claim God called them to small-town church.

It has always amazed me how God works like that. 

I have.

With that said, I don't think many churches have grown with the times as it relates to a compensation package for the pastor.  When I was a kid, the church would have a parsonage, the wife would make the families clothes, the church members would provide tons of food for the pastor through their gardens and such, the church wife could make all of the food from scratch, if there was a problem with the car or the house, a church member would fix it... and the pastor in the end was paid a very small wage.  That just isn't the case anymore.  They have to start getting realistic about what it takes to raise a family today.

Larry's picture

Moderator

T Howard, I have seen it. And yes, people do leave for other churches that are often bigger and pay more. That's not necessarily wrong. Sometimes God leads that way as well. 

I pastored a small church for 19 years, about 13-14 of which were bivocational. I left there with great hesitation for a bigger church that paid more. Neither size nor money was of particular interest to me when I moved. But it seemed like God was leading that direction. There's nothing wrong with leaving a smaller church for a bigger one, though there are sometimes wrong reasons for doing so.