What’s Wrong With Search Committees

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Jim's picture

  1. Search committees are built to do the wrong thing.
  2. They allow for undue influence from outside denominational leaders.
  3. They are susceptible to wrongly-directed committee members.
  4. Committee members can be wrongly suspicious of the current or past pastor’s counsel.
  5. They can adopt a beauty pageant mentality.
  6. They can be risk averse, and so prioritize experience over giftedness and character.
  7. They can be susceptible to an inordinate hunger for resumes, which is to say, an overly professionalized conception of the pastorate.
  8. They act in secrecy among themselves and with other churches.
  9. They can fixate on credentials.
Steve Newman's picture

Moses sent out a "search committee" to spy out Canaan. How did that turn out?

T Howard's picture

Our church is currently in the search for a senior pastor. The elders and search committee read Chris Braun's book as one of the first steps in the process. I have to honestly say as one who has been allowed to observe most of the process that our elders and search committee have not exhibited any of the enumerated characteristics. That being said, communication with the church during the process (i.e. letting people know the progress, next steps, etc.) is key especially if the search process is longer than 6 months.

Jim's picture

Observations (context of independent / congregational churches):

  • In a ideal world, a church would be spawning elders from its own body (2 Timothy 2:2) ... we live in a less than ideal world ecclesiastically
  • Most Baptist churches have a single pastor-elder-bishop system. And most of these look outside of their own body for a replacement elder (previous point)
  • It strikes me that even in Baptist churches with multiple elders, the system is not true Biblical eldership but rather a hierarchy of paid staff (eg the youth pastor, the music pastor, et cetera)
  • Dismissing Steve Newman's "search committee .... Canaan" argument above, there is nothing  inherently wrong with church committees (I know they have been abused!). The pulpit committee or search committee is simply an ad hoc (not a standing) committee to accomplish a task - finding the next guy.
  • Every baptist church of which I have been a member has  had some sort of constitutionally delineated way of forming that committee. Examples:
    • The deacons will serve as the pulpit committee
    • Or Two deacons, two elected from the assembly at a special business meeting 
    • Or XX deacons, the SS superintendent, + the treasurer
  • Because these congregations are independently governed, they have the right to handle the process in any way  they deem appropriate

                     

Barry L.'s picture

The author seems to have a low opinion of his congregation.  Kind of a self incrimination of his shepherding.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that a key issue in the pastoral search process, and for that matter in why we need to have pastoral searches, is that our model of head pastor/subordinate pastors/deacons often works really well for guys who simply do not play well with others.  You'll see it as a promising young deacon leaves, as fairly benign feedback is interpreted as a personal threat, and the like.

I am not quite sure how to fix this; churches with multiple elders do not necessarily get around the big man mentality, either, whether they are officially congregational, presbyterian, or episcopal in polity (or something else).   But if you're looking for a new shepherd, it would be time well spent to do your best to figure out whether he likes sheep, or whether he's threatened by them.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Sometimes you just have to deal with the reality on the ground.  I've been a part of one search committee in a small church where the pastor resigned, but we didn't have other pastors or elders in the church.  The search committee ended up being the current deacons plus a couple former deacons (deacons are required to sit out a year in our church between terms before serving another term).  We used a number of resources including the book mentioned above.

As we started the search process, we also ended up hiring an interim pastor to fill in while we were looking for a new pastor.  He was extremely helpful in advising us on the process, including looking over our questionnaire, serving on the committee, giving his opinion on the sermons we got from the candidates, etc.  So in a sense, we did have advice from an elder, but not one who was normally a part of our church.  However, if we had not had a committee or some other group made up of laymen, we would have had no one.

Dave Barnhart

Craig's picture

Moses didn't send out a search committee to find a pastor or any other person, but to search out the land .... which was a mistake because they already had God's will revealed to them that they were to go in and possess the land. Churches don't have the clear revealed will as to the person who is to be their next pastor.

Don Johnson's picture

I thought the list as given betrayed a fair amount of overlap. Instead of 9 reasons, it was more like four or five. And the alleged problems could arise with a committee, it is true, but they are easily overcome.

I suspect this comes from Dever's obsession with elder rule and his mistrust of congregationalism.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture

Moderator

I suspect this comes from Dever's obsession with elder rule and his mistrust of congregationalism.

Dever is a congregationalist. 

Bert Perry's picture

I admit I'm doing some things from the "Department of Redundancy Department" here, but examples like Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, and C.J. Mahaney indicate that elder rule is not a panacea against the problems of dominant men among congregational churches.  You simply have to understand that you've got to figure out some way of determining whether a particular candidate is a "my way or the highway" person, or whether he really understands how to make disciples.  

Maybe that's how you get around the issue; you ask point blank how the pastor has developed disciples, and make it very clear that this does not mean how many rear ends are in pews, how many young men go to Bible college, and the like.  Rather, what daily habits does he have that would develop future deacons and elders so they don't need a search committee next time.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

Larry wrote:

I suspect this comes from Dever's obsession with elder rule and his mistrust of congregationalism.

Dever is a congregationalist. 

in name only, in my opinion

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Greg Long's picture

A few years ago I was present as his church congregation voted to discipline a man and remove him from church membership. In what way do you say he is congregational in name only?

Have you read his book "A Display of God's Glory" where he devotes a chapter to congregationalism?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

G. N. Barkman's picture

I have read a few articles and books by Mark Dever over the years.  His defense of Congregationalism was a pleasant surprise to me, and a genuine help.  Not a few Calvinistic Baptists take an almost Presbyterian approach to church government.  Not Dever.  He promotes a thoroughly defined and strongly defended case for Congregational church government.

G. N. Barkman

Don Johnson's picture

I object to the emphasis on elder rule and especially in this criticism of search committees, I think his approach diminishes the role of the congregation. Seems to say, "leave it up to the elders."

Now I don't deny that search committees can err, and I think he is pointing out some errors search committees have made. Nevertheless, his alternative is likely fraught with the same problems and overemphasizes the authority of elders.

Just my opinion, not trying to debate

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

I must admit that I am not a huge expert on the various forms of church government, but I think Dever's position advocating a greater role for mulitple elders in each church, or at least the interaction of outside elders in vetting candidates, is really welcome.  Even if it's only a recommendation, you've at least theoretically got a band of people whose character has already been vetted to help make the decision--I'd argue that Fourth's successful (as far as I know) recruitment of Matt Morrell has a lot to do with the fact that the search committee was loaded with deacons and current/former elders.  

Key issue in my mind is that you don't allow this group of elders to become an echo chamber where obvious moral failings don't get noticed--see the accountability boards for guys like Mark Driscoll for an example.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

I appreciate Don's comment about not trying to debate--which I interpret as "I'm not trying to get in anyone's face and be obnoxious"--but hey, debate doesn't have to be obnoxious, and given that there are any number of people here who have suffered a lot through poorly chosen church leadership, maybe this or another place is a good place to discuss the pros and cons of greater involvement of multiple elders in church government.

The pros are that if you select elders who are both morally qualified and apt to teach, you get, at least theoretically, a greater level of character and theological expertise than you would with "merely" a congregational vote.  The con is that you can get a class of men who are isolated by position from the congregation, and who therefore (a) do not see the real needs of the congregation and (b) become blind to their own moral failings.

And probably some other things, too.  Really, we are theoretically all grown ups here, and we can debate without being obnoxious, even if it comes to the point where we need to (to use the Southern phrase) learn to disagree without being disagreeable.  No?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Barry L.'s picture

A pastor who does not trust his congregation, whom he's discipled, to search for his successor tells me maybe he's not finished there and shouldn't leave yet..

Don Johnson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

I appreciate Don's comment about not trying to debate--which I interpret as "I'm not trying to get in anyone's face and be obnoxious"

As others can testify, I can be obnoxious with very little provocation. I just don't have time right now.

So I thought I would chime in with my opinion with no reasoned backup. Just say it. I think that is kind of obnoxious by itself.

Now back to work...

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

Barry L. wrote:

A pastor who does not trust his congregation, whom he's discipled, to search for his successor tells me maybe he's not finished there and shouldn't leave yet..

On the other hand, sometimes the pastor who does not trust his congregation is the problem and needs to find another job?  That he, like the pastor from "How Green Was my Valley", had failed to adequately communicate the Gospel to them?

Sometimes a judgment call, of course, but sometimes it's a thought we ought to look at.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.