7 Common Conflicts Of Pastor Search Committees


Pastoral search committees have an important assignment with inherent difficulties. The task of selecting a pastor is, by its very nature, a challenging one. Below are seven common areas of conflict that committees encounter throughout the selection process.

Being aware of these conflict areas and addressing them head-on at the beginning of the process can help your committee avoid them and remove the obstacles that are under your control. 

1. Uncertainty over what role to hire for

This point of conflict can arise for a couple of reasons. One is if you have a standing search committee rather than one formed for a specific role. This kind of committee may know that there’s a hole in the staff, whether because of a departure or growth in the church, but be unclear over who they really need to fill that hole. Or a committee may have been formed to replace a staff member who is leaving (or who has already left), but be unclear about whether to simply replace that person in the same role, or to change the role as the church moves forward. The committee needs to honestly examine the church’s needs to decide what position to hire for in order to avoid this pitfall.

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2. Uncertainty about the job description

Sometimes this uncertainty stems from a lack of clarity over what role to hire for. But even if you know what position you’re filling, you still may not have an understanding of what this job should actually entail. For example, “Associate Pastor” is a very broad title that can mean very different things at different churches (or even in different seasons of a church).

Are you looking for someone to share teaching responsibilities or oversee your church’s ministries? Someone to mentor the staff or perform more of the administrative duties?

To ensure you hire the right person, you have to know what the role will really entail. Tweet: To ensure you hire the right person, you have to know what the role will really entail. https://ctt.ec/U72v2+ via @VanderbloemenSG

3. Uncertainty about the desired or necessary personality and character traits of the new hire

Perhaps your team has identified what role your church needs to hire for, and crafted a well-defined job description. Have you thought carefully about the type of person who needs to sit in that empty chair? Is it necessary for you to hire an extrovert? Someone who naturally operates from a place of high emotional intelligence and empathy, or a person with a more no-nonsense, business-like approach? Someone who wants to be included in everything or someone who prefers solitude from time to time? All of these things will greatly impact how well a candidate can assimilate to your culture, and ultimately, how successful he or she will be.

4. Bringing biases to the process

This is something that happens most frequently when you have internal candidates for a position. The candidate is someone people on your committee know and possibly even a close friend to some or all of them. This relationship can make it difficult to remain impartial and objectively consider the candidate’s qualifications and may cause your committee to pass over external candidates who are actually better suited for the position you’re trying to fill.

committee members need set personal biases aside to select the best candidate for the role. Tweet: Committee members need to set personal biases aside to select the best candidate for the role. https://ctt.ec/U72v2+ via @VanderbloemenSG

5. Too many people involved

The larger your team is, the more opinions you will have to factor into every decision. It will also become increasingly harder to accommodate everyone’s schedules, especially if your search team members have other full-time jobs. In Teams That Thrive, Ryan Hartwig and Warren Bird suggest that the ideal team size is between three and five people. While you may need to include more than five people in your search process, carefully consider each addition to your team to ensure that you’re not pulling more people than necessary into an already complicated process. 

6. Lack of leadership and/or uncertainty over roles

Without a clear head of the committee and well-defined roles for everyone else on the committee, taking decisive action in a timely and organized fashion can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Before making any significant decisions, your committee should first determine who will lead meetings, who will be the point of contact for interested candidates and who will be the point of contact for candidates actually being considered for the role (those may be either the same person or two different people), who will take meeting notes and circulate them among the group, etc. 

7. Waiting on unanimity

Hiring a pastor is a weighty decision and people tend to have strong opinions that they defend passionately. And while your search committee may have the church’s best interests at heart, letting go of those opinions for the sake of consensus can be hard.

You may never have unanimity among your pastor search committee members.Tweet: You may never have unanimity among your pastor search committee members. https://ctt.ec/U72v2+ via @VanderbloemenSG

Before you arrive at the point where you’re voting on a specific candidate, you should determine what level of agreement is necessary for you to move forward. This will prevent stalemate and also ensure that each person understands that he or she may disagree with the ultimate decision of the committee as a whole, but this will not negate that decision.

How can your search committee come to a decision without conflict?

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