What To Do When Your Pastor Search Committee Can’t Agree


If you’ve ever been a member of a pastor search committee, you know how painful the process can be when your committee can’t agree. You feel handicapped and stuck. It feels like your committee, church staff, and even the congregation is losing momentum. There are many reasons your committee may not be able to agree:

      • Unclear timeline – If your committee doesn’t have a set timeline of when decisions need to be made, there is no incentive for your committee to come to an agreement. 
      • Non-existent job specifications – If your committee doesn’t have a thorough job description and key role areas with which to measure each candidate, the committee is directionless and judging each candidate on their own objectives.
      • Lack of authority – Even on a committee, there should be a point person that steers the meetings and ensures a timeline is kept. When there is no set person responsible for the actions of the search committee, the search committee is not held accountable properly.
      • Internal politics – On an unhealthy search committee, you may have members who are driven to make decisions based on internal church politics, which can hinder the committee from coming to an agreement about candidates.

If you’re feeling handicapped by any of the four hindrances on your search committee, here are five solutions to help you avoid the pain of a disagreeing pastor search committee:

1. Elect a chair for the pastor search committee.

Similar to the way a juror selects a foreman, have the members of the search committee select a chair that is responsible for the timeline and meeting agendas. You may also decide to elect other positions including a Communications Chair who is responsible for taking notes during the meeting and communicating progress to the church staff and congregation.

2. Create a thorough job specifications document.

Here at Vanderbloemen, when we meet with the pastor search committee and church staff, we compose a job specifications document that is more thorough than the job description. The job description is pertinent to the specific job for which you are hiring the person. The job specifications include information about the organization as a whole as well as key result areas of the position. Creating a thorough, accurate, and cohesive job specification will enable your committee to have a baseline to come back to when you disagree.

Search: The Pastor Search Committee Handbook

3. Create a non-negotiable versus negotiable list of characteristics.

Search committees often lose their way when it comes to characteristics that are negotiable versus non-negotiable. Once you compose your job specifications, go through it as a search committee and make alist of negotiable characteristics versus non-negotiable. Be sure to cover every area you discuss in the job specifications – personal, education, family, experience, etc… When this list is created and agreed upon during the first couple of meetings, have each member of the committee sign it in agreement that these areas are negotiable versus non-negotiable so that if your committee becomes gridlocked, you can reference the signed document.

4. Create a committee covenant.

Once the job description, job specifications, and negotiable lists are created, write a committee covenant about how you will handle conflict as a team. Ask, “What happens when we disagree?” and open the floor to discussion. Write it down and have each member of the committee sign it. Bring the covenant to each meeting as a reminder.

5. Create a disagreement code word.

Come up with a code word as a committee that anyone on the committee can say when they feel like the committee is off course. Perhaps it’s something like, “Square One,” to remind the team to go back to square one and revisit the job description and non-negotiables. Or perhaps it’s a funny word that will make your team laugh and be reminded to re-center on what is important. When the word is said, open the floor for that person to share why they think the committee has gotten off course and re-center on the key result areas.

6. When in doubt, give the candidate a chance.

We often see search committees and church staffs disagree about a candidate before they’ve spoken with the candidate. A few people will be impressed by a resume, but a couple others will not. When this happens, at least have the committee get on the phone with the candidate for 15-20 minutes. The beauty of a search committee is that it consists of members of varying backgrounds and experiences. If more than one committee members would like to consider a candidate, at least give them a chance. The rest of the team may be surprised by the clarity a few minutes with the candidate can provide in moving the committee forward towards the candidates or toward another.

7. Press pause.

If you’ve tried all of the above, and your committee still can’t agree, press pause. Take three days to pray and fast before coming back together as a team. During those three days, don’t discuss your opinion with other members of the committee. Talk with the Lord about the candidates and write down your thoughts. Then, have every member bring their notes to the table. You may be surprised at the clarity you’ll find between finding patterns in each member’s thoughts.

When your search committee is in a gridlock, seek outside help. The pastor search process is a difficult and emotional time. Email us if there are any questions or concerns we can answer about your pastor search process.

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