Reflections of a Search Committee Chairperson

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Getting Started

Your church has recently become vacant, and the Council has entrusted you with a position on the Search Committee. Congratulations! By now, you have probably become acquainted with the book Beginning Ministry Together by Oswald, Heath & Heath, as well as the shorter, CRC-produced companion, More Than a Search Committee. These are great resources, and well worth your time. 

Church Profiles, The Network, and The Banner

Soon, you’ll get busy researching and filling out your Church Profile, which you will likely post here on The Network. You may get a lot of inquiries, and you may not. It’s possible your post will be viewed many times, but those views do not necessarily correspond to many letters of interest or applications.

Our Search Committee received between 10-20 "real" inquiries from CRC or RCA pastors regarding our vacancy after we posted the listing on The Network on two separate occasions. My recollection is that in early 2019, we got somewhere between 7-10 inquiries after our initial posting. I think one or two pastors mentioned seeing our listing in The Banner. We also received a plethora of inquiries from some secondary site that I assume harvested the data from the CRC site, though these inquiries were less helpful. 

PastorSearch

I've got more good news for you. The CRCNA Office of Pastor Church Resources has put together a process called PastorSearch which includes an online database of pastor profiles called the Search Committee Portal. This can be a great resource for Search Committees. We were able to use the portal to review the profiles of all the pastors who contacted us, and we used the search functions to find other pastors who might be a good fit for our vacancy.  

As of my writing this (Spring 2020), you can query the database on up to six preset criteria, and download a report with pastor information to further peruse. As I write this, I just ran the query for the characteristics of my church, and came up with a list of 234 available pastors. The list I downloaded had something like 40 different variables that you can parse and sort a variety of ways. This is a valuable resource!  

Of course, you may be thinking that 234 hits is a lot of profiles to sort through. And you’d be right. It is a lot of work for a committee to work through that list. But I can say that things have gotten better. When I first accessed this data in the fall of 2018, I could only select the region in which my church was set, and my initial query resulted in over 700 pastors to contemplate. That was a bit overwhelming. Do you run with the seven or so applicants who expressed interest, or do you dive in on the list of 700 plus? 

The information in the spreadsheet that I downloaded was not as data-rich as the one you can get today. At the time, it included Last Name, First Name, Profile Last Updated, City, State/Province, Gender, Ordination Date, Latest Role Start Date, Latest Role End Date, and Latest Role Organization. Using Gender (because my Classis has not approved calling Women to serve as Pastors), Ordination Date, and Latest Role Start Date, I trimmed the initial list from over 700 down to 400 pastors for our Search Committee to start on. We each took a listing of 40-50 names, and started reading profiles, taking notes, and determining a "grade" to see if we should reach out to these pastors. This took a couple of months of volunteer committee time and effort, and we decided on about 100 pastors to reach out to and see if they were interested in talking to us.  

How it All Fits Together (but sometimes doesn’t)

I would like to now share a couple of things about this system, and these profiles. For one, early in the search, I called Pastor Church Resources and said, “I work with data all the time, and there has got to be a better way [than PastorSearch].” To their credit, they listened, they agreed, and they dramatically improved the mechanism by which they share and serve the data. . . THANK YOU!!!  I know you, present and future search committees, will reap the benefits of this. Pastor Church Resources did a great service by taking the pastor profiles in their filing cabinets and entering all that data into this online data system.  Now, for a little Paul Harvey, “here is the rest of the story,” a few things you should know.

  • The profile database is not comprehensive, though it is supposed to be. There are numerous CRC pastors who are not in it at all, including a few of my college classmates. Their absence is one way I know the list is not complete.

  • There is a data field, "Profile Last Updated" that shows the last time a pastor logged in to the system and updated their information. This is just good to know, and sometimes that field is empty. All pastors in the CRCNA are asked to update their profile annually. But, as you’ll learn, most do not update that frequently. An out-of-date profile is often a signal that the pastor is not particularly interested in considering a call at this time. 

  • The CRC considers every pastor available for call so long as they have been at their current church for more than two years. Historically, that was not the case, and a pastor would tell the CRC if he or she was open to being contacted. Not all pastors you might contact have any interest in being contacted.  

  • I sent personal emails, with a short description of our opening, and a link to our profile, to over 100 CRC pastors. This led to many wonderful interactions. However, about 30% of CRC pastors did not respond to the email at all, which I found a bit disconcerting.

The book and booklet I mentioned earlier are great guides to completing your profile, and planning your process. The items I have just mentioned are things I learned along the way that are not covered in these documents. I would also share that pastors’ schedules are set well in advance. We conducted online and telephone conversations prior to inviting pastors to interview in person. Once you extend an invitation, it was about two months before the on site interview could happen. This is a real challenge (not a critique;) that is just how the timing often plays out. Just plan for it! 

Search Committee work is challenging. You will learn a lot about yourself, your team and your congregation. It is rewarding. It will have ups and downs, embrace it. And if you need someone to talk to about it, I am happy to lend an ear.

Jeff Kopaska

Trinity CRC, Ames, Iowa

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