The Way It Was
For many years, a group of denominational staff met monthly to review open church positions and to recommend to search committees the names of possible candidates. Their list was made up of a combination of computer-generated “matches” supplemented by the group’s own knowledge of pastors and churches. While this process occasionally worked to find a match, over time it became clear the process had flaws.
Our denomination is increasingly diverse. The old networks of who-knows-whom were established back when most CRC pastors attended Calvin Theological Seminary or came from a small number of Christian colleges and universities. Increasingly, eligible CRC pastors come from all kinds of backgrounds and are not necessarily well-connected to many other CRC pastors or churches.
There is no list anymore. There is a perception that the CRCNA maintains a list of actively-searching pastors. We do not. While we used to gather anecdotal information about who might be looking for a call, we increasingly found that our anecdotal information was much too limited to be helpful. The truth was (and is) even the most well-connected person cannot know every pastor who is considering a call.
Even if we had a list of names, your future pastor may not be on it. Many pastors, if pressed, would struggle to know whether to say they were “looking for a call.” It is tempting to think that all pastors exist in one of two states: they are either “looking for a call” or “not open to a call.” The truth is that many pastors are somewhere in the middle. Some who say they are “not open to a call” mean to say that they are quite settled and engaged in their present ministry. But for some of them, it is also true that if the right opportunity came along, they would be willing to open the door of discernment a little wider.
For these reasons and more, denominational staff no longer provide lists of available or interested candidates.
The Way It Is
Pastor searches in the CRCNA are now supported by the denomination in three primary ways.
- Resources for Making the Most of a Transition. Pastor Church Resources recommends that when a church’s pastor leaves, a few leaders in the church read More Than a Search Committee. This short booklet offers a hopeful perspective and practical tips on how a church might take advantage of the unique dynamics of a pastoral vacancy while also staying on task and finding the right candidate. Another book that many church councils, transition teams and search committees find helpful is Beginning Ministry Together, the Alban Institute Handbook for Clergy Transitions.
- The PastorSearch Portal. The denomination provides access to PastorSearch, which includes a database of all Ministers of the Word in the CRCNA. A search committee can ask for access to this database and search according to a few filters like length of time served in present call or regions of the US and Canada the candidate is willing to serve. The benefit of PastorSearch is that it gives you quick access to a lot of information about candidates, including their minister profiles. (Minister profiles are an expanded CRC-specific pastoral resume.) Many search committees appreciate being able to access so much information so quickly. Reading through profiles can help a search committee get a sense of what the diversity of pastors in our denomination are like, and can help clarify what they, as a church, are really looking for. The challenge with PastorSearch is that it tends to yield a very large number of candidates. Reading through those profiles can be an onerous task all by itself. Then contacting your preferred candidates can be discouraging to some search committees. Many of the pastors you contact will inform you they are not open to a call. And many others, you will learn, have pastor profiles that are very dated. It’s important to remember that PastorSearch is designed to include every pastor in the CRC, including pastors who are not at all open to a call and those who have not updated their profiles in decades (Tip: these two groups are often one and the same. An out-of-date profile is a pretty reliable clue a pastor is not eager for a call. Fortunately, once you’ve downloaded results from the PastorSearch Portal, you can sort the results by how recently the profile was updated. The more recently the profile was updated, the more likely the pastor is to be willing to consider a call). Yet, even with that sorting option, some search committees find that relying on PastorSearch alone can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Of course, it should be said that PastorSearch was never meant to replace the process of discernment. And if you are looking for that one, perfect needle in the haystack, your expectations probably need to be recalibrated. When you spend time on PastorSearch, part of what you learn is that there are many suitable needles in the haystack. In all likelihood, there are many pastors who could serve your church very well.
The Network. Since PastorSearch cannot do a search for you, the denomination offers another tool to support search committees. The Network is a denominationally-supported website which, in addition to providing a trove of helpful ministry content about the search process and the mechanics of voting for and extending a call, also has a kind of classifieds section. Having a clear, compelling and regularly-updated post on The Network’s Church Positions page may be the single most important tool your committee has for finding your next pastor. A good post should include contact information for your search team, a link to your website, a pdf of your church profile and a position description. Virtually every pastor looking for a call to a Christian Reformed Church will be looking at the Church Positions page of The Network. Virtually every Christian Reformed Church looking for a pastor is posting their position there.
A Clear Network Post Saves Time and Energy
A good post that transparently reflects your context is one of the few shortcuts we recommend in a pastor search process. Going fast in a search process is usually not a good idea. Transitions between pastors create all kinds of unexpected opportunities for churches: helping them understand themselves apart from their former pastor’s identity, helping new and gifted leaders rise to the surface, helping them learn a new dependence on God and each other. These opportunities are limited when a church rushes to replace the former pastor.
Nevertheless, one way to helpfully speed up your process is to be clear at the outset about your church and the position you are seeking to fill (both the bad and the good!). The clearer you can be, the more likely you will be to receive applications from pastors who are actually interested in serving your community in that position. An ambiguous but enticing listing may solicit many applicants, but, of course, your church doesn’t need many applicants, it needs the right applicants! Better to have one well-suited candidate than ten poorly-suited ones!