Hiring a Minister: Five Suggestions for Churches
Interviewing for a ministry position is like interviewing for any other job – and yet it is completely different. I know that is a contradiction, but this is the paradox I have experienced having been on both sides of the hiring process for ministers and churches. We naturally compare a ministry hire to other workplace hires because this is the reference point for most church members. At the same time we know that the church family’s relationship with its employees is unique because our purpose and mission are unique.
There are various methods that churches can use to search for and hire ministry staff. Some of these are determined by tradition or policy. Some are determined by what is immediately appropriate for the need of the congregation. Regardless of which process is used, all of us in the kingdom of heaven benefit when we share our best practices for hiring. Over the years I have accumulated advice from mentors and learned from my own experience during this vital process. In this post I offer five suggestions for churches that are hiring. In my next post, I will offer five suggestions for ministers seeking to be hired.
Five Suggestions for Churches:
Make your process open and clear to the congregation. Regardless of what hiring process is used, keep the congregation informed of the process and the progress. Confidentiality may be necessary when speaking to some candidates, and the congregation should understand this. Yet, it is still possible to explain to the congregation who will be responsible for the search and the hiring and how it will be done. In addition, the congregation should know how those responsible will find candidates and how application for the job is made. Candidates for the job should also be made aware of the process, but it is best for a church not to discuss candidates with other candidates.
Take time to discern what skills and qualities are needed. Anxiety to fill a position may cause a church to shortcut this step. However, the time spent considering what is needed for the future will be worth it. The church should take the time to discern if the ministry needs have changed. At the end of this discernment period, write up a job description and profile of the particular skills and characteristics of the person who will best fit the need. Toward the end of the hiring process, when it seems that a candidate is the right fit, it is reassuring to review the profile you drafted and compare that to your top candidate.
Cover the expenses of your candidates when they come to interview. If we are prepared to provide for a family in ministry, then that commitment should be demonstrated when we compensate candidates for their travel, lodging, and other expenses during the interview. That investment on the part of a congregation also demonstrates to candidates that the church takes the process seriously.
Affirm the candidates' call to ministry. Every candidate whom a church invites to an interview has a calling to serve God. With every interview, churches and church leaders have the opportunity to encourage co-workers in the kingdom. I can still recall interviewing for great congregations that decided I was not the most qualified person for their particular situation. However, during the process they also affirmed my calling to ministry through prayer and words of encouragement. The benefit of those moments has certainly outlasted the momentary disappointment.
When you hire, document the terms of the agreement. The notion of handshake and a promise sounds quite peaceful and neighborly, but even the best neighbors can have faulty memories. The old saying that “the faintest ink beats the strongest memory” applies here. I prefer to think of this documentation as a Memorandum of Understanding rather than a binding contract. We do not live by the letter of the law, but written agreements will serve us well in the future. This documentation is also helpful in congregations where communication of terms to multiple persons is needed. Those who make the hire would do well to inform those who write the checks.