11 red flags search and call candidates shouldn’t ignore

Are you a minister engaged in the exhilarating, overwhelming, often frustrating search & call process? I’ve ridden that roller coaster too. I’ve participated in some healthy call processes and in others that left me wondering, “What was that search team thinking? Lordamercy.”

Through all these experiences I have learned that the way a church handles its ministerial search is a big indicator of how the clergy-congregation relationship will go. That means it’s really important to be attentive to red flags in interactions with the search team. Here are ten to be on the lookout for:

Inappropriate questions. Outside of small talk, queries from a search team should stay focused on your call to ministry, qualifications, and capacity to engage fully the responsibilities of the position.

Incomplete information. Particularly if you are a finalist for a position, you have the right to obtain complete answers to your questions about the congregation, to view the church’s key documents., and to meet church leaders.

Lack of space for your questions. You are interviewing the congregation as much as the congregation is interviewing you.

Rushed search. A rush job often indicates high anxiety, which means you could be stepping into a hornet’s nest if you accept the call.

Unresolved conflict in the congregation. A church that has completed the hard work of a transition will have addressed tricky issues – or at least will have an already-activated plan for doing so that is not simply “let the next minister handle it.”

Difficult dynamics within the search team. If you can hardly see the search team members because of the elephant in the room, name the dynamics you notice and ask what’s behind them. These difficulties could be a microcosm of what’s going on in the congregation as a whole.

Inflexibility. If the search team can interview you at X date/Y time and no other options are available, for example, consider what might be behind this rigidity.

Job description that is outdated or “kitchen sink.” If the minister description has not been revised since 1957 or it would take four full-time clergy to fulfill all the duties outlined, the search team doesn’t have a good grasp on what it’s looking for.

Lack of courtesy. The best search teams communicate clearly and in a timely manner, plan for interviews and visits with hospitality in view, and don’t leave you guessing about search expenses.

Focus on hot buttons. When you’re asked where you stand on gay marriage, for example, don’t just dive in. Probe the concern behind the question.

No spiritual component. If the search team could have conducted the exact same interview in a secular hiring process, the search process may not have the requisite spiritual grounding.

If you note one or more of these red flags, don’t panic. These aren’t necessarily indications that the congregation is a train wreck or that you should immediately withdraw your name. (Most people who serve on search teams are participating in this process for the first time, and there’s a steep learning curve for calling a minister.) Do, however, proceed with caution. Do your homework. Leave no question unasked. Parse your search team interactions with a trusted colleague, coach, mentor, or judicatory leader. Mull whether this church’s challenges are a good match for your passions and your skill set.

Above all, enjoy the ride when possible, and hang in there!

Creative Commons image “Red flags” by Rutger van Waveren is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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