Worshipful work meeting outline

In developing the approach to ministerial searches that is rooted in hospitality, I put together a meeting structure that weaves together the elements of discernment and the business that teams must attend to. It builds in intentional spaces and means of attending to the Holy Spirit as teams go about the work at hand. This outline can be utilized for a range of congregational processes. Consider the content below, then, a preview of Searching for the Called as well as a resource with many potential applications.

Preparing to perceive God’s guidance

  • Create an atmosphere for discernment. Prepare the gathering space in a way that is conducive to worshipful work.
  • Set aside distractions. Ask, “What does each of us need to turn over to God before we can focus on the work at hand?”
  • Worship together in your gathering space. Invite everyone to name where they have seen God at work this week.
  • Refine the question for discernment.
    • Ask each team member to give an overview of progress that has been made on agreed-upon actions.
    • Celebrate this progress and build in support for actions that are incomplete.
    • Identify what the team needs to focus on in this meeting. Parse which pieces are matters for discernment and which can appropriately be accomplished through decisions.
    • Clarify the question(s) for discernment that is/are now before the team.
  • Pray for indifference. Pray as Jesus did: “Not my will but Thine be done.”

Listen for the wisdom of God

  • Gather relevant data. Invite team members to share the details of work done since the last meeting.
  • Discuss the data. Encourage each team member to share what they notice from the data presented. Ask clarifying questions. Name what the team doesn’t yet know but needs to know. Listen deeply to one another.
  • Pray for wisdom. Acknowledge that the team has done what it can in terms of collecting and evaluating the data. Ask God to move in that new awareness.
  • Make friends with silence. Wait on the Lord. Use spiritual disciplines to tune into what God might be saying.

Consider and commit to what God is inviting the team to do

  • Identify the resolution that seems (resolutions that seem) to be emerging. Get every concern on the table. Refine every idea that bubbles up.
  • Work toward agreement. Start from points of commonality: “What is it that we all seem to be hearing clearly?” Dig deeper on points of resistance: “Tell me more about your hesitation.” Use your team’s previously agreed-upon means of coming to agreement.
  • Test the agreement. Let the resolution rest. If your team isn’t able to sleep on it, take a break and then discuss how team members are feeling in their heads, hearts, and guts about the proposed way forward.
  • Take action. Make detailed plans for action steps. Who will do what? How, and by when? What support and/or accountability is needed?

Reflect on how God is at work in the process as a whole

  • Before adjourning, check in on how the team felt it worked together today and what adjustments to process need to be made.
  • Wonder aloud, “What is God up to?”

New resource: workbook for ministers in the search process

Over the course of fifteen years in ministry, I have observed the search process from a number of angles: candidate, search team member, interim minister, coach, and colleague. I’ve noted that there are many places where a search can go off the rails. Here are a few outtakes from my (lengthy) personal blooper reel:

  • I was offered compensation that was barely enough to cover groceries while the church was patting itself on the back for extending a call to a woman.
  • I went on an out-of-state, in-person interview for which I was offered no travel expense reimbursement.
  • I was rejected by a search team, then called by the senior pastor at that church to come in for a 1-on-1 interview. (He had no clue that I’d been released from the process.)
  • I was given a 5-page job description that would have taken about 80 hours per week to fulfill.
  • I was BCCed on a form email releasing me from a search process for which I had been courted.
  • And, the grand prize winner: I was held hostage during a candidating weekend in a family’s living room while the husband/dad grilled me about my stance on same-sex marriage.

These tales, plus those from ministry colleagues, are what led me to develop a congregational search framework that is rooted in hospitality.

Despite all the bizarre things search teams do, however, candidates have more means of influencing search processes than they often realize. That is why I have created Sailing Uncertain Seas: A Workbook for Navigating the Search & Call Process. This 58-page workbook, built from search & call webinars I have offered over the last year, coaching conversations I have had with ministers in active searches, the research for my search framework, and my own experiences, is a comprehensive resource for the Christian clergyperson seeking a new congregational ministry position. Each section offers tips and reflection questions with ample space to respond. The workbook covers the following topics:

  • How do I know when the time is right to make a move?
  • What does a “good fit” position look like for me?
  • How do I attend to gaps in the experience I have and the experience I must have?
  • How do I get my materials in front of a search team?
  • How do I tell my story to search teams?
  • How do I prepare spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for interviews?
  • What do I wear for interviews?
  • How can I reflect on interview experiences in helpful ways?
  • How do I get the real story on congregations I’m interested in?
  • How do I deal with search team gaffes?
  • How do I juggle different search timelines?
  • How do I navigate searching while serving elsewhere?
  • How do I navigate searching while not serving elsewhere?
  • How do I make good use of a search team’s “no”?
  • What else do I need to make a good decision if a call is extended?
  • How do I negotiate compensation?
  • How do I leave my current call well?
  • How do I get off to a good start in my new call?

The workbook concludes with links to additional resources.

Are you a clergyperson who would benefit from tips & reflection questions for every step of your search? If so, this workbook will be well worth your investment. Click here to buy.

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.

What you get when you call a clergywoman

Recently the Lewis Center for Church Leadership published a fantastic article about how congregations can welcome and support their female ministers. The piece speaks to some of the fears that search committees have when considering a woman for a ministry position. It also raises awareness about  the small but significant ways that clergywomen are treated differently than clergymen. In doing so, the post names and dispels many of the assumptions about women in ministry. With that slate clear, what can churches expect from their female clergy?

Clergywomen love Jesus. We are not in ministry for the money (most of us are paid less than our male counterparts) or the notoriety (the stained glass ceiling is real). And we definitely have not pursued this vocation because it is the path of least resistance. We’re here because we are drawn to the message and model of Christ.

Clergywomen know their scripture. For many of us, Paul’s epistles have long been used as a barricade to the pulpit. That means we’ve had to steep ourselves in the Bible, studying its words, arcs, and historical/cultural context so that we can be confident we’ve discerned correctly and so that we can be faithful in forming others.

Clergywomen have been vetted, then vetted some more. At every level of examination, someone is looking for a reason not just to exclude each one of us as individuals, but also to use our personal shortcomings (real or imagined) as grounds not to grant pastoral authority to any woman. If we clear these hurdles, you’d better believe we are capable.

Clergywomen have had their mettle tested. Women in ministry are criticized for our hair, age, fashion choices, voice, family situation, and many other variables that are irrelevant to ministry – and that men are rarely evaluated on. And the “acceptable” leadership style for a woman (in any professional field, really) falls in a miniscule range between too soft and too assertive. Experienced in dealing with discouragements around these matters on a regular basis, we are not easily scared off from the legitimate difficulties of church work.

Clergywomen have a deep, DEEP sense of call. Women have their calls to ministry questioned all the time. Sometimes it happens in plain talk (e.g., “I believe women should never teach men”), and on other occasions it manifests by such means as second-guessing, talking to a female pastor as if she is the speaker’s daughter or granddaughter, asking where the “real” pastor is, or using diminutive terms (Miss Laura, Pastorette). As a result, clergywomen check in with God about their calls on a regular basis, asking for guidance and courage to live toward the purpose we’ve been given.

Clergywomen are endlessly creative. When there are so many hurdles not just to serving faithfully, but also finding a place to serve to begin with, women have to call upon all our gifts. We can think beyond our assumed constraints because we must – and the church and her people are the beneficiaries of our innovation.

Many clergywomen are backed by a fierce tribe, which provides its members with wisdom and support. When a congregation calls a female minister, it gets the bonus of a magnificently insightful hive mind. (Note: if you are a woman in ministry who has not yet found her tribe, look for it! Here are two places to start. And as a coach I would be thrilled to be your encourager and thought partner via a coaching relationship.)

Imagine your congregation could find all of these qualities in a minister, plus the particular skills and graces of a ministerial candidate. What great things for God could you do together?

Searching for the called – one year in

Last January I began devoting 5-10 hours per week to a labor of love: better resourcing ministerial search teams to do their essential work. In some ways, I can’t believe it’s only been a year. The marbles have been rolling around in my noggin for a while. In other ways, I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, and I have been having a blast with this project.

Thanks to insights from people I surveyed and interviewed, authors I read, and the Holy Spirit, the focus for this approach to search team work began to gel in the late spring and early summer. What would it look like for congregations not just to be blessed by the results of ministerial searches, but also for the search teams to be blessings to candidates, and by extension, to all the people and institutions those candidates influence? By arranging search processes around practices of hospitality, both aims can be met, resulting in a two-way infusion of health.

I expanded here on what hospitality could look like from an aerial view toward all the parties involved in a search (and note that there are more than two parties!). I have spent the last several months trying to bring the concepts down to ground level. Here’s what you can expect from the completed(ish) approach, which will cover closure with the exiting minister through helping the new minister get off to a fast start:

Applications that can layer over the process outlined by your judicatory, if there is one. This approach is not meant to enhance, not take the place of, the work prescribed/recommended to congregations.

A few non-negotiables. If your search team adopts this approach, there are certain steps that are essential to success, such as trust-building among all the parties, discernment practices, and good communication.

A lot of coaching questions. Every church, every search team must tailor this approach to its particular context. These questions prompt discussion to guide this customization.

Not just whats and hows, but also whys. Stages of the process and essential tasks all come with notes about their importance.

Lots of tools. I will link to pre-existing resources to aid search teams in their work or offer new ones where there are gaps.

Insights from the flip side. Often search teams don’t know what their candidates are experiencing on the other end of the line. Getting a peek into candidates’ hearts and brains will enable search teams to interact with them more hospitably.

Assessments. Is your search team ready for the next stage? Find out by answering a few yes or no questions.

There will be lots of other elements, but hopefully this gives you a taste.

I will launch a website in late June/early July with the completed(ish) approach, and I will offer free webinars about the content in the months following.  I’ll also be available for search team coaching and 1-2 day search team retreats.

Stay tuned for more news, including the announcement of a Facebook page that will give regular updates and link to search-related resources.

The struggle is real: impostor syndrome

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for a Baptist News Global article titled “Clarify those expectations, experts tell pastor search committees.” Two people were quoted in the piece: Craig Janney, the reference and referral guru for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and me. Craig is a bona fide expert. Churches and clergy from all over the country call him for help with ministerial searches. But the title said experts – plural – and the article included several statements from me that expounded on the headline.

I just got a promotion, I slowly realized.

In my shock, here were my inclinations:

Duck and cover my head with my hands, as if someone was about to throw something at me. (I actually did this.)

Make a snarky comment on social media about how much credibility the article had if it counted me as an expert. (It took all my willpower not to do this.)

Email Craig and apologize not only for the number of my quotes in the piece but also for the appearance of my photo above his. (I did not do this, as Craig is a humble and generous person who referred the reporter to me in the first place.)

I was suffering from an acute case of impostor syndrome.

After a few deep breaths, I started to think it through. I was on my first search committee as a junior in high school. I have been in the search process with more churches than I care to count in fourteen years of ministry. I have observed searches from the perspectives of an interim minister and of a coach working with clergy in transition. I have consulted with search teams. And the Louisville Institute saw fit to award me a grant to come up with a better-resourced, more spiritually-grounded approach to search & call.

In other words, I have done some things. OK, I can claim them. But what will it take for me to wear the clothes of someone with some expertise – and not feel like I’m swimming in them like the tween Josh at the very end of the movie Big? Time will tell.

In what roles do you have some growing room? Which roles are too tight? And what roles fit you just right? When you wear these clothes, give yourself a double thumbs-up in the mirror and a big ol’ Fonzie “heyyyyy!”

Creative Commons image “Erin and The Bronze Fonz” by Kurt Magoon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Searching for the called: six months in

I have completed the first third of my search committee research project, which to this point has entailed a lot of reading, the distribution of the survey, and an initial round of interviews. It seems like a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned, adjust my lens, and fill you in on how you can still influence the end product.

Abraham sat on his front porch, fanning feverishly to break up the thick heat. The sudden appearance in his yard of three men brought him out of his reverie. Spry for a 99-year-old, he hurried over to them. Friendly faces were hard to come by, even around Abraham’s own home. There had, after all, been many an argument with his wife Sarah about his son by another mother. “You must be tired from travel. Please, take a load off, and I’ll bring you a snack.” Abraham didn’t just dump some pretzels on a napkin, though. He raced inside and asked Sarah to make bread. He ran out back and threw a few very fresh steaks on the grill.

As the mystery men devoured their feast under the shade of a tree, they asked, “Where’s your lovely bride? We’ve got some news for you both.” Sarah was stuck in the kitchen, and she had the hearing of an 89-year-old, but she could still make out the conversation over the clanging of pots. When the guests said that they’d be eager to play with Abraham and Sarah’s newborn when they came back this way a year later, she not only received the message, her laughter strained her obliques. The whole visit had an air of mystery, if not absurdity. And yet…in the hospitality Abraham and Sarah offered to three complete strangers, they received a blessing: the confirmation of a divine promise and – finally! – a concrete timetable for its fulfillment.

Hospitality is a central theme in scripture. Because Abraham and Sarah, because Moses and the Hebrew people, because Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were all once strangers in strange lands, we as their theological descendants are responsible for welcoming all who wander. And in a vocational sense, some of the most nomadic people are congregational ministers, looking not just for a job but also a place to fulfill a calling, to label home, and perhaps to nurture a family. Yet I don’t believe that most search committees think to approach their essential work as hosts.

If hospitality is a foundational virtue for Christians, what would it look like for search committees to create space for welcoming fully the gifts and the challenges of ministerial candidates – people who are just names on a page at the outset? What if search committees asked themselves how they could not just give a nod of acknowledgment to the Holy Spirit, but invite the Spirit into their conversations, listen for her wisdom, and wait for a blessing? What if search committees took ample time to build trust among committee members so that they could bring the fullness of their talents and faith and doubts – even their incredulous laughter – to the search process? What if search committees greeted their candidates with outstretched arms – including the ones who seem a bit mysterious, if not downright strange – and asked them questions that really got at their stories, passions, and capabilities? What if search committees engaged their churches and their communities ‘round the tree, giving them appropriate means for input into the process? What if search committees and congregations, instead of handing their candidates of choice a cup of pretzels and some tap water, killed the calf and baked a cake and really celebrated the start of a new relationship?

As Christians we tend to love hospitality as a concept, but putting feet to the ideal is scary because it involves welcoming the unknown. There’s no way to predict what danger awaits. Hospitality in search & call is no different. Maybe the Holy Spirit will prompt us to do something hard or unexpected. Maybe we’ll disagree about whom to call or how to go about it. Maybe we’ll fall in love with a candidate who will really stretch the expectations of our congregation. Maybe our church members will want to unearth skeletons or our community will say they need something from us that we’re not ready to provide. Maybe our minister’s worth and needs will strain our budget.

While there’s no way to anticipate the dangers in hospitality – though goodness knows we try – there’s also no way to predict blessing. As Abraham and Sarah found out, in God all things are possible, even a woman of very advanced maternal age giving birth to her long-awaited joy. In God a congregation’s self-study in preparation for a search can help it understand itself anew. In God intensive spiritual work done by the search committee can generate seeds for discernment that are then blown and take root across the whole of the church. In God the arrival of a new minister can breed needed energy and excitement. In God a good pastor-parish match can lay the groundwork for fruitful mutual ministry, one that is focused on living toward a divinely-given vision instead of on playing whack-a-mole with various conflicts.

Blessings beyond that which we dare hope for await those churches who take hospitality seriously. I believe this deep in my bones. Now, I did not start out this project with hospitality as my lens, but as I read and interview and survey all parties involved in searches, the recurring pitfalls keep pointing in that direction. The problems I hear about are rarely intentional; search committees often don’t know how to seek out the Holy Spirit’s counsel throughout the process. How to meet candidates’ disclosures with their own compelling, truthful narrative about their church. How to communicate effectively with candidates and with their own congregation. How to welcome a variety of candidates, then decide well which ones remain friends and which one becomes family. How to ask useful questions of the ministers they interview. How to have hard but needed conversations about the expectations of everyone involved in the process. How to compensate ministers in ways that honor their professionalism and personhood. How to formalize new calls in covenantal language. How to help the called pastor become “one of us.”

Search committees are made up of extremely capable, faithful people. They have the wisdom of judicatory leaders, theological school partners, and parachurch organizations at their disposal. The foundation is there. Here’s the contribution I hope to make. One year from now, I want to be able to offer to search committees and the folks who counsel them an approach to the call process that is grounded in practices of hospitality. I do not envision this approach as do this, then this, then this. My project is an ecumenical one, and call processes vary across denominational lines. And in free church traditions, searches look very different from congregation to congregation.

Instead, this work aims to be a tool for teaching search committee members how to ask each other, their church, their candidates, and the Holy Spirit questions that remove the barriers keeping each party from appropriately sharing with and fully listening to one another. These may be nuts-and-bolts questions like, “what do our by-laws say about how to handle this part of the process?” But more often they will be questions such as, “What does the Spirit have to say about this direction we’re leaning toward?” “What do our candidates need from us?” “What has not yet been said that must be said?” “What’s causing us to feel this way?” When search committee members are able to discuss these deeper-level concerns, hospitality, with all its short- and long-term blessings for congregation and minister, can more fully take root.

This project is not a solo effort. It would not be very hospitable of me to hide away in my study and come up with something on my own! This work depends on your wisdom and your experiences. I have a survey still open that I would love for you to take and forward to others. If you are willing, let’s schedule a phone or Skype interview during which you can share your expertise. If you know of a search committee that could benefit from some coaching and might be willing to be a test case, please let me know. And definitely, when I put up a new website in a year’s time, with all of the findings available free of charge, do share the link with the churches you guide and support. Together, we can help our faithful people prepare to entertain angels unaware, resulting in healthier congregations that are more on mission for God.