When you have an open position for a pastor or staff member, it can be challenging to figure out what qualities you’re even looking for in the candidates. Character? Leadership abilities? Preaching skills?
Let’s start with what I call the 5 Cs. These are the big-picture overview items to consider as you take an initial look at pastoral candidates:
Character: Is the candidate someone of good character? What precisely that means will of course need to be defined and measured and grounded in scripture, but most groups are aware that character is of first consideration when looking for pastoral candidates and needs to be taken into account.
Compatibility: Does the candidate fit with us theologically? Even churches that are not part of a denomination have specific theological bents and emphases. To the degree those are clarified, candidate compatibility can be assessed. Polity and structure need to be taken into consideration as well. Does the candidate agree with how the board and elders are structured? With the process for how formal decisions are made?
Competencies: What can the candidate do? This category is surprisingly overlooked in many settings. What do you actually want this person you’re hiring to be able to do? You would not hire an engineer who couldn’t do math. Consider the specific tasks and necessary skills needed for this particular role.
Context: Is the candidate a good fit culturally speaking? In most cases, people minister most effectively to people they are like… people they fit in with. Context can extend to socio-economic level, race, ethnicity, educational level, regional culture, etc. Just because a person has a good track record in urban ministry doesn’t mean they’ll work well in rural context (and vice versa) so there is a cultural fit. If the candidate isn’t a good fit culturally, do they have the cross-cultural gifts needed to make the necessary adaptations? Some do, but that will need to be assessed as well.
Chemistry: Do we get along? Chemistry is that intuitive connection you feel with some people. It’s certainly an important consideration, but you can’t make up your mind solely based on chemistry. It should be the last consideration of these five, but it is often the first.
These are the broad-stroke qualities you need to be looking for in pastoral candidates. You really need to be looking at all five, but most of the time people look at two or three, plus how well the candidate can preach. And that’s how the decision is made. Preaching is important of course, but it actually accounts for less than 20% of the job in most cases.
Of these five dimensions, the ones that are most often overlooked are competencies and context. If a person doesn’t have the right competencies, they’re not going to be able to do the job. Likewise, if they can’t work effectively within the cultural context, they won’t be able to do the job.
Questions for reflection:
1. Of these five broad categories, which are the ones you naturally look for first?
2. Which of these categories are you most likely to miss?
3. How can you be more intentional about looking at all five categories?