Pastoral Search Process

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Pastoral Search Process
United States & Canada Protocol
Prepared by Rev. Elder Arlene J. Ackerman

MCC Resource Specialist for Church Development

The selection of your next pastor is quite possibly one of the most important decisions your church will make.
If your pastoral selection is a “good match” it will be the beginning of an exciting time of growth and development and effective ministry that will touch the lives of many people.
If the outcome of your pastoral selection is not a “good match” it will be the beginning of a time of great challenge and conflict; a mistake that can negatively impact the effectiveness of your church ministry spiritually, relationally and economically for years to come.
Remember, seeking God’s leading in this process is critically important. Seeking the person God has been preparing for your church is a spiritual matter. It will take spiritual people seeking God’s guidance to lead you to a successful conclusion.
The key to the success of a pastoral search is a good process: a process that is prayerful, well thought-through and follows the protocols of your local church Bylaws, MCC Bylaws and the MCC Pastoral Search Process. Some people will try to define a successful process as one that is quick and inexpensive. Neither great speed nor low cost will help you in being successful; to focus on those criteria constitutes a mistake. Another major mistake many churches make is not hiring a trained Interim Pastor. A professional Interim can help the church in preparation for pastoral search and the arrival of a new pastor.
Through the years we in MCC have learned a great deal about what works well and what causes pastoral search disasters. Furthermore, we are not alone in our learning about what makes up effective pastoral search. Therefore, a textbook is being recommended to help guide your team:
The Pastoral Search Journey – A Guide To Finding Your Next Pastor by John Vonhof, published by The Alban Institute, 2010
It is recommended that each member of the Pastoral Search Committee (PSC) have a copy of and read the following:

  1. the textbook – available at

  2. the local church’s Bylaws

  3. MCC’s Bylaws – available on the UFMCC Website

  4. This document - MCC Pastoral Search Process – available on the UFMCC Website

The textbook will give your Pastoral Search Committee (PSC) an overall process and will answer most of the questions your team will have. It contains detailed steps and describes supplemental resources. The Pastoral Search Journey was chosen with great care – it is believed that the book will prove an excellent resource for your team particularly when it used in conjunction this “MCC Pastoral Search Process” as is intended.

Your local church Bylaws will outline the requirements governing your individual congregation’s Pastoral Search. That document will contain information pertinent to the process such as the number of members to comprise the Pastoral Search Committee, whether those committee members are to be elected or appointed, and what percentage of votes is necessary for any candidate to be ultimately elected.
MCC Bylaws will help the committee members to better understand “the big picture” regarding the role of a Pastor and how MCC functions.
This MCC Pastoral Search Process contains our denominational recommendations and pastoral search protocols. Through the years we have learned what has worked and what has caused problems for our churches. This document will stand along side the textbook to guide you in the former and help you avoid the latter. The textbook often refers to “denominational requirements or policy;” this document speaks to those issues.

Guiding Principles – refer to the textbook for additional explanation as noted

  1. The MCC Office of Church Life and Health will appoint someone to function as your church’s Mentor to guide you through the pastoral search process.

  1. An Interim Pastor is appointed by the MCC Office of Church Life and Health with input from the local church.

  1. The outgoing pastor is generally not to be involved in the process beyond participating in the Exit Interview.

  1. A well thought-through process is vital; the PSC needs to be mindful and deliberate in its course of action. The recommended textbook will be very helpful in guiding you through each of these steps and others:

    1. develop trust with each other and your Mentor

    2. develop a timeline of essential steps

    3. create a communications plan to keep the congregation informed of the process

    4. complete a congregational study

    5. develop criteria for the ideal pastor

    6. establish a plan of action for the candidate search

    7. develop an interview process

    8. establish a process for determining the best candidate

    9. create a plan to present the candidate to the congregation

    10. manage the candidating visit

    11. prepare for the congregational meeting

    12. prepare for the arrival of the new pastor

  1. The Pastoral Search Journey includes discussion of church and clergy profiles. Contact your Mentor for specific information.

  1. The PSC must be unanimous in its commitment to confidentiality regarding the names and identities of all parties who inquire, submit applications, and/or become candidates – this includes not sharing with spouses. A breach of confidentiality can harm the candidate and the process. Any members of the PSC who cannot agree to complete confidentiality must resign or be removed from the team. (The process of the PSC is not a confidential matter only the names/identities of potential candidates.)

  1. The PSC will work towards a consensus in selecting one candidate to present to the membership of the congregation (see attachment “Consensus Decision-making”). If the team is severely split in choosing one candidate then you are not ready to make a recommendation to the congregation.

  1. The PSC will choose only one (1) candidate to present to the members of the congregation. If the one candidate is not elected the PSC will begin its work again.

  1. Before a candidate may be presented to the congregation, a criminal background and credit check of that individual must be completed. The report must encompass at least the past 5 years and church, not the candidate, assumes the cost of these checks.

  1. The Board of Directors, not the PSC, negotiates all salary & benefits on behalf of the congregation. The Chairperson of the PSC should make sure the Board has the resources that are attached, i.e. Introduction to Contracts and Sample Pastoral Contracts. A tentative agreement is developed prior to the candidating week/weekend. The agreements are noted in the Board meeting minutes and often in a Covenant Agreement, Pastoral Contract or Policy Manual. All covenants, contracts and policies should be reviewed by legal counsel.

  1. All pastors should receive a fair salary/housing allowance and benefits (see attachments “Sample Contracts” and the book review “Compensation of Pastors in the USA”).

  1. All candidates for election must be MCC ordained clergy, who hold or are eligible for MCC Clergy Licensing.

  1. Churches of different sizes function in different ways. Study the attached article “Church Size Theory” and discuss the potential effects of church size on the pastoral search process.

  1. According to MCC Bylaws, pastors within MCC are elected without term limits or specification of length of service.

MCC Protocol
Preparation for Pastoral Search – Board of Directors

  1. The Board of Directors (typically the vice moderator) notifies the MCC Office of Church Life and Health as soon as the Pastor shares an intention to resign or a pulpit vacancy occurs, whichever comes first. The Office of Church Life & Health will appoint a Mentor.

  1. The Mentor may be invited to the church to host a forum (in person, via Skype or video) with the congregation to give an overview of the pastoral search process and discuss the need for an Interim Pastor. Refer to pages 23 – 27 in the textbook. This visit by the Mentor may be, and often is, scheduled before the current pastor leaves the church; however, respect should be accorded to the outgoing pastors’ wishes.

  1. The Board creates a plan for acknowledging the work of the outgoing pastor prior to the pastor leaving.

  1. It is recommended that the Board establish a process whereby an Exit Interview with the outgoing pastor can be completed (see attachment “Sample Exit Interview”).

  1. The Board puts into motion the establishment of the PSC as outlined in the local church Bylaws. It is important to include some of the church’s key influencers on the PSC.

  1. The Board develops a budget for the pastoral search process (see attachment “Creating a Pastoral Search Budget”).

Beginning work of the Pastoral Search Committee

  1. The PSC meets to develop a solid foundation for working together as a team. Refer to Chapter 1 of the textbook.

  1. The PSC develops a communications plan to keep the congregation fully informed of the search process and the committee’s progress. Refer to textbook pages 41 – 44.

  1. A congregational study should be completed as it is essential to a successful pastoral search. The church’s history, strengths, weaknesses, community, and congregational needs must be well understood. An Interim Pastor is trained to assist with the studies to be done at this stage.

  1. A profile of the ideal candidate, including items that are non-negotiable, should be established.

  1. The PSC has a choice about how to seek qualified candidates. Work with your Mentor in determining what process will be most helpful. In some cases the Mentor will recommend a qualified candidate for you to consider; in other situations you will want to do an Executive Search, in a few cases advertising within MCC is the best course.

  1. Determine in advance what information – a résumé, answers to a series of questions, references, and a sermon/worship DVD, etc. – you want from each candidate (see attached “Sample Application”). Also, remember that some candidates may ask you for information concerning the church, community and your pastoral search process.

  1. All interviewees must be made aware that completion of a Due Diligence Application (see attached sample) and subsequent submission to criminal background and credit checks (paid for by the church) will be required if they are selected as one of the top two candidates. The PSC must determine who will have access to the background report information, where it will be kept and for how long. This is highly confidential information. Refer to text, page 93.

  1. As candidates submit material:

    1. determine whether they fit your predetermined profile and fit with your church’s values, vision and mission;

    2. determine whether they understand how to work effectively with your church’s current size as well as the size you hope to grow into;

    3. systematically check all references being careful to standardize the questions asked; and

    4. contact your Mentor and ask them to contact others in the denomination who may know the candidate.

You want as much information as possible to make an informed decision. However, do not go to the candidates Facebook page or other such site without their consent.
Do not base any decision solely on a packet of information or someone’s education or that they came from a high profile church. Make use of all your resources before making a determination. Refer to Chapter 10 in the text.

  1. The PSC develops a communication plan to keep all candidates informed regarding your timeline, and how you are progressing and their position within your process.

  1. The PSC determines candidate(s) to be interviewed. The first interview is normally done via a conference call or video call utilizing a set of standardized questions.

  1. The PSC determines, using all information available and based on the pre-determined criteria, whether one or two candidates stand out.

  1. Send your top 1 or 2 candidates the Due Diligence Application. Once the candidates return the completed application proceed with criminal background and credit checks extending back at least five years. Also, finish checking with any and all references; follow-up with additional questions that may have arisen since your first contact.

  1. A second interview is typically done with the top candidate(s). When possible, an in- person, off-campus interview is best. Strict confidentiality must remain in effect until the PSC is ready to make the official announcement of their top candidate to the membership of the congregation.

If indeed the PSC is able to make a consensus choice for their number one candidate, the candidate should be asked to confirm her/his continuing interest. Provided the candidate does wish to be presented to the membership, that individual should be asked to put any other pastoral searches on hold pending the outcome your congregation’s vote.

  1. Prepare well for the announcement of your candidate to the congregation. Do not publish or give out the candidate’s contact information. Consider putting together a pamphlet sharing why the candidate was selected and facts about the candidate. Refer to the text, Chapter 11.

  1. Schedule, at least two weeks in advance, a week or extended weekend for the candidate to meet with the leadership and membership of the church. Offer a number of different activities involving as many of the members as possible. The Board will also want to meet with the candidate to discuss any outstanding contractual issues. This will also be a time for the candidate to preach and fully participate in worship. Remember that the candidate will need time to explore the community, look for possible housing and so forth. The candidate may also ask for some specific items for the visit. The church pays for all expenses: travel, housing and food. Do not put a candidate in someone’s home; a hotel would be most appropriate. It is wise (and considerate) to invite and cover the expenses of the candidate’s partner/spouse (if applicable) whenever possible.

  1. A special congregational meeting, also scheduled at least two weeks in advance, should be held at the end or after the candidating week(end). The candidate and spouse do not attend the congregational meeting and the only item on the agenda is whether or not to elect Rev. __________ as the new pastor of MCC ____________. Be certain to have ascertained whether the candidate will accept the call to your church if elected.

    • If the vote does not meet the minimum percentage required that is in your local church Bylaws, notify the candidate and your Mentor without delay.

    • If the candidate does not accept the vote or call of the congregation contact your Mentor and congregation without delay.

    • If the candidate is elected and accepts the call, negotiate the start date and notify your congregation and your Mentor without delay.

  1. The work of the PSC continues in helping to create a smooth pastoral transition. The work is finally completed at the conclusion of the Installation Service. Refer to text, Chapter 13.


  1. Sample Exit Interview Page 7

  2. Consensus Decision-making Page 8

  3. Church Size Theory Article Page 11

  4. Creating a Pastoral Search Budget Page 13

  5. Sample Application Page 15

  6. Sample Due Diligence Cover Letter & Application Page 20

  7. Pastoral Contracts Introduction Page 27

  8. Part Time Pastoral Contract – Sample Page 32

  9. Full Time Pastoral Contract - Sample Page 37

  10. Book Review, Compensation of Pastors in the USA Page 42

The Exit Interview & Sample Questions
Rev. Elder Arlene Ackerman

MCC Resource Specialist for Church Development

An exit interview is a helpful tool for both the exiting pastor and the church. For the pastor it can be a formal time to review positive outcomes of his/her ministry and to give input to the Board about issues of concern. For the Board it can be a helpful to hear the perspective of the outgoing pastor with regard to both issues and accomplishments. All of this information will help inform the congregational profile.
The exit interview should take no more than 60 to 90 minutes and should be conducted by either a single individual, or by at most two persons, who the outgoing pastor views as neutral. The interviewer(s) is(are) to be appointed by the Board but need not be selected from the Board’s membership. After the interview is completed, a written report of the questions, responses and any pertinent discussion should be prepared, signed by the outgoing pastor and the interviewer(s), and be submitted to the Board within seven days.  It is appropriate for the outgoing pastor to receive a copy of that report.
Should the outgoing pastor choose not to participate in an exit interview, ask her/him to respond in writing to the following questions:
Interview Questions

  1. What did you hope to accomplish when you first came to pastor this church? What are your perceptions regarding the achievement of those goals?

  2. For what accomplishments of the church do you feel the greatest pride?

  3. What have been the most challenging issues that you have faced as pastor here?

  4. What important lessons have you learned about this church that you want to pass on to the Board?

  5. How would you describe the state of our church? What do you believe are our current strengths and challenges?

  6. Who do you see as the developing and future leaders of this congregation? Who are the individuals whose leadership skills we should continue to cultivate?

  7. What qualities do you believe we should look for in the person who is to become our next pastor? Why?

  8. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Thank you for participating in this exit interview. Your feedback is very important.

Consensus Decision-making

Elisa Vega-Burns, MCC of the Resurrection

Per our Pastoral Search Process and Timeline ground rules, the decision of (church name) ’s Pastoral Search Committee to select the candidate to be presented to the congregation for election as our next Senior Pastor will require the consensus of the Committee members. Consensus means overwhelming agreement; it does not mean unanimity. In light of this, consensus decision-making does not mean that all parties are completely satisfied with the final outcome, but that the decision is acceptable to all parties because no one feels that the resolution violates his/her vital interests. It is important that consensus be the product of a good-faith effort to meet the interests of all stakeholders.
Working toward consensus means that every group member has an opportunity to influence the final decision. Members of the group reach substantial agreement, not necessarily unanimity, as mentioned previously. Consensus cannot be achieved by majority rule or averaging. Consensus frees the group from “either/or” thinking and emphasizes the possibilities of “both/and” thinking by focusing attention on needs and goals. Consensus decision-making allows for the creation of an outcome that all members can regard as fair. When committee members strive for what is best for all, rather than trying to triumph over others whose views may be different, they fulfill the highest expectations of the democratic tradition.
The key indicator of whether or not a consensus has been reached is the degree to which everyone agrees they can live with the final proposal after every effort has been made to meet any outstanding interests. Thus, consensus requires that someone frame a proposal after listening carefully to everyone’s interests, goals and concerns have been considered. Interests, by the way, are not the same as positions or demands. Demands and positions are what people say they must have, but interests are the underlying needs or reasons that explain why they take the positions that they do.
Candidate Selection Consensus Straw-poll
After the Pastoral Search Committee has had sufficient time for review and discussion of the applicants, the Chair will ask each member to hold up fingers showing where s/he is on the Levels of Consensus Scale, shown below, regarding the selection of a particular applicant as the candidate to be presented to the congregation for election.

  1. I can say an unqualified “yes” to the decision. I am satisfied that the decision is an expression of the wisdom of the group.

  2. I find the decision perfectly acceptable.

  3. I can live with the decision, but I am not especially enthusiastic about it.

  4. I do not fully agree with the decision and need to register my view about it. However, I do not choose to block the decision. I am willing to support the decision because I trust the wisdom of the group.

  5. I do not agree with the decision and feel the need to stand in the way of this decision being accepted.

  6. I feel that we have no clear sense of unity in the group. We need to do more work before consensus can be reached.

Sample Ground Rules for Consensus Decision-making
It is important to remember that there is no expectation that all Committee members will agree with every word, statement, or sentence uttered as we strive for consensus regarding a pastoral candidate to be presented for election. Each member of the Pastoral Search Committee needs to focus on the big picture and the good of the congregation, not his/her personal feelings or interests.
The following ground rules will be helpful in our discussions regarding the applicants:

  1. Be courteous and listen while others are speaking.

  2. Keep remarks brief. As a guideline, keep remarks to one minute per speaker. Time is of the essence.

  3. Add new comments only; do not repeat what others have said.

  4. Address the Chair of the Pastoral Search Committee rather than other Committee members.

  5. Keep an open mind. Listening to differing opinions often affords the greatest opportunity for increased understanding.

  6. Be positive. Offer a constructive suggestions rather than criticisms of others’ opinions about a subject.

  7. Look for common ground. Do not seek simply to reinforce your own view or position, especially at the expense of another participant.

  8. If you have spoken once during a specific round of discussion, allow others to speak before you make further contributions.

Sample Consensus Straw-poll & Chair’s script

Pastoral Search Team






Has a candidate emerged for you?

Y / N

Y / N

Y / N

Y / N

Y / N

If Yes, what is his/her name?

Given your responses (above), I propose that we select _______________ as the candidate we wish to present to the congregation for election as our next Senior Pastor.

Please indicate your level of consensus by holding up your fingers to show where you are on the Levels of Consensus Scale (recite text below).

One: I can say an unqualified “yes” to the decision. I am satisfied that the decision is an expression of the wisdom of the group.


Two: I find the decision perfectly acceptable.


Three: I can live with the decision, but I am not especially enthusiastic about it.

Four: I do not fully agree with the decision and need to register my view about it. However, I do not choose to block the decision. I am willing to support the decision because I trust the wisdom of the group.


Five: I do not agree with the decision and feel the need to stand in the way of this decision being accepted.

Six: I feel that we have no clear sense of unity in the group. We need to do more work before consensus can be reached.


Reverend Elder Ken Martin

Church Size Theory begins with the simple observation that every aspect of a church’s life changes according to its size. In order for a church to be healthy and grow—not just numerically but in its service to the larger community, its own infrastructure and the spiritual vitality of its members—the church’s leaders, both professional and lay, must be aware of how church size affects the role of the pastor, the role of the board of directors, the style and content of worship, the amount and focus of programming, the adequacy of its facilities and the composition of its staff.

None of these is more important than the role of the pastor, which changes dramatically through the four size and culture categories used in Church Size Theory: the “family church” with average weekly attendance up to 50, the “pastor-centered church” from 50-150, the “program size church” 150-350, and the “corporate church” with average weekly attendance above 350.
Gary McIntosh, a respected pioneer in this new field, summarizes the changing role of the pastor by saying that the small church needs a “lover”; the medium size church needs an “administrator”; the large church needs a “leader”. Some pastors are able to and enjoy leading churches through the different size transitions and are able to adjust to the different demands made on them as the church grows. Others find themselves much more comfortable and competent in one or two size categories. Unfortunately, the different requirements of the different cultures that accompany size transitions are not well understood by the majority, and this causes frustration on the part of the pastor, dissatisfaction in the congregation, and may lead to an unhappy ending of the relationship between the two.
One of the great advantages of understanding the role of the pastor in terms of the congregation’s size is that it allows the pastoral search process the opportunity to better match the needs and expectations of the church with the skills and interests of the pastor.

  • In a family church (up to 50), the pastor is usually part time or retired and functions as a chaplain.

  • In a pastor-centered church (50-150), the pastor is the hub of the wheel. Everything centers around the pastor who coordinates all activities.

  • By the time a church reaches program size (150-350), the pastor’s primary emphases pastor shift from interpersonal relationships to planning, recruiting, training, supervising and evaluating—from creating and nurturing personal relationships to creating and nurturing leaders who can sustain successful programs.

  • The pastors of a corporate churches (above 350), must be comfortable with no longer being available to the congregation in any of the traditional pastoral roles. They must focus narrowly on the activities where their influence will have the greatest impact: worship planning and sermon preparation, visioning, developing a high functioning staff and working with the governing board. Many experts say that up to 80% of the pastors’ influence in corporate churches is in worship and so up to 80% of their time must be spent in worship preparation and preaching! They must have the personal charisma and gravitas to hold the respect and trust of staff and lay leaders, inspire the loyalty of the congregation, embody the church’s vision for the congregation and the larger community and generate and sustain the energy and momentum for the church constantly to be moving forward.

A pastoral search process prayerfully committed to finding the person rightly suited and skilled for the job goes a long way toward providing the church with the extended and stable pastorate needed in churches of all sizes.

Additional Resources
One Size Doesn’t Fit All by Gary L. McIntosh

Fleming H. Revell

Size Transitions in Congregations by Beth Ann Gaede, editor

The Alban Institute

Creating a Pastoral Search Budget
Rev. Elder Arlene Ackerman

MCC Resource Specialist for Church Development

There are a number of costs pertaining to the pastoral search process. It will be helpful for the Board to put together a preliminary budget for the Pastoral Search Process. Once the process is underway the Board/Pastoral Search Committee (PSC) can revisit it to see if it needs to be adjusted.

Areas of Considerations
Interim Pastor: Plan on covering the cost of bringing in an Interim Pastor to meet with your congregation before the actual appointment by the MCC Office of Church Life and Health. This would include travel, hotel*, and food. Normally the salary/benefits of the outgoing pastor carry over to the Interim Pastor. There will be some cost in helping the Interim move to your area.
Phone: You will want to remain in contact with your Mentor, check references, talk with candidates, and so forth. It would be wise to have the members of the PSC all download something like Skype which allows free phone service over your computer. It also features video conferencing (for those who have a camera on their computers) and conference calling.
Brochures: Some churches put together a professional looking brochure to send to potential candidates. Also, once a candidate is chosen you will want to put together a nice brochure for the congregation containing information about the candidate you are proposing.
Onsite Interview of Candidates: Generally the first interview of the candidates is done via telephone or video conferencing. It would be wise, if possible, to bring your top one or two candidates in for a face to face interview and to cover their expenses for travel, hotel* and food. You should also consider the cost of a meeting room as it is best to hold these interviews somewhere other than your church campus in order to maintain complete confidentiality.
Credit and Criminal Background Checks: Once the PSC has selected your top candidate(s) it is imperative that you pay for the completion of background checks going back a minimum of five years.
Candidating Week (end): The PSC will need to determine how long a candidating time to plan for. In small churches an extended weekend generally works well; however, a larger more complexly organized church might want to plan for a visit spanning two consecutive Sundays and utilizing the intervening week for meetings with leadership and community leaders. Plan on budgeting expenses for travel, hotel* and food for the candidate and her/his spouse.
New Pastor Moving Expenses: After the new pastor is elected there will be the cost of moving. These costs – typically an allowance to cover the moving company, travel, hotel* and food during the move – should be negotiated with the new pastor.

*Hotel: You should avoid housing candidates with church members during the search process (and after the candidate becomes the Pastor-elect). Using a hotel, a neutral environment, allows for the better preservation of confidentiality and greatly reduces the possibility for unintentionally seeding future conflict.

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