Reflections on a Senior Pastor Search

(Posted by Paige)

We are well into our search for a new senior pastor at my PCA church, and as the meeting schedule is easing a bit to accommodate the holidays, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on what we’ve learned and what has gone very well, in case these notes might be helpful to others. Like most search committees, we are laypeople and RE’s (Ruling Elders) who have never either hired a pastor or been a pastor looking for a pulpit, so we have cobbled our process together with advice and wisdom and prayer and some good guesses. Maybe there’s something here worth passing along.

First, I have to say that I regret that we can’t hire ALL of the excellent people who have applied, because we have seen some really terrific men among these applicants. In fact, if any of you are in a search situation soon at your church, whether for a senior or an associate pastor, I’ll be happy to give you the names of some fine possibilities (with their permission). Ours is a particularly “special needs” church at this time in our history, so we have had to pass by some otherwise qualified people in order to zero in on the gifts and experience that we feel will fit our unusual situation. But our eyes have been opened to God’s good work among our brothers both inside and outside our denomination, and we are very grateful for the depth we’ve seen in this pool of applicants.

When we started off in the late summer we had the advantage of the counsel of Tucker York, a TE from Westminster Presbyterian (PCA) in Lancaster whose doctoral project is focused on the pastoral search process (and he is willing to act as a consultant in your case, too, as his time permits, so get in touch – see first comment below). Tucker walked us through some resources provided by the PCA for search committees as well as some of his own observations. He stressed the importance of confidentiality, balanced by clear communication to our congregation at regular intervals, and warned us about the common pitfall of choosing a pastor who is a full pendulum swing away from the personality and style of our previous minister.

I’m also really grateful to all of my pastoring brothers whose first charge to me, when I asked their advice, was to RESPOND PROMPTLY to applicants (many of them having had their own submissions fall into a black hole when they applied for a position somewhere!). Add to this our committee’s desire to be candid about our church’s baggage (at least at a certain stage in the process), and we seem to have startled and impressed most of the men who have applied. Our team also adopted Lane’s suggestion to me that we make a connection by phone with any man whose application we decide to pursue, in order to quickly personalize the process for them and gain an initial sense of each pastor’s style of interaction that we could not get from their written application materials.

Like the Roman roads and the lingua franca of the Early Church era, the common-grace advantage of the internet and email has smoothed our way, making promptness a real possibility in this 21st-century quest. Along with an independent gmail account for correspondence, we created a stand-alone informational site at WordPress for our search process, which you can check out at (It’s missing the applicant instruction part because we are no longer accepting applications.) One of our techie team members introduced us to Teambox (, which has been just a fabulous (and private) way to store and share applicant information, coordinate meetings and interviews, and keep track of our “homework” in between meetings. It’s well worth the couple hundred budgeted bucks to have this venue.

Most of all we’ve been blessed to be a team of diverse but compassionate people, wise in listening and diligent in digging through the information we’ve received to get at the hearts of the men who are applying. As we went through our latest season of panel telephone interviews, I was impressed by the variety of questions thought up by my fellow travelers: each of us seems to have our own area of interest or expertise that neatly complements the other eight. And again, one of the perks of this work is getting to read about and talk to the interesting people who have applied from all around the country, each one a fascinating, historied individual and a testimony to God’s grace.

Here’s a link to the original questionnaire that we created for applicants. We were delighted to see how well our fairly simple chosen questions accessed the individuality and the heartbeat of the pastors who shared their stories with us. You are welcome to use or alter what we made if it would be helpful to you.

Finally, one small note to future pastoral candidates: a really, really unusual and winsome thing to do, if you are applying to a church with other staff who preach, is to take the time to listen to some of their recorded sermons so that you can comment knowledgeably about the men you might be working with whenever you begin interviewing. (Such a degree of unprompted care for our church and staff startled us when one applicant did this, probably as much as we’ve startled our applicants with our promptness!)

Looking to God’s good grace and provision in this unusual adventure. It has definitely felt at times like we are collectively trying to locate a particular tree in a forest while blindfolded. Soli Deo Gloria!



  1. paigebritton said,

    December 31, 2013 at 7:03 am

    If anyone would like to contact me privately to talk about openings and possible people to fill them, or if you’re interested in talking with Tucker York about the search process, you can get in touch with me at my gmail address (paige then a dot then britton). :)

  2. mary kathryn said,

    December 31, 2013 at 8:23 am

    The truly wonderful thing is, you’re not really groping around in the forest for the one tree. God is moving you, and moving the trees, to bring you into contact with each other. I’m glad you’re responding to your candidates. I can’t tell you have many dozens (many dozens) of churches never replied to my husband’s letter. I’m glad you’re taking your time, and being choosey. It’s so encouraging to the searching ministers out there to hear that they were rejected not because they were unworthy, but simply b/c your church has very specific needs. Searching for a church in which to serve is such a hard thing – much more than a simple job search. We were often disheartened to find that so many churches were looking for a CEO, a man to give the church its vision, when truly the vision should already be there, in the session and in the congregation. Some congregations and pastors are so ill-matched, b/c the committee became desperate and just picked. I heard a pastor once say in his sermon that it really didn’t matter that he and the people didn’t seem to love each other. They were in a work of ministry together, and that’s what mattered. Needless to say, he didn’t stay long there. Real love, real mutual servanthood, real grace and forgiveness, and an initial desire to stay for the long haul — these are so key. Thank you for posting all this info. I think it would be very useful for any committee.

  3. December 31, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Back in my OPC licentiate candidating days (late 1990s), I sent an application to an OPC church somewhere in the middle of the USA (no names!). I was one of five candidates invited to come preach at the church and stay for a week (we each came individually, of course). My family and I (the church flew us out, as it did the others) had a good time there that week. As it happens, I was the last candidate of the five, so I didn’t have long to wait to find out if I was in or out. Well, as it turned out, the search committee chose the one man of the five who not only turned them down, but wasn’t sure he was supposed to be in the ministry in the first place! Such is the sagacity of (some) search committees…

  4. Andrew McCallum said,

    December 31, 2013 at 8:45 pm


    It’s been over five years now since I served on our pastoral search committee. I was truly blessed to serve on this committee but I have to admit that I was very relieved when it was over! Discerning who God would have as your next pastor is an awesome responsibility and a true labor of love.

    I was intrigued to hear about the work of Tucker York. I know our committee could have used such a resource at the outset of our work. I’m sure he will be a great asset to many search committees in the future.

    May God bless your committee’s work!

  5. January 4, 2014 at 12:06 am

    […] This article is used with permission of Greenbaggins. […]

  6. January 5, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    I know that I’m late to the party, but we found TE Don Clements’ Metokos Ministry invaluable in our previous pastoral search. We had called Don to serve as our interim pastor at the time, so we had quite an advantage up front. The whole process took about 18 months.

    I was not on the search committee, but I offer a caution. The committee had more or less settled on a man who was very personable and seemed a good fit for our diverse, urban area. However, upon the Session reading the answers to the man’s theological questionnaire, we discovered that he had some non-confessional views to say the least. Things briefly imploded at that point, but in God’s gracious providence, the committee pressed on and God provided the right man for the job soon thereafter.

    We encountered a similar issue when we sought an assistant pastor a few years ago. Sad to say that just because a man has PCA affiliations does not mean that they are orthodox or even confessional these days. One must be very diligent in discerning their views, as I know that you appreciate, Paige.

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