Is your church beginning the search process for a new solo, senior, assistant, or youth pastor? Readily available (and free) resources improve the matching process between churches and candidates. Before you interview or even post the job, consider these helpful principles for the ministerial candidate hiring process.

New Year—New Pastoral Search
Many churches begin a new round of job interviews during the New Year period—largely because the budgets for most new staff positions are set in the previous October for funding sometime after January. But few churches realize the amount of time, resources, and energy required to conduct a focused search that ends in hiring a well-suited pastor.

So, what can a church expect? Based on six years of data analysis of 746 job postings, the Covenant  Theological Seminary Placement Office has noticed these trends regarding key hiring periods:

The breakdown of these positions is as follows:

• Assistant / Associate – These positions are categorized into two groups: newly budgeted positions, and transitional positions, described as existing positions that have been vacated. (This category also includes any ordained youth positions.) These positions are most regularly available during the first four months of the year, and are usually filled by the end of summer—a six to seven month period from start to finish.

• Senior / Solo – It should not be surprising that most senior/solo positions become available during the summer. Because of the key leadership aspects of these positions, it is common that a committee will spend 14–16 months researching, evaluating, and eventually hiring a candidate for such a position. Most start mid-summer of the first year and hire by the end of summer the second.

• Youth – These are any non-ordained, youth-focused positions, and while they become available more regularly during the summer, we see these jobs becoming available year-round. Normally the process for filling such a position takes four to six months.

• Other – These include teaching, worship leading, and any other type of non-ordained ministry position. (Because of the diversity of particulars for this type of position, we cannot chart typical dates for availability and filling.)

Going Through the Process Effectively
It is safe to say that most churches manage the ministry candidate search process in the following manner: create a job description, post it on a ministry or denomination board, evaluate the responding resumes (sometimes dozens of them), then make a final selection from that list. Based on pastoral turnover and attrition rates throughout the past 20 years, however, this process has not proven altogether successful. It is also true that there is no single, endorsed method for guiding search committees through the process. Most search committee members have never been on such a committee before, and likely won’t be again.

Effectively managing the process during candidate evaluation can significantly increase the selection of the right candidate. (This does not mean there is only one possible candidate for any given position; rather, it means a church is better positioned to find its next pastor among a pool of candidates that best reflect the ministry style and commitments of that church.)  Here are five guiding principles that can help:

1. Use Assessment Tools – One of the most widely used and effective assessment tools is Dr. Philip Douglass’ book What is Your Church’s Personality? The book explains the differences in philosophies of ministry as seen in relationship style, leadership style, and communication style. It also provides key terminology for any church to better understand itself—its own particular ministry style and commitment—as well as that of potential candidates. Churches can take, and require candidates to take, the free online diagnostic found here.

2. Rethink How You Use the MDF – The PCA Ministerial Data Form (MDF), available from the PCA Administrative Committee, is one tool that informs a search committee about the preferences and practices of a particular candidate. Page four of the MDF (Evaluation of Pastoral Activities) asks the candidate to “evaluate his expertise and weaknesses” in a variety of ministry contexts. But often, committees are better served by requiring a candidate to have five to 10 people complete this page on his behalf. The candidate can then submit a summary of the results—reflecting less his own view of himself, and more the body of Christ’s assessment of his gifts and abilities.

Also, reviewing more than 90 different MDFs submitted by Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Covenant Seminary graduates reveals that the “Personal Views and Practices” almost universally becomes a cut-and-paste from a systematic theology course or the Westminster Standards. Instead, requiring candidates to state in simple terms their theological commitments—in addition to explaining how these affect or change their ministry—will demonstrate a candidate’s ability to articulate these truths to questioning congregants. It also will allow them to show that they clearly understand the impact these views have upon the practice of ministry.

3. Post on Job Boards – Posting a position on a job board can generate wide interest in a ministerial position. The PCA has a list of these openings as does Covenant Seminary, Reformed Seminary, Westminster Seminary—and just about every other seminary. Public job boards generate a lot of response (sometimes as many as 70 applications for one position). However, statistics show there is no correlation between the quantity of applicants and identifying the right candidate.

4. Utilize Networks – Any church would be remiss not to utilize existing networks within a community, presbytery, or other relationships. Pastors and ruling elders in other churches and other ministry leaders in the denomination will often generate a shorter but more thorough list of qualified candidates. Most “effectively placed” candidates indicate that existing relationships were central in their placement. Search committees should seek a wide base of input from trusted individuals during their candidate identification.

5. Hire a Professional – Several ministries exist to help identify key commonalities between a church and respective candidates. Examples include Auxilium Network (, started by PCA TE Bing Davis, and SIMA International’s Ministry By Design.

Be Realistic
One drawback committees experience is not having a more global perspective of their ministerial needs. Consequently, committees of all sizes, representing churches of all ministry styles, commonly make these mistakes:

1. We Want (Insert Your Favorite Preacher/Theologian) – It is good for committees to seek for themselves and their church congregation the very best. However, this can seep dangerously into a job description that expects a new pastor to be everything for everybody: the best preacher, soundest exegete, most gifted orator, most winsome evangelist, staunchest of reformers, most tender counselor, best organized, and most relationally inclined. The temptation is to expect of a human pastor what only Jesus can fulfill.

Not every church can have—or necessarily should seek or want—a big-name pastor. In fact, the best suited pastor for most any church position will be someone the church has probably never heard of. The best advice is this: Have high hopes tempered with realistic expectations. How a church responds to and ministers alongside a new pastor is one of the most significant factors in him becoming the pastor they desire.

2. Clearly Define Your Positions – After examining nearly 100 job descriptions for pastoral positions, we have seen two-thirds of them—diverse in geography, size, and ministry focus—list these as their top three pastoral preferences: that candidates have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, are effective preachers of the Word, and love God’s people. While assessing character is essential, these qualifications—equally descriptive of the vast majority of Christian believers, but not differentiating between various expressions of pastoral ministry—don’t really emphasize the uniqueness among the various candidates who will likely apply for a position. Clearly defining your needs and preferences will help you find the best fit for your church.

Covenant Seminary provides denominational churches with free placement consulting. Contact Covenant’s Placement Office by calling (800) 264-8064.

Joel Hathaway is the director of alumni and career services at Covenant Theological Seminary. He holds a bachelor of arts from the University of Alabama, and a master of divinity from Covenant Seminary. In addition to continuing certification in alumni-development and career-placement, he spends lots of time with his four children and wife of 11 years.