I’ve hired a handful of staff members in my time; however, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve never committed the full process to paper—all in one place. After processing the XPastor Online Course material on this subject, I can now see how my “intuitive approach” of the past may have been typical, yet left much room for error.

Though in the past I’ve been exposed to many portions of the process (The 3 C’s, checking references, interviewing), the XPastor Course on Staffing offered me my first comprehensive exposure to the full process. Thus, it has been easy to see how important it is for me to substantiate a preferred path for hiring. At this point, many of my current thoughts are influenced by our lead XPastor Staffing professor, Dr. David Fletcher, and somewhat by guest lecturers David Lyons and Dr. Bill Egner; they deserve corresponding credit.

Pre-Step A: Determine if the position is actually needed and why.

A vacancy should be viewed as an opportunity. Questions should be welcomed and abound at this point within high levels of leadership (at least the supervisor and their supervisor) such as:

  • Why do we need to create or backfill this position? Does this position fully align with the current mission and vision of the church, or is it simply something “we’ve always done?” Are we mainly filling this position because it’s an “expected” staff position?
  • Could this position be filled by volunteers or with part-time staff? Can the proposed position be done well by a current high capacity staff member by just giving that staff member the responsibility along with a raise?
  • Has the church grown or shrunk in attendance and budget since the last hire was made, and how does this affect the decision?
  • Is there anything else our church could do with this money (salary and benefits) that would be even more beneficial to the current mission of the church?
  • At this point, the appropriate parties (elders and/or senior staff leadership) should approve, empower, and delegate the entire process, as well as set the pay scale for the position. They should pre-authorize all expected expenses (flights, hotel, background check, moving expenses, etc.) They should make clear when, if ever, they expect to hear back or participate during the process.

Pre-Step B: Determine if you will outsource this position to a church staffing agency or run the process internally.

This could be stated differently: “To what extent do we want to outsource this process?” In today’s world, the networking process will always have some level of outsourcing, even if it is free (networking, universities, etc.) or lower cost (ministry staffing websites, lunches with multiple contacts, etc.)

This answer is increasingly unclear as to outsourcing to a staffing agency, as there are some great options in today’s world as far as outsourcing. In some cases, there can be (little to) no fees due to the particular staffing agency if a candidate isn’t hired. Questions should, at minimum, include the following:

  • Will our church bylaws and senior leadership allow the consideration of outsourcing the hiring process? If not, should we consider making a change in the future? In all cases, a particular staffing agency will work with the supervisor and/or hiring team of the church, and so many times this won’t be the issue it initially appears.
  • Is the church willing to plan ahead financially and immediately begin designating funds (ideally those that will in the future go to the particular position holder’s salary and benefits) to fully fund the staffing agency’s fee? The goal would be that these funds are 100% in place by the time the position is filled, as well as any initial expenses (moving, electronics, etc.) a new position requires.
  • What are the opportunity costs of using key staff and lay leaders to run the search entirely themselves? Could this time be worth more to the church than the money saved? Do the right people currently have the bandwidth (time and energy) to handle the entire process?
  • Is it possible or very likely that a staffing agency could bring more candidates of better quality than the church could on its own?
  • Has the church had success in the past with staffing agencies?

Pre-Step C: Determine who will serve as the “hirer” or hiring committee.

Who should serve on this team?

  • At the minimum, the direct supervisor should be on board. I recommend in most instances that this person serve as the lead, though there are some instances where a more seasoned veteran of ministry (XP?) should be the point person. Are there specific church bylaws that need to be followed? Occasionally these bylaws need to be updated, as in the example of a church that’s transitioned from elder/lay-led to a staff-led church.
  • Is there an HR person serving at the church who should be on the team? In a smaller setting, perhaps someone who works in the business world in this role who could join the team?
  • Communicate the frequency that this team will meet and decide who on the team will do most of the initial screening (likely the XP or direct supervisor).
  • Make sure the roles of this team are defined and clear before the team is actually recruited. Managing expectations of the team members upfront reminds us of the old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Pre-Step D: Commit to paper the position description, the ideal candidate profile, and the opportunity profile.

This needs to be very specific.

  • Position Description – It is important here not to throw in the kitchen sink and stay flexible. Great candidates have different gifts and talents. Describe the big picture that you are looking for. What are the main things they need to do and accomplish? What are the top-level qualifications? What level does this position report to and who reports to this position? I agree with Dr. Fletcher when he states, “Generally, the minor details of a job description can change according to a particular candidate.”
  • Opportunity Profile – This describes who you are as a church. It’s not only who you are now but also where you’re heading. State attendance, beliefs, and any distinctives you can. Talk about the leadership environment as well as the worship environment. Go in depth about the cultural setting the church is located in. What’s the profile of the people that the church is trying to reach? How is the church led (example: “elder led” or “staff led, elder protected”)? These kinds of things can be very important and save you and potential candidates a lot of time and money in the long run.
    • In composing this document, the irony is that the longer people attend a particular church, the more likely it will be that there are certain things they no can longer see. Long timers are true insiders, but at the same time can no longer see the church like a newer person. Things can be taken for granted. Therefore, a mix of people writing this profile would be helpful. It could even be helpful to have a pastor who doesn’t serve this particular church ask questions that will reveal information that others will need to know. It may even be wise for the top-level leadership of the church to write a draft that’s modified and used for the next several years’ hires.
  • Ideal Candidate Profile – This document should be kept confidential to the search team. In this you will define the four C’s. Know what you are flexible on and what you are not, so as to not create winners and losers on your team.

Character: It is critical to have a person of extremely high discernment on the search team. A multitude of questions should be answered, as well as how you will verify these things. What kind of character will you insist upon for this position? What kind of issues in the candidate’s past are you okay with and what aren’t you okay with … bankruptcy? Divorce? Marital infidelity? How have they left their prior ministries? How do they treat people who serve them? Can you verify there is no past sexual misconduct or financial indiscretions? Have they demonstrated pride or humility on a regular basis? Are they on time for meetings? Are they full of excuses, or do they shoulder the responsibility when something doesn’t work out? Do they have anger issues? How do they treat their family? Do they exhibit self-discipline, financially and otherwise? Do they show passive aggressive behavior? How important is keeping their word? Bottom line? It pays to learn the kinds of things you may care later about early on.

Competence: How will the successful candidate have demonstrated their ability to perform in the future in your church? Do they have a long track record of success? Are you looking for someone who has already been successful at this level, or an “up and comer” who has been successful at every stage leading up to this greater responsibility? Do you have reason to believe the person you are considering can learn the job?

Chemistry: Some candidates have character and competency but simply would not “fit in” on your staff or with the people you serve and are trying to reach. Take into consideration whether the person will relate well to the target audience … and will the candidate love to spend time with them? One example of this might be: An old school Southern Baptist preacher who loves to talk right wing politics may not fit in well with an inner city mission in the Pacific Northwest.

Ask:  What’s the “vibe” of both your staff and your church as a whole? Is your church a playful, laughter-filled place? Well then, the person that takes himself/herself way too seriously and rarely, if ever, laughs may not be for you! Is your church “buttoned down?” The kind where if you’re five minutes early you’re “on time” and things are expected to happen exactly when and where they are scheduled? A mellowed out, “surfer dude” candidate may not necessarily be your best fit.

Beyond these generalities, don’t overlook the obvious:  There needs to be a solid “fit” with the person the candidate will report to, as well as with those who will report to him.

Calling:  Is this the person God is confirming as your team prays it through? Have you prioritized prayer throughout the process? Is this God’s process or yours? Is the candidate still fired up for ministry, or are they burned out and looking to “run out the clock” to retirement? Is the candidate simply looking to take a job that pays the bills? What is their personal devotional life like? Is life all about them, or all about God? Does this candidate truly know God, or do they just know about God? Would you want this person to be your personal pastor? Would the people they are hired to interact with want this person walking alongside them in their lives?

The 10 Step Process

1. Send your job description to multiple sources and receive resumes.

This will likely include internet job boards, universities and seminaries, and various contacts. A church should plan ahead—some of these have nominal fees. Obviously, if you outsource to a staffing agency, the fees will be extremely large. Resumes should be received via email only and go to one person, likely the search leader.

2. Respond to each applicant via email within a week.

Delegate one person to respond to the 95% of the resumes who don’t fit the opportunity profile. This should be a standardized, very brief and polite response. Don’t get into details on this response, this will only create hard feelings and add appointments to your schedule. Don’t allow the candidate pile to build up, as many position postings will receive 100-200 resumes. If a candidate is much outside of your opportunity profile, don’t second guess yourself on sending the polite rejection. Responding promptly and courteously will also keep your church’s reputation strong and keep you from spending additional time with rejected candidates who are following up.

3. Make an initial phone call to candidates who fit your description and profile.

This call doesn’t need to be three hours long, and the fate of the position being filled does not rest on this alone. But a certain set of questions should be asked, and fairly uniformly—a form should be made and it should be filled out for each. After all, each one you call may be “the one.”

Below are some sample questions:

Why are they interested? Why are they transitioning from wherever they’re working now? Talk to them about their resume and the stops they’ve made. Talk about their beliefs and distinctives and whether they match up with yours. During this process you are mainly looking for big “knock outs.” Although the tone should be informal and promise nothing, it’s much better to have a standardized checklist so that you’re comparing apples to apples. There is no need to limit yourself to just one candidate during this phase. There might be 5-10 candidates you want to do this with. If there are interesting ones after this, let the team know and pray about the situation.

4. Make a second call to those you are interested in.

At this point, you may be down to 3-5 really strong candidates. I agree with Dr. Fletcher that utilizing another person other than the search team “lead” can be a really good idea at this point. Another option is to do this with the entire team via Skype or similar video tech. Overall, a standard form of questions should be used with each candidate here as well. It’s okay if the conversation wanders somewhat, but each question should be answered.

As an important part of this second call, ask if there are any “skeletons in the closet” that you should know about. Bankruptcy, infidelity, legal issues, etc., should be disclosed by the candidate at this point. Find out how confidential the candidate’s situation is in relation to his/her current job. At this point, be clear: there are still no promises, and the candidate should be told that there are still a number of horses in the field.

The whole process, as it progresses, should be seen as one gigantic filter with only one person through at the e