This past year, every few months, I met with a group of young clergy with the Lewis Fellows. Every time we gathered, we began with a check-in where I got to explain once again: I’m still searching. My intention by participating in the Lewis Fellows was to offer a transition – with a built-in support network – into my next call. And yet, every time I gathered with this cohort, I had to report: I’m still searching.
Here’s what I learned from this experience: Methodists don’t get it. United Methodist clergy are used to checking a box on an annual form that the bishop provides which sets into motion a series of events that results in that clergy person moving to a new call promptly by July 1. So, I suppose I understand why they all looked at me like I had three heads every few months this past year. They know about committees. They know how they work, but not like I do. For those of us in congregational call systems, there is a whole other understanding of the power of the committee. So, as I told this cohort of young United Methodist clergy: Meet the Search Committee.
Allow me to introduce you to the chosen 4 or 6 or 8 or 12 people that have been empowered by the primary governing body of the local church to call the next pastor. This is a group of people that loves their church, including at least one member that has been a member for more than 20 years and one that has been roped into serving on this committee after they’ve just joined the church. They have absolutely no experience in human resources and they have most likely never done this before.
The people mentioned above are the search committee, but the purpose of this article is not really to offer you an in-depth introduction to that committee. Instead, the words that follow are helpful tips for the young clergy woman searching for her next call. I offer you a series of divine details on engaging the search committee for that woman who is indeed still searching:
Be patient. You are a local church pastor. (Or you hope to be.) Either way, you should know that committees are slow. Remember that. Remind yourself of this fact because you are going to completely forget this reality in the midst of your search. You have done a bunch of work to get your resume or ministerial profile or personal information file submitted to this committee. It feels like things should fall into place very quickly, but they don’t. Search committees spend a lot of their time talking together about the future direction of the church. Those conversations take time – and a good committee will commit to that time so that they have a clear picture of their interests and needs. So, try not to lose your head when they take forever. I’ll say it again because I was no good at it: Be patient.
Pray. Don’t you hate when someone tells you to be patient and then follows up that wisdom with talking about prayer? It’s OK. You can tell me to get over myself, but I mean this honestly. Pray. While the search committee is doing all of that good work talking about the future of the church, it’s a good idea if you spend some time talking to God about what your future hopes are.
Practice on Skype and FaceTime. The first time I went through the search process, no one knew how to video chat. Interviews were done on the phone where a search committee would never know if you were in pajamas or hadn’t brushed your hair. Those days are over. You will need to know how to use Skype and FaceTime. As with all things, it’s wise to practice with friends. (If you don’t have friends that are willing and able, you should definitely post a plea for friends on TYCWP Facebook page. I would be among those who would be happy to practice with you.) When you practice, here are the things that you should confirm with your friend.
- Time of Day. This might be obvious but you’re going to want to practice at about the same time you would be interviewing so the same light will be in your home.
- Location. I have heard friends say that you should sit in front of an unadorned white wall. I don’t agree. I sat in front of my yellow wall where a piece of my own artwork hangs – and you bet every search committee member asked about that painting. It’s a subtle way to say something about myself that words can’t express.
- Height. You are going to wan t to get three or four of your thickest seminary textbooks to prop under your laptop computer. Your computer should be eye-level so no one is being looked down upon.
- Lighting. You want to look like you really are the light of the world but try to avoid having a spotlight on you. Overhead lights don’t tend to be enough for evening interviews. You will probably want to grab a lamp to place beside your computer. Try several things and trust your friend’s wisdom.
- Styling. Try several different outfits to see what looks best on camera. Consider it a fashion show and have good fun with it.
- Look at the camera. This was the hardest part to practice, but you should definitely practice looking straight into the camera. The temptation will be to look at the screen. Don’t do it. Look at the camera so it appears that you are making eye contact, even though you’re actually doing the exact opposite.
Prepare for the interview. When you are lucky enough to get an interview with a search committee, make sure that you prepare by reading all of the material that they have sent you along with everything on their website. I prepare further by reading the local news online and exploring the demographics within the community on Missioninsite. (The United Church of Christ has a code to skip that fee which you can easily find if you use some obvious keywords.) I also request from the search committee a short bio of each search committee member. This helps me to know something more about them. Your preparations should also include creating a series of really good questions to ask the search committee. My favorites include:
- How do you take care of each other?
- What is it like to be a child in your church?
- What does worship do in your community? What should it do?
- What have you learned during the interim that has been most transformative?
- What do you most want to learn together?
Have good manners. After every single interview, send a thank you note that expresses your gratitude and repeats something important about your conversation. Address that note to every single member of the search committee. I can’t tell you the number of times search committees told me that they had never received a thank you note for an interview. That should not happen. Write a nice note on good stationary. If you’re as dorky as I am, use denominational stationary.
Ask for more information. If the search committee likes you, they will have no qualms about asking for more information about you. They will ask for samples of sermons and curricula. They will Google you. Be warned. Clean up that Internet presence, if you haven’t already. They will want to see what you have done in your ministry – and you shouldn’t have any hesitation to ask for more information about them. Ask for annual reports, budgets, worship bulletins and anything else that might help you discern if God is leading you into ministry with this particular body of Christ.
May God bless you in your search.