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Thinking Out Loud

Guide for Identifying the Crazies

by User Not Found | Sep 03, 2013

This blog post was guest-written by Amos Disasa, a member of the Louisville Seminary Board of Trustees. Amos and his family live in Columbia, S.C. and are currently busy pastoring Downtown Church, a new Presbyterian (U.S.A.) church that they organized in Columbia's city center.

When interviewing pastoral candidates to lead a new initiative in church planting, it’s likely that the search committee will ask all the right questions regarding the core skills and gifts a pastor will need to effectively shepherd an established church. However, it has been my experience after serving an established church for five years before embarking on the hazardous but rewarding adventure of church planting two years ago, that the gifts that serve a pastor well in an established congregation, like leading public worship, pastoral care, teaching, and program development, will be virtually useless without a subset of entrepreneurial sensibilities that are easy to spot after the fact but hard to name before. 

In fact, it is highly likely that without these unique sensibilities present in the church planter, the new church will fail to distinguish itself as worthy of the time, money, and trouble it takes to start a new church from scratch. Absent these tendencies, the more likely outcome is a reincarnation of the same kind of church we excel at sustaining now. 

If that is the case, why bother? 

To that end, presented here is a series of questions a search committee interviewing candidates for their church plant might consider in addition to those questions they already know to ask.

Is your candidate a student of culture? Ask:

  1. What books, magazines, and blogs are you currently reading?
  2. Have you ever tried to learn another language?
  3. Where have you traveled?
  4. Who do you follow on Twitter?

Why does this matter?

The delight of discovery is preferred over the comfort of already knowing. Relevancy assumes an ability to interpret culture. Only then can church begin to reinterpret culture.

 Is your candidate vocationally ambidextrous? Ask:

  1. If you weren't a pastor could you make a living doing something else?

Why does this matter?

The church staff will be lean at the pre-launch stage. Specificity in job descriptions will come later. Resources must be preserved for work that demands outside professional vendors (i.e. branding or musicians). A pastor that cooks or can serve as the IT department adds necessary value.

 Is your candidate adaptive to change? Ask:

  1. When did life surprise you? How did you respond?
  2. Has your job description ever changed abruptly? What kind of challenges did this present?

Why does this matter?

When your church is small, change is frequent and even slight change will be destabilizing. Unforeseen opportunities will appear that don’t coincide with expectations (mission-plan, vision, etc.). Programs, ideas, and relationships will fail spectacularly. Hardheadedness, often confused with long-suffering, makes it difficult to stop doing what isn't working.

 Can your candidate relate to multiple generations? Ask:

  1. Who are your mentors? What have you learned from them? What have they learned from you?
  2. Do their self-references span multiple generations?

Why does this matter?

The age of the church’s earliest adopters will be similar to that of the organizing pastor. However, older and younger generations that might not worship at the church can offer valuable resources (money, credibility, childcare workers, musicians, etc.).

 Does your candidate value aesthetics? Ask:

  1. What makes a worship space sacred?
  2. Describe your favorite place to worship.
  3. Also, examine written communications (including emails) for grammar and formatting. Did the candidate value the aesthetics of their work in this regard?

Why does this matter?

Everything created by the church, including the configuration of the worship space, will have an aesthetic quality. The cheapest and most subtle way to signal your identity is by making beautiful things that fit the local context. No detail is too small to ignore.

Is your candidate impatient enough? Ask:

  1. What do you do with your good ideas?
  2. How do you know if they are worth pursuing?

Why does this matter?

Inertia is a powerful force and the antidote is movement. Every task/ effort/ idea marked “done” enhances credibility.

 Is your candidate prepared to die? Listen:

  1. How often did you hear them talk about life/ work balance or self-care in your conversations and interviews?
  2. To what degree are they insistent on negotiating the details of their compensation?

Why does this matter?

Starting a church will kick your ass and demand sacrifice from your family. There is no work/ life balance in the pre-launch stage. Get over it. You can’t gather enough people to attain critical mass without leveraging every relationship, affiliation, hobby, interest, and conversation you have - even those that belong to your “private” life.

 Are his or her friends in the church already? Ask:

  1.  What do you do when you’re not working?
  2. What have you learned from your friends/ neighbors outside of church that will help you develop a vision for this one?

Why does this matter?

Spending too much time with other church people has an adverse effect on one’s ability to relate to normal people. Non-churchy people that don’t know you as their pastor haven’t learned that brown-nosing the pastor is expected. This is good, and builds humility. Simple math: if it takes more than one degree of separation to arrive at a sphere of influence that isn't dominated by churchy people, you lose the cheapest and most effective tool for gathering: word of mouth.

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