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Search and Call Process
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> Our Pastors > Search and Call > Process

Search and Call Process in the
United Church of Christ

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How to think about the departure of your pastor and the prospect of a new pastor…
Interim Ministry
Beginning the Search Process for Identifying the next settled Pastor

(as presented by Michael W. Caine, Former Regional Conference Minister, NY Conference)

How to think about the departure of your pastor and the prospect of a new pastor…

1. Transitions are uncomfortable passages and often not welcome. Nonetheless, coming and going, change, and ultimately, mortality, are part of how God has organized human existence, including the life of the church.
2. You can make a difference in the life of the church by helping the leave-taking of your pastor go well. It is said about psychotherapy that the way one ends the relationship with the therapist is disproportionately determinate of the ultimate benefit one realizes from the treatment. The same could be said about the end of a pastorate. The healthiness or unhealthiness of the leave-taking has much to do not only with our ability to realize, maintain and carry forth the fruits of the pastorate; it also affects our abilities to relate fruitfully with pastors in the future.
3. Some people will not be able to imagine that the church will be able to go on without Rev. So-and-so. Often this is particularly true for those members who have joined the church during the current pastor’s tenure. Others will be happy that the current pastor is finally leaving. Others, in between, will have a host of sometimes contradictory or even volatile emotions. The leave-taking of a pastor often reminds people, sometimes unconsciously, of other separations and losses or fears in their lives.

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4. As Christians, we are to be a thankful people: it is important to honor the service of and say thank-you to the departing minister. Often it makes sense to attend to this wholeheartedly, letting wait the search for the next pastor, and even in some cases delaying the finding of an interim until after the pastor’s departure.
5. Boundaries are always important in the life of a church: they provide for safe space for people physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. Boundaries need to be consciously reinforced and strengthened at the time of a pastor’s departure, as both she/he and the congregation must develop and negotiate new relationships. The UCC Book of Worship offers a service for the pastor and congregation to unbind themselves from the vows made at her/his installation/make new ones appropriate to the new relationship they are entering. At such a service, the Association is represented as a sign of the covenantal relationship between the pastor, the congregation and the wider church through the Association.
6. Changing pastors is a prime time for re-examining the local church’s mission. It could be said that a pastor’s leaving is a time when the church is given back to the people. It is their job to reflect faithfully on where they have come from and on what they have learned, and to begin asking where God is calling them as they prepare to look for whom God is calling to be their next minister. Local churches should undertake a reconsideration of their mission during this rare opportunity-- without the influence/constraints of a minister’s preferences, gifts, calling, limitations.

In times, like ours, of accelerated cultural change, when many of our churches are in need of significant and often painful “retooling,” these periods of transition between pastors may be even more important-- greater opportunities for new life/directions than we have realized.

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7. The next pastor cannot be like the former pastor--even if the church set out to find someone just like the former pastor (which would probably indicate more about their “unfinished-ness” with the last pastorate than its success!) This is a how God means our church life to be: any pastor has only so many gifts, but over time as pastors come and go, the church benefits from a larger array of gifts.
8. Searching for a new pastor is a unique endeavor. It is not the same as hiring someone for a job. While pastors are to be accountable to the congregations that call them, they are not simply employees. In the search and call process, the whole church, depending heavily on the search committee, is not looking for who they want as pastor. Instead, the church is seeking to discern who God chooses to be the next shepherd of the flock. As with all of the decisions facing a congregation in polity, the question is not ever what we want, but how can we know what God wants.
9. Working together, drawing closer through the search process, is not only an impressive selling point for a prospective candidate, it can affect positively the life of the church for years to come. We all need to be conscious about and to practice positively communicating and working through our differences, particularly during anxious passages.

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10. There are no “perfect pastors;” everyone has different strengths, but also weaknesses. One way to look at your search is to try matching candidates’ strengths with a congregation’s needs. But even this is risky in as much as God might be calling you to a completely new day—you may not yet be able to see the congregation’s needs/candidate’s strengths needed for the future God is calling you to.

But there is a right person to be the next pastor of your church, and it is the congregation’s duty to discern God’s will as to who that is. For the first time in recent history, there is a shortage of pastors as a result many years of under-recruitment of people into the ministry by our churches. While people on earlier search committees may remembers reading 60 or 70 profiles, these days Search Committees need to know that there are appreciably fewer candidates. (Does your congregation encourage people to consider the ministry?).

11. The United Church of Christ has distilled the experience of its congregations as they have sought pastors into guidelines for the search and call process. They can be found in the green binder titled “A Local Church Seeks a Pastor.” In our polity, these are guidelines (not unbreakable rules), still a local church should consider carefully and speak with the Regional Conference Minister before deciding to conduct their search in other ways--not for his permission, but so that they can benefit from the RCM’s experience and sense of any problems with their plans. The experience of our churches is quite similar, and the guidelines represent a fine-tuning of a process that works well for our congregations and our pastors. The guidelines also represent the expectations of the wider church and, perhaps even more importantly, candidates who are involved in the search and call process.
12. Be completely open with the congregation about the process, and completely confidential about the people being considered. Everyone deserves to be updated completely and regularly about the process and its progress, but no one outside of the Search Committee should know the identities or any information about the candidates being considered. This is both to protect the process itself-- which is intended to prevent having the congregation split over different candidates-- but even more so to respect the privacy of candidates.

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Interim Ministry

1. Because it takes some time to complete a search for a new pastor faithfully and well, our churches usually call interim ministers to serve while the search committee is looking for the next settled pastor.
2. There is likely to be some time between the departure of the current minister and the arrival of an interim minister (see # 4. above). That is o.k. because "supply" ministers can be used for a time.
3. Rather than "substitute ministry," interim ministry is a different and special service, intentionally designed and carried out for the important transitional moment in the life of a church between settled pastors. Interim ministry can be thought to have five major goals:

I. Coming to terms with the past: letting go of the former pastor, offering healing if necessary, and allowing the congregation to see the service of its last minister in a perspective that will help it understand better itself and the lessons it needs to carry forward.

II. Examining leadership and organizational needs: the "shake up" of such a transition is an opportunity, especially for identifying undervalued resources and for developing and incorporating new and younger leadership.

III. Reconnecting to its denomination: since search and call is a primary time for the congregation to look to the denomination, and also a time when the local church needs to identify what it is and what is important to it, the interim period is an important opportunity for strengthening the congregation's ties to its denominational family.

IV. Developing a new or clearer identity and vision: interim periods "give back" the church to the congregation, and are prime opportunities to redefine its sense of mission purpose, direction and unique identity. Often involved in such a re-evaluation is gaining new insight into the community/mission field in which the church hopes to serve.

V. Opening itself to new leadership: a local church needs to complete the four previous goals before it can consider itself ready to receive a new pastor-- with new ways, new challenges, new graces and new surprises. One of the worst situations for a pastor is to discover shortly into a new pastorate that the church is primarily still reacting to your predecessor's pastorate.

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4. Interim ministers are not "trial ministers;” they cannot become candidates for the position of "settled minister.” The interim minister and the congregation have an obligation to the broader church to honor the UCC’s commitment to preventing interims from slipping into becoming candidates for the pastorate where they are doing their interims. This commitment is about assuring that the search and call process is fair and open to all candidates and about making sure that interims attend to the transitional needs of the congregation, rather than candidating.
5. In cases where there is concern that a candidate will not be able to be found for a position, or when a congregation has searched diligently for a significant length of time and cannot find a candidate, the local congregation should consult with the Association’s Committee on Ministry, which can grant exceptions in very specific cases by which an interim may be permitted to be considered for the settled position.
6. There is an organization called the Interim Ministry Network which provides training for people who want to do interim ministry. Many of our interim pastors have had such training, but not all. It is not always possible to find someone who is IMN trained, and many pastors without the training are excellent interims.

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7. Since people do not usually move great distances for short-term positions, interim possibilities are usually to be found among pastors who already live in the area and are available. Traditionally, retired pastors have provided a good supply of people available to do interim ministry, but in recent years they seem less interested and willing to do so.
8. While interim ministers are available as a resource for all the needs of the congregation, they do not get involved in the specifics of the search process. It is inappropriate for them to have any direct say in who the church calls as the next pastor. While the interim provides invaluable help and information, in some sense, it is actually the RCM who staffs the search committee.
9. Interim ministers have the same responsibilities as the settled minister, and work the same hours for the same compensation. (It is self-defeating for a congregation to look on the interim period as a time to save money on pastoral compensation.)

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10. The Regional Conference Minister will know who is available to be considered for the interim position. He will provide a few candidates for consideration. It is important that finding an interim does not become too time and labor intensive. Looking for an interim should be handled simply and efficiently by a small group of trusted leaders. It is not as important, nor worthy of the time and effort that should be invested in the search for the pastor, and the congregation is wise to invest its energies in the latter.
11. Interims are offered 12 to 18 month contracts, with the possibility of 3 month extensions if the search has not been complete. While congregations want to complete the search quickly, it often takes longer than one expects, and having an interim committed to a longer period is often wise.
12. There is a sample “Interim Call Contract” available in the green guideline “A Local Church Seeks a Pastor” (see #1 below). The Regional Conference Minister, along with the Interim and representative leaders of the congregation all sign the Interim Call Contract. As well, interims in the Metropolitan Association are now being asked to sign an agreement that they will not allow themselves to be considered as candidates for the settled position without permission from the Committee on Ministry.

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Beginning the Search Process for Identifying the next settled Pastor

1. The suggested process for search and call is outlined in the UCC’s manual "A Local Church Seeks a Pastor" a single copy of which the Regional Conference Minister will provide the Search Committee. Additional copies can be ordered from United Church Resources at 800-325-7061.
2. The Regional Conference Minister is the other resource for your search and call process. His commitment is to meet with the Search Committee at least four times during the search process: 1) at the beginning to provide an overview of the whole process; 2) once the search committee has completed the church’s profile, to provide his comments on their profile as well as to help them prepare to read candidates’ profiles; 3) when the search committee is ready to begin interviewing candidates, to discuss what they need to accomplish in the interview and to conduct a mock interview; 4) when a candidate is being called, to help work out the details of the call contract.

The RCM is available at any time for questions that may come up. He asks that the Search Committee Chair or another pre-designated member of the Search Committee contact him with questions from the committee.

3. The By-laws of some congregations provide instructions about the search process, and, therefore, should be consulted.

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4. The first step in the Search and Call process is to constitute a Search Committee. Most committees have between 8 and 12 members; sometimes a few alternates are also designated (in case one of the members cannot fulfill her/his duties over the length of the search).

It is important that a search committee represent the various groups and interests of the congregation. Have you included long term members and newcomers, a youth as well as the young adult, middle-aged and seniors, family and single, traditionalists and change-advocates, representative of the racial, cultural and theological diversities of your congregation?

Beware of peopling a search committee with folks holding the polar extremes in the congregation—individuals who will difficulty working cooperatively (a microcosmic “holy war” won’t serve the search!). Most important is choosing people who are caring and committed, spiritually and emotionally mature, and trusted by the rest of the church. They need to understand that they are not being empowered to decide who they want for the next pastor, but to see that the process is to be about God’s will.

5. The first undertaking of the Search Committee is to create a church profile. The blank form for the church profile can be found in the green guidebook, “A Local Church Seeks a Pastor.” Completing this form is a significant piece of work. The Search Committee will need to collect information about the church community and the broader community. The church profile also calls the congregation to articulate its sense of mission.

The local church’s profile requires the congregation to make some decisions about the compensation they are offering. The Search Committee should consult the NY Conference’s Commission on Ministry annual publication “Compensation Guidelines” which provides an explanation of pastoral compensation and NY Conference commitments to fair and just wages for ministers. Often, the available compensation package is not a decision the Search Committee can make unilaterally; they will need to consult Trustees, or the Church Council or the congregation.

Though it is much work, the church profile needs to be completed thoroughly and carefully: it’s “a promise” to candidates, giving information about your church, but it also is a sign to them about how much you care about your church. Some congregations are very inventive about involving the whole congregation collecting the data for the profile, particularly as they work on articulating the congregation’s mission self-understanding.

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6. The New York Conference staff recommends that local churches be very creative in producing the church profile. Well-written and clear information is the least; pictures of the congregation, fellowship, the building and other special presentations are better, particularly in days when there is a shortage of available clergy.
7. Some Search Committees present the church profile to the whole congregation for their approval; this involves them in the search process.
8. When completed, the profile is sent to the Regional Conference Minister, who will read it over and offer constructive criticisms. Once it has been finalized, the Search Committee needs to forward 20 copies of the profile to Gloria Halko, Profile Coordinator, NY Conference, UCC, 5700 Heritage Landing Drive, East Syracuse, NY 13057. She can be contacted electronically at profiles@uccny.org. She will send copies to candidates as they express an interest in the opening.

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9. Once the church profile is ready, the Regional Conference Minister will list your position in “Employment Opportunities,” the monthly national listing of available positions in the UCC.
10. As interested candidates contact either the Regional Conference Minister or the Profile Coordinator, they will be forwarded the church profile, requesting that they review it prayerfully, and if they are interested in the opening, let us know that we may forward their profile to the Search Committee. In the United Church of Christ, any authorized minister is assured that her/his profile will be forwarded where they request.
11. The Regional Conference Minister also receives profiles of candidates who have not indicated specific openings they want to apply for. If the Regional Conference Minister believes that a candidate might be interested in an opening, he will request that the church’s profile be sent to them, to see if they might be interested in your position.

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12. The Regional Conference Minister will neither filter nor comment on profiles submitted to a Search Committee (though he will help by suggesting questions that need to be asked). Even if a Search Committee indicates that they are not interested in seeing the profiles of certain groups of candidates, the Regional Conference minister will forward profiles without regard to race, sex, age, gender or sexual orientation. This is a justice commitment that our denomination has clearly made. Likewise, the Regional Conference Minister will not tell a Search Committee who he thinks is the best candidate. This is not his job, but the prayerful responsibility of the Search Committee itself.
13. After reviewing received profiles, the Search Committee decides who to investigate further. They can contact the candidates and ask for more information (sermon tapes, videos, printed copies of sermons, written answers to questions), or set up telephone or in-person interviews. Usually, Search Committees speak with candidates before they organize opportunities to hear them preach. At theis point, the Search Committee should check the references the candidate has given. If the Search Committee wants to contact someone other than the people indicated as “telephone references,” they should speak with the candidate before making contact.

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14. Search Committees like to hear candidates lead worship in person. If the candidate is nearby, often the whole search committee goes to hear her or him preach. Before so doing, the Search Committee should contact a candidate and see how they can do so without compromising her/his confidentiality.

If the candidate is some distance away, it is more cost-effective to bring the candidate nearby, rather than going to her/him. The Regional Conference Minister can arrange a “neutral pulpit,” an invitation to be a guest preacher in a neighboring church. In such cases, the Search Committee takes care of covering the travel costs of the candidate; and the congregation hosting the neutral pulpit is not expected to provide an honorarium for the candidating guest preacher.

15. When the Search Committee is close to deciding on a candidate, they should let the Regional Conference Minister know, so that he can contact his counterpart in the Association where the candidate is serving to seek both a reference and assurance that there are no reasons why the candidate ought not be called.

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16. When the Search Committee is ready to offer a candidate an invitation to a “sermon of call,” they should work out the details of the compensation package before indicating to the congregation they have a candidate (in case they cannot come to an agreement). Often, the compensation negotiations will involve a governing body other than the Search Committee. Other aids for the compensation negotiations are the “Call Contract” in the green guideline, “A Local Church Seeks a Pastor.” and the annual NY Conference pamphlet “Compensation Guidelines.” The Regional Conference Minister often works closely with the Search Committee at this point.
17. When a date for the “sermon of call” is to be arranged, as well as considering the candidate’s availability, the congregation needs time to properly call a congregational meeting for the Sunday on which the sermon of call is preached to allow the congregation to vote on whether or not the candidate is called as pastor. This congregational meeting also allows the congregation an opportunity to meet and talk with the candidate. The Search Committee provides the congregation an explanation of their choice and background information on their candidate as part of the call to the congregational meeting.
18. After the congregational meeting has completed its discussion with the candidate, she/he is dismissed so that the congregation can talk openly among themselves. Having the candidate actually leave the building, with a promise to contact her/him once the church has decided, takes much of the pressure off the congregation which needs to discuss the choice freely and completely.

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19. Candidates often only accept an offer when they get a very high percentage of support in the vote at the congregational meeting. The Search Committee needs to be ready and able to tell the candidate what the vote was.
20. If either the congregation votes not to call the candidate, or the candidate declines the offer, the Search Committee begins again. Or sometimes in such cases, the Search Committees is dissolved and a new Search Committee is formed.
21. Called candidates often cannot begin for a number of months as they need to resign current positions, arrange to move, etc. Installation often takes place months after the arrival of the new pastor, because of the time needed to transfer the new pastor’s standing to new association as well as making arrangements for a special service.

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