And, the full democratization of pastor placement also causes some dysfunction. Effective screening, scrutinizing, and selecting the best candidate–for any job–requires a lot of time and discipline. Expecting an entire congregation to cast an informed vote without the background work is unrealistic.
In addition, church constitutions and bylaws often require a super-majority of 70 or 80 percent to elect a minister. The intent is good. However, I’ve seen elections come up a few votes short of the super-majority, leaving a large majority frustrated with their will being thwarted by a relatively small minority.
Those denominations that undemocratically place pastors without congregational votes may avoid some of these problems, but they create other problems and mismatches.
So, what’s a better way? A few thoughts:
1. Actively engage the entire congregation in selecting and endorsing members for search or call committees.
The more these members are known and trusted, the more their hard work will be respected.
2. In lieu of a sample sermon, consider a live, unrehearsed interview of the candidate in front of the congregation.
Here, questions can probe the candidate’s values, vision, experience, approach to teamwork and leadership, etc. The way the pastor answers the questions will also indicate the ability–or lack thereof–to communicate effectively.
3. Whatever the process, invest time upfront in building congregational understanding, appreciation, and trust in the process.
Generate a we’re-all-in-this-together spirit. Spend abundant time in prayer. Build the expectation that, no matter what the outcome, everyone will support the new pastor, and join together in ministry.