Choosing and charging a search committee is, obviously, an important and defining step in the search process. Let me make one thing clear from the beginning of this discussion: an invitation to serve on this committee is not a “reward” for long service or an “honor” bestowed on valued members. This is a working committee that cannot afford any dead weight or nominal participants. The work will be long and hard. It will require discipline, prayer, sweat, and (maybe) blood. People who won’t work or can’t take direction or start strong but fizzle out should not be asked to serve—no matter who they are or how much they may demand to have input into the search process. The invitation to serve should make this “work expectation” crystal clear.
Two mistakes are common in choosing committee members: either packing the committee with people with lots of business savvy and hiring experience but who really don’t understand the psychology of ministers or the theological/spiritual nature of “calling” a new minister to a church … or packing the committee with people who use spiritual lingo or have firm opinions about ministerial characteristics but couldn’t organize themselves out of a wet paper bag. An effective search committee cries out for participants who have their hearts in heaven and their feet on the ground.
The search process itself requires an incredible amount of paper-work (resumes, questionnaires, references, self-studies, etc.), attention to details (follow-up, scheduling), communication expertise (announcements, letters, bulletin articles), and technical savvy (web sites, video conferences, digital filing). A committee that lacks people with these talents and sensibilities will not be effective. On the other hand, committees lacking people devoted to prayer, people with firm theological grounding, or people who firmly grasp the kingdom dimensions of their work will also fail. Hitting the right balance is difficult, but necessary. (Funny, isn’t it, how rare are the people who manage to combine spiritual depth with practical wisdom!)
The search committee should also be comprised of people who form a representative sampling of the congregation itself. Old and young. Long-time members and newbies. Rich and poor. White collars and blue. Especially important is gender and ethnic/racial representation. A representative committee makes for a larger committee, of course—something that I tend to avoid in other contexts for the sake of efficiency. However, better to work with a large, slightly clunky committee than have a committee that does not engage issues or hear concerns important to a significant segment of your congregation. The advantage of a larger committee, of course, is that they can spread the load—the more worker bees, the more honey they can make. I guess there is a practical size limit here—twelve to fifteen members would be the workable maximum.
The choice of a committee chairman is such an important consideration, I’ll devote a separate article to that subject.