Posts Tagged ‘mistakes in hiring a pastor’

I’m constantly hearing about church leaders who are upset with their pastor … or their associate pastor … or their youth pastor.

And all too many of these leaders end up dumping the pastor or staff member unceremoniously.

Sometimes the pastor or staff member is responsible … while other times the employer/search team must shoulder their share of the blame.

Here are five mistakes I’ve seen pastors make (in hiring staff) and search teams make (in hiring pastors) when it comes to contacting their references:

First, occasionally a search team doesn’t contact any references at all.

I was once hired to be a full-time staff member in a church … and nobody checked my references.

Although the pastor had known me for years, the church board only knew me through him.  I wanted them to contact my references and to know my strengths and weaknesses … but it didn’t happen.

Why not?

Was it too much of a hassle?  Were certain people anxious to get me on board?  Or had I sold myself so well that nobody thought my references would matter?

To this day, I don’t really know … but this isn’t a wise policy.  Neither is the next mistake:

Second, sometimes an employer will contact a reference after already hiring someone.

I once hired a part-time youth pastor (let’s call him Bart) who did a good job.  When I offered Bart a full-time position, he laid out some demands that we couldn’t meet, and so we parted company amiably.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks later when I received a phone call from a pastor many states away.  The pastor told me that he had already hired Bart but still wanted to call his references.

To me, that’s like eloping with a woman and then asking her family and friends, “What kind of a person is she, anyway?”

After the pastor hired Bart, he told me that he sensed Bart had a problem with a certain issue … and that issue must have affected Bart’s employment, because he didn’t last a year.

No pastor or search team should ever be in such a rush that they fail to contact a prospect’s references before hiring them!

Third, sometimes an employer fails to ask one or two more tough questions before ending the interview.

A church I served as pastor once went through a long, protracted process in trying to hire a youth pastor.

We reviewed scores of resumes.  We narrowed the field down to a handful of candidates.  We brought many of them in … but nobody was a fit.

And then we found him.  Outwardly, Frank was everything the search team, parents, and youth were looking for.  We were thrilled!

I remember speaking to Frank’s supervisor at the church where he was still employed.  I asked some tough questions … but for some reason, I backed off just when I needed to accelerate.

We hired Frank, but a year later, his behavior was driving me crazy.  I called Frank’s former supervisor and asked him the questions I should have asked a year earlier … and found out something very disturbing.

Frank’s supervisor only told me great things about Frank a year earlier because he wanted us to hire Frank so he could get rid of him.

Our church was so anxious to hire a youth pastor that we settled on someone we shouldn’t have hired.

When you’re looking to call a pastor or a staff member for a reference, do your best to ask the hard questions or you may pay for it down the line.

Fourth, some churches don’t do a criminal background check or a credit check.

I’ve heard about churches that don’t insist on either one of these checks … but they usually regret it later on.

One time, I interviewed a prospect for a staff position, and I was blessed to have a copy of his driving record in front of me.

Within a short amount of time, he had recently received five speeding tickets.  Five.

I asked him about the tickets.  He said that he was in a Christian leadership program and was consistently late for class.

I drew some quick conclusions:

*This guy doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes.  He keeps repeating them.

*Why didn’t he alter his behavior?  Get up earlier?  Drive the speed limit?  Avoid the traps?

*To what extent could I let him drive young people around?  What would happen if we hired him and he got into an accident with youth in his car?

Needless to say, we didn’t hire him.

It’s crucial to complete a credit history, too, because the way a staff member manages their personal finances is the way they’ll manage church money.

Finally, in many cases it’s foolish not to contact a staff member’s former supervisor.

I’ve learned that after many staff members leave a church, they won’t list their previous supervisor as a reference.

Maybe the staff member resigned under pressure … or was fired outright … or didn’t get along with their supervisor (usually the pastor).

So it’s understandable that many staff members don’t list their previous supervisor as a reference … but a prospective employer should speak with them anyway … because sometimes only the supervisor and a handful of others know the real truth about that individual.

What if a pastor or staff prospect stole church funds … or slept around … or consistently lied … or resolved conflict with his fists … or harmed children or youth?

There may be legal repercussions if a former supervisor handles specific questions in an unwise fashion, although there are ways to answer questions without being too direct.

But as a Christian leader, I believe in giving people … even former pastors or staff members … second chances.

I’ve certainly needed a second chance in my own life.  For example, during my freshman year at a Christian college, I flunked my Christian service assignment … yet went on to spend 36 years in church ministry.

So just because a worker … volunteer or paid … made some mistakes or errors in judgment does not indicate they’re irredeemable.

For that reason, if someone calls me for a reference, I’ll focus on all that’s good about that person … and will all I do to help them get another job.

But … if their character is warped … especially if they aren’t forthcoming about past mistakes … that’s a different matter.

Several times, I’ve heard about an ex-staff member who was hired by another church and yet no one ever contacted me as their former supervisor.

And I’ve thought to myself, “If they didn’t contact me, who did they contact?  Who would know more about the way they performed at our church than me?”

While I’ve learned a lot about ministry references over the years, I still find it a tricky topic to master.

What are your thoughts and experiences concerning pastoral references?















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