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Nine preliminary questions for a PNC

The task of selecting a new pastor is formidable and challenging for many members and, for some, downright scary. It requires considerable commitment of prayer, analysis, discernment, and time for all members of the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC). Fortunately, good resources are available through the General Assembly Church Leadership Connection in the form of newly revised congregational Ministry Information Forms and a brochure “Calling the Pastor: A Manual for Churches Seeking a Pastor.”

These guidelines are valuable and necessary since the current Book of Order has little to say about the PNC’s duties or the responsibility of the presbytery (G-2.0802-3; 3.0307). In this column and in future issues we shall try to supplement these meager directives, beginning with nine questions that members of a PNC or a church searching for a new pastor might consider asking themselves while gathered as a committee.

1. Does our congregation understand that the PC(USA) is undergoing massive changes right now and will look and function very differently in the next five to ten years? What do we know about our denomination’s attempt to forge 1001 new and different church communities? Do we understand that business as usual is not enough to meet the challenges we face?

2. How much do we know about what younger Presbyterian leaders are considering for the future? Will we look for a teaching elder with these insights? (See Brandon Gaide’s article, “Reflections on the Hopes of Young Presbyterian Leaders,” in the March 12 issue and a recent May  29, 2014 issue of Presbyterians Today,  “Young Adults and Their Vision for the Church, Special Issue About Millennials by Millennials.)

3. Has there been adequate discussion of the congregation’s relationship with the previous pastor? What has been good and what can stand improvement? Is it possible that some members want a pastor just like the one who left and that others hope and pray for someone completely different? What do we do with this kind of information?

4. Are there any issues that the PNC would be reluctant to share with pastoral candidates because of embarrassment or fear that they might put them off? Would you want any major surprises if you were to become the pastor of your church? How important is communication and transparency with a new leader?

5. Do we fully understand the personality of our own congregation? Do we have ways of doing things that are almost sacrosanct? Is our congregation open to all kinds of community members or are some doors virtually closed? Are there invisible power groups that routinely bypass the session or the pastor?

6. Do we see the search for a new pastor as a personnel change or the call of God requiring active spiritual discernment?

7. Do we intend to make any major changes in church policy or in our church plant before the new pastor arrives? Why might this be a bad idea?

8. Are we willing to conduct the kind of thorough background check recommended by most presbyteries including examination of credit, criminal background, employment history, sexual issues etc.? Are we ready for surprises if we do not do our homework?

9. Do you assume that all candidates have made a thorough check of our background? Have they talked to former pastors, the clerk of session, other staff, the presbytery executive, members of COM? If not, why not?

We all hope that the work of any PNC has positive effects on the life of a congregation for a long time. What additional questions should your members consider before calling a new teaching elder?


earl-johnson-jrEARL S. JOHNSON JR. is a retired pastor living in Johnstown, New York, and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Siena College.