Southern Baptist Staffing aka Stealing
In the spirit of full disclosure I should say I’ve served as a pastor of four Southern Baptist Churches in three states over the last seventeen years. For the last seven years I’ve been bivocational. My other “job” is in Human Resources at a community mental health center with over three hundred employees in five counties. I offer a unique perspective on church staffing due to my years of both church and corporate work.
We steal staff in Southern Baptist life. In the business world this practice is called headhunting. In the church it is called finding the person God has for the position. The phrase goes down easier if we word it right. But make no mistake about it, the vast majority of senior staff vacancies in SBC churches are filled by poaching from another congregation.
The typical process goes something like this: the current pastor resigns, the church forms a committee to search for a new pastor, resumes are gathered, the committee evaluates and reduces the number of potential replacements to one, the new candidate is introduced to the church, the church votes, and if all goes well the first service with the new pastor can begin a few weeks later.
Of course there are many variations to this process. Sometimes the current pastor is forced out. Some churches don't utilize committees. Other congregations prefer to bring in one preacher after another until they find one they can agree on (not with). The practice of bringing in an interim pastor is common. While it is fair to describe a typical pattern for staffing in a Baptist church, it is not accurate to say they are all similar to what has been described above. In SBC life every church has its unique way of getting things done. I am painting with broad strokes here but I am acutely aware of the variety in Southern Baptist polity.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Every pastor you know had to begin pastoral work in a church bold enough to believe in his call even when there was no experience to back it up. Smaller congregations are often the testing grounds for a new minister's call. Lord bless them. Amen.
After a few years of "successful" ministry one of two things typically occurs: 1) The pastor sends his resume to a few friends or an associational director or a denominational entity. Often this is the state Baptist office or a school or seminary where the pastor attended. 2) A church contacts the pastor asking for a resume. Resume etiquette often involves a third party, say another pastor in the area, requesting a resume to give to a committee of a specific church. At this point the headhunting is in full swing.
Pastors leave churches for a multitude of reasons. Maybe they need more money to live on? Maybe the people are mean to his children? Maybe he really does sense a leading away from his current place of service. But a strong majority of pastors will remain in their current position until a new "opportunity" has been offered. Or to put it another way, they will stay put until someone steals them away.
The secrecy and sometimes outright lies that accompany this process are what trouble me. I have no problem with pastors moving, but I am disturbed when deception and lies are used to facilitate the process. We, pastors and churches, can do better.
In a future post (maybe next post) I want to offer suggestions for how we can handle transitions in church staff in a manner that is ethical and honoring to the teachings of Christ. Of course, your comments are always welcome.