Monthly Archives: December 2013

Rewarding Pulpit Committees– By Sending them to Hell

hellAs I wrote previously, the Committee on Ministry model tends to contain procedures which ensures its dysfunction. What’s worse, is that this flawed system is often instituted right at the very beginning of a new parish ministry. Lay leaders were frequently told that members of the search committee should form the new Committee on Ministry. What a disastrous mistake.

Let’s look at this from a search committee member point of view.

Imagine you get selected to be on your church’s pulpit (search) committee. How exciting! You and 6 other people– some of whom you may not know very well– get to pick the next minister of your church. Other than real estate transactions– which happen far more infrequently– this is the biggest news a church can get.

A new minister means a new chapter in the historic narrative of the church. It’s probably the biggest single intentional thing a lay person can do in the history of that congregation.

For Unitarian Universalists, it’s usually a very expensive undertaking. One that will take you away from your family for long weeks. You are bound to secrecy (i.e., confidentiality). You might start with 20 interested ministers. Have phone calls with 8. Fly in 4 pre-candidates for weekend long interview, and finally– finally— pick the one candidate you hope takes your church into a bright new future for many years to come.

What greater impact can you as a lay leader have than to pick the next minister? It’s huge, it’s far ranging. It’s the most hours, days, and weeks you have spent on behalf of your present and future church.

You have bonded with your committee members. You have stretched yourself personally and spiritually. It’s exhilarating.

And your reward, when it’s all said & done?

You get to join the Committee on Ministry (CoM), also know as: the complaint committee. At first, it isn’t a problem, because everyone wants to be “nice.”

But then you hear that the sermons are too long or too short. That there is too much religious language or not enough “spirituality.” And on, and on.

And since people mostly give praise directly to the minister (which you don’t hear), but do complain to the CoM, you don’t hear as much praise of the minister you selected as you do complaints.

And everyone who complains seems to think that you can go get that minister to ‘fix’ the “minister’s” problem for them.

After a while, you grow weary of hearing dissatisfaction– however small. You leave the CoM when your term is up– and frankly– you may leave the church– now having second thoughts about the minister you helped bring to your church.

I have seen this dynamic play out once in my own career and multiple times in the careers of colleagues. It’s a strategic mistake, and it ought to stop.

When I came to Houston in 2010, I decided I wanted a different procedure to be used: a new method. It was, in fact, the very first team of leaders I assembled, because it’s that important. I read & questioned & queried colleagues & read some more. And then it happened almost by magic. Really, it happened in hindsight, but it was terrific.

And if you, dear reader, ever become a newly settled minister, I highly recommend you follow the plan I am about to unfold here–

What should happen to members of the search committee if they don’t form a Committee on Ministry? They should be elected to the board of trustees! Maybe not all at once, but certainly, bit by bit. Now, you have a minister and a board who are committed to each other in a new way– after all– THEY PICKED EACH OTHER.

Not only that, but your ex-search committee is your best source of bold, initiative taking, blue-sky-seeing, prudent-risk-takers in the whole congregation!

And by the time the search process is over, this is the most thoroughly vetted group of lay leaders in recent memory.

They will collectively tell you who would make a good board member, and who is questionable. Who completes their assignments and who doesn’t. Who is fun to be around and who needs more hand holding.

Not only that, but the search committee is heavily invested in the new minister. What does that mean? It means that they– perhaps more than anyone else– is heavily invested in the new ministers success.

One of the minister’s main jobs is to make sure the board is successful.

The minister confers monthly with the executive team (president & vice president). Make sure they have the information they need, make sure they understand the minister is there to support them– in ways pastoral, strategic, and with leadership.

And now, this new board?

One of their main jobs is to make sure the minister is successful.

Since they are working for mutual success– and the default complaint mechanism is gone– the board is not paying much attention to trivial complaints– instead focusing on how the minister and staff are accomplishing the mission.


For those of you who are settled ministers, I am curious to know what ever happened to your pulpit / search committee?