Searching for a pastor is a long and tedious process. It is filled with ups and downs, disagreements and moments of unanimity and excitement. On the other side, the process is also considerably long and difficult for pastors. In fact, most pastors probably wince just thinking about dusting off their resumes.

For those of us who have already gone through the process, we are keenly aware of just how gut-wrenching an experience can be, from the insulting rejections, to the feeling of dejection of coming so close but ultimately being passed over for a different candidate, and finally, joyfully, receiving an offer. With that said, I thought I might pass along some advice that I have developed after going through more than one search process.

As you begin the search process, you should place your candidates in three categories. Be as forthcoming as possible with candidates. Quickly decide these three categories when you receive an application from a candidate and communicate, quickly and  in a sensitive matter, where they stand. Those three categories are:


We are very interested in this candidate and want to pursue next steps with them.


The candidate has some characteristics and qualities we are looking for, but not all, and they fall below our top 4 based on reviewing resumes, sermon samples, etc. They may end up being someone to interview, but we’re not quite sure.


These candidates do not match enough of your qualifications and so you are not going to pursue them any further.

Where does each candidate fall?

For each of these three categories, this is how you ought to respond:


For the Yes Pool:

Set up an interview with the candidate asap. This will be encouraging to them and also help you discern whether or not you want to pursue any of the maybe’s. I would have no more than 5 candidates in the yes pool at a time, 4 is an ideal number. Perhaps even have an alternate 1 among your maybes if you can do this quickly as a committee.

For the Maybe Pool:

Let them know asap that at this time, you are not considering them, though it is possible that this could change. Most churches just dangle the maybes for months on end, which is very frustrating and hurtful to candidates. Personally, I would rather know if I am not a finalist right away rather than being left out there dangling. If the argument here is that you don’t want to offend a candidate, trust me, most job candidates would like to know where they stand rather than just living in no-man’s land.

For the No Pool:

Please be as sensitive as possible. I’ve received a lot of offensive rejections (perhaps a future post for comedic relief?). Just let people know that you will not be pursuing a partnership using simple language, not too long, not too short. 1-2 paragraphs will suffice. In my opinion, I would rather not hear how great a pastor I am when I am being rejected. Just a quick, “We are pursuing other candidates” is the best. And please remember that the subject line in your e-mail is part of the rejection. I’ve received a very kind and sensitive e-mail from a committee, but the subject header was hurtful and frustrating. Just put something vague in the subject line like “Update on search process”.

Make sure and let people down as softly as possible
Creating a strong, thoughtful search process for your open position is all about intentionality and communication. Yes, I understand that most search committees are made up of volunteers, many of whom are working other jobs and this is the 30th item on their daily list. But it will pay dividends to do what can you do to expedite the process and humanely update candidates on their status with your church.

One obvious answer to this is to assign one committee member to be a clerk/communicator whose  job it is to let candidates know where they stand in the process in a timely manner. This person should have significant free-time already in their schedules to make this happen. It probably also should not be the moderator or head of the committee. They have enough on their plate. Each candidate should receive a note on these occasions, at minimum:


Sometimes a Search Process feels like you are dipping your toes in deep waters
Thanks for submitting  your application (aim for 48 hour turnaround). Bonus if this email also contains a “next steps” timeline, with language such as “We will be receiving applications until the end of the month and then we hope to update you as soon as possible after that on your standing.”

Update on where they stand in the search, including rejection (aim for the same week your committee decides how to categorize them).

I have more thoughts on this that I may explore in further posts, but for now I will leave you with the advice I’m often given: “Hang in there, it’s a long process but ultimately God will get you where you are supposed to be.”

Grace and Peace,


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