My friend Richard Baxter has suggested that pastoral interviews should include a game of monopoly.
He is not being completely serious about having board games but he is arguing that we need more than just an interview and a preach to get a feel for potential pastoral candidates.
As it happens, whilst the interview process for my first pastorate didn’t include a game of monopoly, we were invited up at Christmas time and joined in the church Christmas party, complete with some very competitive games. I managed to finish runner up in musical statues and also in “who can stuff the most crackers in their mouth?” I have not had to demonstrate skill in either of those areas since that day.
Baxter is right, we want to see how a potential pastor reacts to both victory and defeat, success and failure. Is he a proud winner and a sore loser? Such people are unlikely to be well suited to church leadership. Incidentally, the potential pastor may want to be asking similar questions about the congregation and his potential fellow leaders. Are they sore losers? Do they sulk when they don’t get their way? Or just as dangerous, are they looking for a competitive leader, a strong man who will always win, always get his way, always deliver? Is there a sense of looking out for one another and preferring their needs or does the church descend either into tribalism or individualism?
Mind you, we can still be on our best behaviour at parties. We can keep the blood rush in check if we are under scrutiny. So, I wonder whether the whole approach of looking at a few CVS before inviting a complete stranger from outside in for a few interviews, a preach and a weekend of social activities is the most helpful way of appointing leaders in the church.
I have increasingly come to the conclusion that we do better to approach things relationally. This means that often, as with unpaid elders, staff members will also be appointed from within the church. They will already be people well known to the congregation and to other leaders, with all of their faults and weaknesses as well as their strengths and gifts well documented. They won’t have to prove anything to the church.
Of course, there is benefit to bringing people in from outside as well from time to time. An external recruit will bring a new pair of eyes, a fresh perspective and will also be adding to the team, increasing capacity. How we go about that then is a little trickier. I think that as far as possible, this should still be relational. This mean that churches will need to be well connected with other churches. Rather than putting out a job advert, they will want to talk to leaders of other congregations and of the network they are part of, so that they can be linked up with potential Gospel workers to come and join them.
This means that whilst the church themselves will not know the person so well, they will be known to people they trust. There may also be ways to give a person, extended time with the church to see if they prove a good fit, perhaps as much as six months or even a year before they are formally appointed.
This approach comes with its own risks of course and we need to be alert to them. The biggest risk is that we end up with a kind of old boys network, so that it is those who are well connected who get spotted and linked up. So, transparency and great efforts by those involved not to be captivated by favouritism are important.
However, I believe that this kind of approach fits better with the needs of the church as family rather than corporation. It is also closer, in my opinion, to the New Testament model for church.