Preparing for the New Pastor Introduction

Part II: The S/PPR Committee

virtual_teamIn Part I of this mini-series we talked about preparing for the new pastor introduction from the pastor’s perspective. In this post we’ll look at how the church’ S/PPR (Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committee) can get themselves ready to discern the gifts and skills of the new pastor as a fit for the church community. The introduction of the new pastor is a critical time for the committee and being prepared to ask the right questions is essential. Here are some considerations:

1. Make the new pastor (and spouse) feel welcome. The best introductions start with the committee extending hospitality to the new pastor and his or her spouse. Keep in mind what is happening here: the pastor and spouse are coming to be introduced to a bunch of people they don’t know in an unfamiliar setting with a minimal amount of information and about two hours to discern whether or not this is a good place for their ministry and family. The more the S/PPR Committee can do to extend a warm welcome, the better the conversation will be.

In some United Methodist conferences, the pastor and spouse may be coming from a distance and will require overnight accommodations. While it may be tempting for churches (particularly small churches) to save money by offering to bunk the pastor and spouse in the home of a member, avoid this at all costs. The pastor and spouse will need space to discuss what they are learning and feeling and they need a place where they don’t have to be “on” during this stressful time. Spend the money to put them up in a good hotel or bed and breakfast where they can relax a bit apart from the church.

One of the ways you can enhance that experience is by providing a welcome basket in the room for when the pastor and spouse arrive. My current church provided my wife and I with a lovely basket of snacks as well as a decorative bag full of information about the area (maps, brochures to area attractions, information about the school district, etc.). This made us feel welcome and gave us a chance to do some dreaming about our new home at the same time.

A nice dinner out is also a nice touch before the introduction. In the Rocky Mountain Conference, the DS and the S/PPR chairperson will usually accompany the pastor and spouse to dinner at a nice restaurant in the area. This allows time for some informal conversation prior to the formal introduction.

2. Structure the introduction meeting. While district superintendents often have their own way of structuring the introduction meeting itself, the S/PPR can give input to the kinds of things they want to see happen. For example, here is a sample structure for an introduction that provides opportunities for dialogue and discernment:

a. Formal introduction of pastor (and spouse) by the DS.

b. Introduction of the members of the S/PPR Committee.

c. The pastor gives a devotional (10 minutes) at the start of the meeting and opens the meeting with prayer.

d. Pastor presents his or her story of spiritual life and call.

e. S/PPR Committee persons asked prepared questions. Pastor responds.

f. Pastor and S/PPR Committee review the church’s profile document.

g. Clarification of expectations: Pastor asks S/PPR what they expect from the pastor, and S/PPR asks pastor what he or she expects from the church.

h. Discussion of any other matters.

i. Pastor and spouse dismissed for deliberations. S/PPR discusses with DS, then DS discusses with pastor and spouse.

j. Final decision and celebration of new ministry. DS offers closing prayer.

The key to the introduction meeting is clarifying whether or not this pastor and this congregation are a good match for one another. Contrary to popular belief (and depending on the conference) if one or other of the parties is uncomfortable with the other, then that should be stated clearly to the DS during the deliberation period. Good district superintendents are interested in making a good match, so do not hesitate to express your concerns, keeping in mind, however, that no pastor has every gift that a congregation wants and no congregation has everything the pastor wants, either. Be realistic, be clear, and be honest.

What kinds of questions should the S/PPR be asking the pastor? These vary based on the local situation, but a good general list would include questions like:

  • What are the three things you like most about being a pastor?
  • What are the three things you like least?
  • Based on what you know about our church right now, what vision might you have about our future together?
  • How would you characterize your theology?
  • What do you think is the purpose of the church?
  • What do you perceive as your best strengths?
  • What do you perceive to be your growing edges?
  • What kind of church would you best like to serve?
  • Looking at our church profile, what excites you and what concerns you?
  • Describe a situation in which you dealt with conflict. How did you handle it and what was the outcome?

This is not an exhaustive list, just a few questions to get you thinking about learning the new pastor’s heart and gifts for ministry. Listen for some clues that the pastor is performing and not being completely forthright. For example, the “growing edges” question is often answered by the old interview technique of speaking about weaknesses as strengths. If the answer to what your weaknesses are is something like “Oh, I work too hard” or “I just love people too much,” that should cause you to want to probe deeper. The more honest a pastor is about himself or herself, the better you will know what they are all about as you discern their fit for the church.

As always, however, the bishop has the last say in our United Methodist appointment system. Neither the pastor or the S/PPR is going to get everything they want, even in an ideal situation. Find ways to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses and you will likely have a long season of ministry together.

3. Introduce the community. Assuming that the introduction goes well, often the S/PPR will arrange for the pastor and spouse to take a tour of the local area the day after the introduction. Obviously, if the church does not have a parsonage, the pastor will be looking for a place to live. There are likely some real estate agents in your congregation who would love to give them the tour and, perhaps, sell them a home. My policy, however, has been to always choose a realtor who is not a member of the church. A realtor is the buyer’s agent, which means the pastor will be entering into a business deal with a parishioner he or she barely knows. Chances are, too, that there is more than one real estate agent in the congregation and choosing one over the other puts the pastor on unequal footing with another member of the congregation. Save the reality questions and house hunting for an outside realtor. Instead, have a member or two from the congregation who can be objective tour guides show the pastor and spouse around town. Don’t just hit the attractions (if there are any!), but show them the tough parts as well.

The more than S/PPR can prepare for the introduction, the more likely it is that you will be able to make a good match!

For help in planning the transition, check out my book Your Best Move: Effective Leadership Transitions in the Local Church and the new “Transition Package” which features my full transition workshop on DVD and several copies of the book designed for churches and pastors to begin planning the transition together.

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