An Object Lesson in Communicating with Pastoral Candidates or Recruits

A recent recruitment message baffled me and my wife. It makes a great object lesson about when our conveyed message does not match our intended message.

Over the years I’ve received countless emails, texts, online messages, and even letters from churches seeking new pastors or other ministry positions.  Many were quite generic, seemingly copied directly out of a 1985 book on how to communicate with pastoral candidates.  Others were more personable.

Occasionally, however, a search committee or someone from the church approaches recruits or candidates in ways that will leave you puzzled or worse.  While I don’t believe it’s ever the intent to confuse or insult the candidate, sometimes that is the result.

The other day I received a message on LinkedIn that illustrated this communication problem.  It was that message that inspired this post (though I’ve thought about writing it for months).

Here’s the message (I’ve removed any personal information to protect the person’s identity):

A confusing message intended to recruit me.
LinkedIn message I received that baffled my wife and me.

It reads as follow:

John, you scare me but we have an opening for a pastor in our church. If God is calling you who can be against you? It looks small and challenging and starting pay is not huge. The church is running 50 in Sunday School but should be running 200. If you are interested it is [CHURCH NAME]. Sixty miles west of [US CITY]. Since you have a Doctorate it may not interest you at [a]ll. We get more Seminary Students than graduates. God Bless. Don’t say I referred you.

If you thought, “Huh?” then join the club with me and my wife.  To quote her, “It’s strange.”

The person who sent this message, I believe, had the best of intentions.  However, the way (s)he went about it was very puzzling.

The Message Began with a Possible Insult

Without any clarification or explanatory context, “You scare me” is demeaning.  It says that I evoke fear, terror, and trepidation in this person, something few would consider a great characteristic of a pastor.

What’s so scary about me?  Does this individual believe I’m a terrifying person?  What’s so bad about me that (s)he’s fearful?

Maybe this person meant “intimidate”?  Or maybe that they are so overly impressed that (s)he is nervous about contacting me.  If so, just say that.  Please don’t say I cause you to fear.  Even better, just don’t begin with a negative.

This is not the only example of using language that can be seen as insulting or demeaning.  I’ve talked to and read about many others who have received follow-up letters that, though well-intentioned, were hurtful.

I’m referring to letters that say, basically,

Dear John,

Despite your qualifications, we chose Mortimer Shnerd.  We’re extremely proud of Pastor Shnerd.  Here are the five things about him that led us to choose him.


Search Committee

The church is proud of their new minister.  They should be.  However, by telling other candidates about all the virtues of the new pastor, they are indirectly saying, “Here’s why they are better than you” or “Here’s why you’re not good enough.”  Not exactly uplifting.  It’s better to simply say you chose another person and leave it at that.

The Message was Overly Idealistic and Ill-focused

The individual revealed their church’s current attendance, but then said where they believed “it should be.”

Should be?  According to whom?  By what standard?  Why only 200?  Why not 300, 500, or even 1,000?  Is a church of 50 a failure?  Are only larger churches blessed by God?

These are some of the questions that the recruiter’s idealism raised.

Also, by emphasizing the number of people in the chairs, it indicates that this individual’s primary focus (and possibly the church’s) is numerical growth.  I’ve already written about numbers-driven churches and offered a way to experience radical numerical growth, so I won’t rehash it here.  Suffice it to say that while numerical growth is often a result of working the mission, it is never the mission itself.

The Message Conveyed Shame or Embarrassment

This person attends a church that is seeking a pastor.  (S)he finds someone they believe could be a great candidate, so they attempt to recruit that person.  However, they say, “Don’t mention my name.”

Very puzzling.

As I read that last line, multiple questions came to mind:

Why not mention you?  Are you not authorized to recruit people?  Would something negative happen to you if the church found out you recruited someone?  Is there something about you that would reflect negatively on me?  Is there something about me that would reflect negatively on you (other than you fearing me)?  Are you ashamed of me?  Do you not stand by what you believe?

Or as my wife put it, “Why even write the message?”

It’s unclear why this person doesn’t wish to be associated with recruiting me, only that (s)he doesn’t want the church to find out.  Regardless, this is quite a baffling comment.

What This Teaches Us about Communicating with Recruits and Candidates

When committees or church members try to recruit new ministers or reach out to pastoral candidates, I believe they always have the most noble of intentions.  They want to be transparent and open.  Nevertheless, sometimes how they communicate comes across confusing or hurtful.  Based on the example above, here are some lessons we can learn about how to communicate with ministerial candidates (or anyone for that matter).

1. Don’t insult the person (directly or indirectly)

If someone doesn’t have the necessary experience or skills, or you disagree with them on some topic, then just say so.  If they are overqualified, say that.  Don’t, however, demean them.

2. Be honest with yourself and the recruit/candidate

Stick with what is, not what could or should be.  Despite Disney’s insistence to the contrary, dreams don’t always come true.  Also, be open about your priorities and requirements.

3. Stand by your decisions and beliefs (until proven wrong)

If you make a decision or have an opinion, stick by it.  Saying you don’t want to be associated with it indicates you don’t really believe in it. This leads to its corollary…

4. Be willing to accept honest critique

Let me emphasize the word critique.  Critique is helpful, criticism is hurtful.  Critiques address the content, criticism attacks the person.  We should welcome critique and be willing to change if proven wrong.

As stated, I’m sure the individual who messaged me had great intentions.  However, their message serves as a good example of how not to communicate with recruits or candidates.

About John L. Rothra
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