Take-Away Notes from Dr. Joseph Umidi’s “Confirming the Pastoral Call: A Guide to Matching Candidates and Congregations”

Introduction: The Whirlwind Romance

Pastor Steve had resigned his church of sixty-five members.  After months of praying and seeking a new pastorate hope came in an invitation to preach in a country church.  The church had experienced a sudden loss as the pastor accepted a mega church position.  The church attendance was weekly declining.  The former pastor had helped the church grow from 80 to 320 almost overnight.  However, the attendance had now dropped to 120.  When Pastor Steve received the invite he was elated.  He went and preached two anointed sermons, one on Sunday morning and another that evening.  The board met that night and voted unanimously to extend the call for Pastor Steve to come as pastor.  Pastor Steve was energized the next morning and like “a bucket of ice water on a summer beach” Dr. Umidi brought to his attention an important truth.  “… long term relationships are not built on infatuation.  The relationship between a pastor and a church is built upon the bonding of common values” (Umidi, 7).  It takes patience but it is necessary to wait for God to confirm the call.  The call from a church is only an invitation.  It is essential that a pastor has experienced a “divine call.”  Without a “divine call” from God the pastor will not be able to withstand the demands involved in kingdom advancement.  One cannot be self called or others called.  Sometimes it is assumed that the associate pastor will step into the role of a vacated pastor.  This can sometimes be a “serious mismatch.”

The pastoral candidate needs confirmation before accepting any new role.  Umidi states, “… an honest look at how your experience, personality, abilities, and expectations fit a particular organization and role it the most fundamental step you can take to protect yourself and your family from being ‘eaten alive.’  State in a more positive way, a deliberate and thoughtful consideration of your ‘fit’ within an organization and position increases your chances of finding a church where your gifts and vision can soar”  (Umidi, 9).  Confirming the call takes effort, time, and patience.

Part 1:  A Time for Relationship Renewal

Chapter 1 – Matches Not Made in Heaven

One is six Protestant ministers quit each year.  This equates to the number of men that attended the historic 1996 Promise Keepers Conference in Atlanta, Ga. (approximately 50,000).  Umidi makes the case in this book the reason for many short-term pastors is because of “mismatching” pastors and congregations.  There are both toxic churches and toxic pastors.  Some churches are unhealthy and have conflict issues that are unresolved.  When a new pastor arrives at such a church he or she may find difficult days ahead because conflict is already present.  Some pastors are poor leaders and bring to the church problems.

Chapter 2 – Leaving and Cleaving

When a pastor unexpectedly resigns it can be very difficult and emotional for the congregation.  Before a search for a new pastor can begin in a healthy way there needs to be a healthy closure to the former pastor’s leadership.  One of the ways this can be done is through an exit interview.  This is a meeting between the outgoing pastor and lay leaders.  Prayer, praise, and scripture reading are essential for this meeting and it helps sets a positive tome.  When the pastor is gone it is important that the lay leaders lead in regular times of corporate prayer and that the congregation is informed of the search for a new pastor.  This can provide assurance to the congregation that the church is one the right track.

Part 2:  Models and Methods for the Church

Chapter 3 – Search Committees: Choosing the Right People

Questions for Selecting a Search Committee:

1)  Who in the church has a worthy track record in recruiting the right workers, lay leaders, or staff members?

2)  Who in the church has experience in hiring, managing personnel, or consulting in the business or educational community?

3)  Who in the church has experience counseling or mentoring clergy and their spouses?  4)  Who understands the unique pressures and dynamics in a minister’s family?

5)  Who in the church has demonstrated spiritual sensitivity and giftedness in prayer or discernment?

6)  Who in the church is gifted in setting priorities, managing time, and attending to details in the collection and preparation of information?  These skills will be important for collecting and evaluating reports from denominational leaders, other church search committees, past church references on candidates, and other sources of important data in the committee’s search.

7)  Who in the church understands the need and methodology for developing a church profile that articulates the church’s core values and expectations?

Having a seasoned interim pastor is beneficial but there should be a clear understanding between the church and the interim pastor in regard to this position.  Normally, the interim pastor is not considered as a candidate.

Chapter 4 – Your Church Profile: Clarifying Core Values

Core values answer the question what are we doing?  Pastors often spend more time marketing that defining the church’s core values.  Some pastors do not take the necessary time to discover and define the core values.  It is hard work that is sometimes replaced with church planting.  In church plant the leader can define the core values in the beginning.

Chapter 5 – Heart Issues:  Determining Your Church’s Readiness for Change

There is often resistance to change and when a new pastor comes to a church that is a major change.  As a new pastor in a church it is important to find out how new proposals are generally handled.  We cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.  Only new wineskins will be able to hold new wine.  Understanding who the key influencers are is essential because they are the ones who folks will follow until the new leader becomes influential.  Conducting a truthful self-study will enable the pulpit search committee to look for the right person.  This is a foundational point that should not be overlooked.

Chapter 6 – Integrity: Confirming the Candidates Character

Key Issues That Every Church Must Examine in a Potential Leader:

1) Look for Character Signs That Reveal the Issues of the Heart

Character Signs that Reveal a Leaders Heart:

  • Family
  • Speech Patterns
  • Money
  • Suffering
  • Time

2)  Assess the Candidate’s Vitality in Key Areas of Spiritual Health

  • Worship
  • Prayer
  • Word of God

3)  Check References Thoroughly

According to Umidi, “Glossing over the reference process can be a disastrous mistake.”   Robert W. Dingman suggests several reasons why we fall into this trap:

  1. Christians are inclined to believe the best about other people – especially
    spiritual leaders.
  2. The search committee and the candidate both put their best foot forward
    and tend to conceal their flaws and limitations.
  3. Good reference checking takes time, courage, and some skill.
  4. Search committee members often place too much confidence in their ability to ‘read people’ or to get spiritual ‘impressions’ about the candidates (Umidi, 57).

Further Elaboration Concerning Reference Checking Points from Dingman:

  • We have produced a culture of gullibility within the church.
  • Someone must initiate transparency and vulnerability so we can ‘get everything on the table.’
  • Recruit someone on your committee who will have the courage to ask probing questions, and who has the time and skill to follow up on all references.
  • Committee members should avoid ‘Thus saith the Lord’ proclamations to one another.

Chapter 7 – Relationships: Identifying the Candidate’s People Skills

The pastoral search committee should inquire about the candidate’s people skills.  Conflict is inevitable in church leadership.  How does the candidate handle conflict?  How important is mentorship in the candidate’s life?  What are some of the specific benefits the candidate can expound upon regarding his or her relationship with a mentor?  Finishing well is a challenge for many leaders.  What are some the ways that the candidate has finished well in the past?

Part 3:  Models and Methods for the Candidate

Chapter 8 – Dangerous Dating Delusions

It is important that the pastor and the search committee keep realistic expectations in mind.  The temptation is for the pastor to be impressed with the first glimpse of a church like “Cinderella.”  Likewise, the church can easily be swayed by the pastor as he or she appeals to them like a “Prince Charming.”  The temptation might be for the pastor to seek ways to impress the church because he needs the job.  Likewise, the church may want to impress the pastor in the attempt to lure him or her into the position.  It is vital for the pastor and the search committee be devoted to prayer and that each remain open to the leading of the Spirit.  Otherwise, it maybe infatuation or lust which drives their decisions.

Chapter 9 – Know Thyself: Lust or Love?

Whenever a pastor is considered for a church he or she should “bring his or her life before the Lord – as His servant.  And pray, pray, pray!”  It is important that one know his or her temperament, personality type, and skills.  The pastoral search committee will most likely want to know about these and they will be key to a successful match.

Chapter 10 – Interviewing: Getting Past the Mating Rituals

Some churches would reject the most qualified leaders because they are not willing to be realistic.  Umidi humorously brings this to light when he mentions a pastoral search committee that rejected leaders in the Bible from Noah to Jesus.  Some search committees will not even consider candidates who are not currently in a position.  Having a resume’ is essential.  Having one’s experience and skills listed will help the committee see what the candidate has been doing up to the present.

Chapter 11 – Leadership Matching for the Twenty-First Century

There are many qualified and gifted pastors/leaders.  However, there also exist some who are not qualified applying for and being interviewed as pastoral candidates.  With all the resources available there are still some unqualified pastors that make it through the “cracks.”  Umidi states, “As we step into the new millennium in ministry, we propose five structural solutions to help the body of Christ increase its number of successful, healthy church leadership/ministry partnerships.  These will require shifting the standard training paradigms and empowering the pioneers who are willing to explore unchartered territory” (Umidi, 101).

Five Structural Solutions:

  • Start Ministry Before Ministry training.
  • Link Emerging Leaders with School and Church Partnerships During Training and Matching.
  • Link Matched Leaders with Area Wide Co-Mentors During the First Year.
  • New Strategies for Churches to Raise Up Their Own Leadership.
  • The Case for “Arranged Marriages.”


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