Confidentiality Among the
Search Committee

When our pastoral search committee first began in 2015, we laid down some ground rules. One came as a very strong recommendation from our search consultant, Dr. McGowan:

The search committee shouldn’t discuss specific candidates with any other members of the congregation, including spouses.

I suspect his recommendation was based to some degree on his prior experience, as well as the region where he lives. You see, our denomination, the PCA, is centered in the south; there are far more PCA churches in the southern states than in other parts of the country. This map shows the concentration (click the map to zoom in for greater detail):

Map of PCA churches
Map of PCA churches

With that kind of concentration, it’s likely that some people would know

  • which churches in their area are vacant
  • which pastors in the area are seeking a new position (even if the church doesn’t know yet!)
  • which churches are about to become vacant (even if the pastor doesn’t know yet!)

And with that kind of concentration, it makes sense for a search committee to keep their lips tightly sealed. If there wasn’t confidentiality, it could easily lead to gossip like

  • “They said they’re talking with a pastor from Nashville. I didn’t know Pastor Jones was leaving his church!” [Nobody said Pastor Jones was leaving. Besides, there are 19 PCA churches in the metro Nashville area; why assume that we’re talking about that pastor at that particular church?]
  • “I wonder if they’re talking with Pastor Smith. It would be awesome if we got him!” [Do you want the church to be built on Christ, or on Pastor Smith’s charisma and personality?]

Because we are located in the west, with far fewer PCA churches in the region (9 in the metro Phoenix area), it was less likely that members of our congregation knew any of the candidates even if we had shared a name or two. After all, most candidates would be from the south, right?

So would it have been appropriate to share a candidate’s name with the congregation as we got close to the finish line? Probably not. More information than we gave them at the start, yes, but not names of specific candidates. After all, the candidate may not want everyone to know they are job-hunting. The committee’s confidentiality protects a candidate’s privacy.

As a committee, we took the matter of confidentiality very seriously – perhaps too seriously.  We followed Dr. McGowan’s advice and didn’t share candidates’ names with the church or our spouses. In fact, we didn’t share candidates’ names with the church leadership until we had made the final decision and asked for their official OK before bringing his name to the congregation.

But we misunderstood our consultant’s advice; he said to not share candidates’ names. We, however, didn’t share ANY details; we just gave vague updates of our progress: how many candidates’ names we had received, how many we had rejected, how many sermons we had listened to, etc. We completely missed the point and went overboard on the confidentiality part.

Oops!

But the congregation deserves more than vague generalities. Well into the process, we made a course correction after speaking with Dr. McG. specifically about this matter. He encouraged us to give the church more information. For example, “x number of candidates from the south; x number from the Midwest (or even from a specific state), x number currently serving as youth pastors, x number straight out of seminary,” etc. His point was that we shouldn’t share their names with the church.

So how much information is enough? How much is too much? How does a search committee maintain confidentiality and still provide information to the congregation that will be helpful? How can the committee ask for specific prayer if they don’t give enough information to the prayer warriors in the church?

Let me know in the comments below how your search committee is walking the fine line of “enough information but not too much.” And if your committee has completed its work, what did you tell your congregation – and did they feel it was enough? Were the people satisfied with the information you provided?

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