do you like me? if so, check this box - pt 1

A few friends of mine are in the "search process" right now, trying to do several dances with search teams that honestly just don't get it. I've been on both sides of that fence, and so I'd like to share with you an article that I originally wrote for Monday Morning Insight a few years back.

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Do you remember the first love note you got from someone you liked?

It probably came in the form of a short letter and had a few silly questions on it that you were supposed to answer. Often such surveys had multiple-choice options whereas others demanded a small essay. The purpose of this, of course, was to indicate your interest and overall compatibility with the one who had sent you the letter. Yet as we look back on the whole concept what is most amazing is that this isn’t just the way adolescents try to find their next crush. Rather, this is the way that churches and businesses are trying to find their next great hire.

Having been in “pastoral ministry” (whatever that is) for several seasons, I have experienced my fair share of unemployment and prospective interviews. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how often I’ve been asked, “So… why have you served in more than a couple of churches?” There’s an interesting implication there, hinting at the idea that the church world should function like the corporate world. In the business sector, consistent employment history indicates you are a “solid employee.” In the church realm, however, a stable resume could mean someone who’s been a solid employee OR instead suggest yet another man or woman whose chosen to become a “professional clergyman/woman” instead of an impassioned minister of the Gospel.

So how are many churches trying to weed through resumes and candidates? Several say they are adopting proven corporate practices in order to know their candidates better, using methods like personality profiling and extensive surveys to know someone from every possible direction. Having been the recipient of such investigations, I have enjoyed the chance to get to know myself better and the theology I claim as every part of who I am gets poked and prodded. Positively speaking, it has on more than one occasion represented a physical your doctor might perform in order to learn things about you that may not show up on the surface.

From a negative perspective, though, many churches and candidates have begun to rely on such structures at the loss of following the Holy Spirit. In their efforts to be more thorough, they have tended to lose sight of the big picture, ending up more like the typical scenario in a middle school cafeteria.

Do You Like Me? - Take 1: The Church

Stage 1: Identifying the need.

It just seemed like everyone around Holly Harris had a boyfriend. As she started to compare her friends’ social life versus her own, the idea of having a guy on her arm sounded quite appealing. For instance, one benefit would be that if a major dance or event came up she wouldn’t have to worry about finding a date. Not just any guy would fit the bill, though. In order for Holly to truly be as popular as she hoped to be she would need a total and complete “hottie” with a flawless smile to be her social savior. If such a guy could be found it would make the other girls jealous whenever they heard her name.

It just seemed like every congregation around the “First Church of Anytown” had a youth pastor. As the church leaders started to think about the success of other student ministries in town, the idea of having a charismatic point person for the “young people” in the church sounded quite appealing. For instance, one benefit would be that if a new family with teenagers came to visit a service they wouldn’t have to worry about finding someone to schmooze the kids into the program. Not just any candidate would fit the bill, though. In order for this endeavor to be as “successful” as everyone hoped it would be it would need someone with a flawless past and good track record. If such a guy could be found (because the thought of hiring a girl would seem “too controversial”) it would make the other churches jealous whenever they heard First Church’s name.


Stage 2: Writing the pitch.

Holly found some time in between classes to write out a short anonymous survey that contained hints of what she was looking for. After fine-tuning it with a couple of friends, she came up with a final product. It read: “Do you have a girlfriend? ____ What kind of music do you like? _____. What is your favorite kind of pizza? ______. What do you think of Holly Harris? _________.” Holly came up with a clever plan to pay one of her older brother’s friends to pass it around in his classes to guys he thought would be a good match. This way Holly’s identity could remain a secret while found out what eighth grade guys would be a match for her - a seventh grade girl. She hoped to collect the survey by the end of the day.

The leaders of FCOA found some time in between services to write out a short anonymous ad that contained hints of what they were looking for. They bounced it off of a couple of parents and volunteers who added some fine-tuning to the overall flow. As they stared at the final product, it read: “Do you like teenagers? Are you comfortable spending your entire week at the local schools? Can you put in a full workweek at the office? Is it possible for you to draw a crowd of students, grow attendance, and provide a top-rated student ministry program using a principle-based model? Send us your thoughts and resume.” The leadership team came up with a clever plan to have a third-party parachurch organization do the “headhunting” for them. This way the church’s identity could remain a secret while they found out which candidate could take them to a level beyond themselves. They hoped to collect the resumes by the end of the month.

Stage 3: Contacting the top choices.

Out of all the surveys that Holly got back, she found three to be her top choices. She created a follow up questionnaire that was designed to help her identify who was the “choice” hottie. It read: “I like you. Do you like me? ___ Yes ___ No - Holly.” She passed out the papers via her brother’s friend, getting two of the three back. One of the boys had indicated “no,” while the other had marked “yes.” At the bottom of this paper was his name – “Eric” – and a phone number with the invitation, “Call me.”

Out of all the resumes that the search team members of FCOA got back, they found three to be their top choices. The team created a follow up questionnaire that was designed to help identify who was the “best of the best.” It read: “Dear applicant. We are excited to be on this journey with you and have enclosed several questions about our doctrinal statements and philosophy of ministry. Please read them carefully and let us know if there is anything that you disagree with. If everything looks in order, sign the line at the bottom of the page to indicate your acceptance of our position as a church.” This survey was sent to the candidates through the third-party parachurch organization, leading to two of the three papers to be filled out and returned. One of the candidates had sent a letter sharing how he didn’t think he would be a good match for the church, while the other applicant“Eric” took the time to sign on the dotted line. On his cover letter he shared how he “looked forward to talking with the church in the near future” and enclosed his cell phone number as an additional means of contact.


Stage 4: Courting and connecting.

After several attempts to pick up the phone and call Eric, Holly finally managed to find the courage to make it happen. As it turns out, he had been hoping she would call before the big dance so that they could talk about going together. While she was joyfully excited and wanted to immediately agree, she had learned from her big brother’s friend that it was better to be coy and playful about such things. Instead, Holly suggested that they meet at the mall after school the next day to walk around and talk about it. And so the next day the two of them met and enjoyed some time getting to know each other. Eric paid for the ice cream they shared, then again indicated his interest in being Holly’s date for the dance. Holly responded, “I’d like that. I’ll let you know this weekend.”

After several attempts to schedule a conference call with Eric, the search team finally managed to find the time to make it happen. As it turns out, he had been hoping the church would call so that they could talk about serving together. While the team was joyfully excited and wanted to immediately offer him the job, they had learned from their parachurch consultants that it was better to be noncommittal at this stage of the process. Instead, they suggested that if Eric wanted he could come for an initial visit so that he could meet the team and get to know the community. And so Eric made the three-hour drive out in order to spend some time getting to know the situation more personally. Since Eric covered his own expenses, he was only able to stay overnight. On his way out, though, he took the time to again indicate his interest in being FCOA’s next youth pastor. The team responded, “We’d like that. We’ll let you know by next week.”


Stage 5: Expect the unexpected.

A funny thing happened when Holly asked her brother’s friend for advice. She didn’t notice it at first, but for some reason she found him more attractive than she had before. Maybe it was the process of spending all this extra time together or the fact that he wouldn’t accept her money when she tried to pay for his help. In any event, Eric started to become a faded memory as the thought of “Jake” stole the spotlight. Since Holly had gotten so distracted by him, she forgot to call Eric and let him know about the dance (as she had promised). After a couple of days, Eric ended up calling her only to get her answering machine. Embarrassed and not wanting to face the awkwardness of the situation, Holly wrote a letter and sent it in the mail to him. It read, “Dear Eric – Sorry but I can’t go to the dance with you. I had fun talking with you but I’m going with Jake instead. Hope you find a date. – Holly.” Unfortunately, Eric didn’t receive the letter until after the dance.

A funny thing happened when the search team from FCOA asked the parachurch consultants for advice. They didn’t notice it at first, but for some reason they found their style of ministry more attractive than they had before. Maybe it was the process of spending all this extra time together or the fact that their campus ministry didn’t require FCOA having to budget money for a new staff member. In any event, Eric started to become a faded memory as the thought of “partnering” with this organization stole the spotlight. Since the team had gotten so distracted by the concept, they forgot to call Eric and let him know about where he stood (as they had promised). After a couple of days, Eric ended up calling the church only to get its answering machine. Embarrassed and not wanting to face the awkwardness of the situation, the search team wrote a letter and sent it in the mail to him. It read, “Dear Eric – We have enjoyed getting to know you and a host of many other candidates. However, we have concluded that we will be pursuing another individual at this time. We apologize and hope that you wish us the best. We’ll be praying you find another opportunity soon. – Sincerely, the First Church Of Anytown.” Unfortunately, Eric didn’t receive the letter until after having turned down several other opportunities.

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