<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=2300026853549930&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Skip to content
Staff Search

The Role of a Senior Pastor in the Hiring Process

What is the role of the senior pastor in a search process? A short video that lays out the options.


Should the Senior Pastor be involved?

Todd and I often get questions about the hiring process and what makes the most sense in the tactical decisions of the hiring process. One of the most common questions we get is about the senior or lead pastor's role in the hiring process. We shot a quick video where we discuss this:


HubSpot Video


Bottom line: the Senior Pastor's role in the hiring process is crucial, though it varies depending on the position being hired for.


Schedule A Free Consultation


Full Transcript

Todd Rhoades: Hey Matt, we got a new question that came into us this week. I want to bounce this off of you and see what you thought. I've got kind of a thought in my mind too. We'll see if we match.

Matt Steen: Of course we do.
Todd Rhoades: How involved should a senior pastor be in a church's job search. Go.

Matt Steen: Go, okay. I think it's crucial for a senior to be involved. Now, depending on the position, depending on the church, it's going to determine how involved and in what capacity they are If it's a small church, a church of about 300 and they're bringing on a youth pastor or an associate pastor and it's a church where they will be working directly with this person, I think it's absolutely crucial. Because I think we've all heard horror stories where a senior pastor wasn't allowed to be involved in hiring somebody, and he kind of got stuck with somebody where there was no chemistry and no relationship and they just kind of spent years trying not to take a hostage. So I think in those roles, he definitely has to be there to make sure that they've got some chemistry going on, to make sure that they're going to get along together, and that they're visions are aligned. Larger churches, if this is a youth pastor in a larger church, it might work with the executive pastor or might report up to another position, director of family ministries or something like that. I think they still need to be involved, but I don't think that they need to be necessarily as involved in that smaller church thing. In my view, and I know different polities and different churches look at this differently, but as I see it, the role of the senior pastor, so much of that, one of their biggest things is to be primary vision caster of the organization and also the champion of the church's culture. And if they're not able to at least have a conversation or two with any new hire to make sure that they pass that culture and that vision test, then I think we're inviting problems. Some churches with like 150 or 200 staff might push back on that and say that's just not possible. But I would say in a pastoral level or maybe even a ministry director level role, that's absolutely crucial. What do you think?

Todd Rhoades: I would echo a lot of what you say. I think some of it depends on size, but size is not the determining factor. First of all, I think you have to acknowledge, as you did rightfully so, that every church's polity is different. You and I have worked with hundreds of churches. I don't think we've ever seen two churches that are exactly alike in their polity. That means everybody's hiring process is different. Who's involved is different. I would say one time a senior pastor should always be involved is if that new staff person is going to be the direct report. That's almost always a given. That automatically puts you, if you're in a smaller church and you're hiring a youth pastor and that youth pastor is going to report directly to you and you're the senior pastor, you have to be a pivotal part of that. I think the first break kind of happens, and you alluded to it, maybe a lot of churches will hire an executive pastor kind of over the staff. If that's the case, even in that case the senior pastor a lot of times needs to be involved if they're going to be working directly. Sometimes what we'll see though is a senior pastor that’s like, "I don't want to mess with it. Just take care of it." Tells his executive pastor, "Take care of it," the executive pastor takes care of it, and the senior pastor

comes in at the end and kind of vetoes things. Sometimes that's not a good thing. So if you're going to feel that strongly about it from the frontend, invest in that search and be a part of that search from the start. Don't delegate the authority of the search and then come in and veto.

Matt Steen: That just frustrates staff.

Todd Rhoades: Yeah, it does. So kind of in my mind, I kind of look at it as if you've got a direct report and then a direct report to a direct report - I don't know if that makes sense, kind of two levels under. If it's two levels under, I think it's a little bit more optional for the senior pastor to be involved. And again, you don't want to pigeon hole with size, but that's going to be a larger church. But I do think as you said, even if it's two levels under, it's still important for that senior pastor to either trust the person that's hiring fully and accept their answer and their delegation or have a part in that so that you can begin and just make sure that that person's right.

Matt Steen: Just have a conversation.

Todd Rhoades: Absolutely. When it breaks down, it's totally... I think every time, Matt, when things were down to a senior pastor and who they're going to hire, it's a communication issue. Even when the senior pastor, the executive pastor, or something inside that structure, that polity that just isn't working. Everybody needs to talk from the first part on and determine what that role of the senior pastor is going to be. If you do that, no problem.

Matt Steen: Absolutely. So can we talk practical? How do you practically do this real quick. Todd Rhoades: Yeah, real quick.

Matt Steen: So practically, with our church this is how I talk to them about this type of thing. If it's a committee-driven church and the committee has to be the one that's in sole charge, that makes this determination, what I encourage the senior pastor to do, and this is mostly smaller churches, is to be the gatekeeper. Be the one that has the first conversation so that they're able to say to the committee, “Hey look, I think this guy's incredibly talented, but I don't think we're going to get along really well together so I'd really appreciate it if you let him go on his way.” Or they can say, “Hey look, this is a guy that there's potential for us to be able to work together.” There's some potential chemistry there, that kind of thing. In those types of situations, if it's not a staff-driven hire, if it's a committee-driven hire, really encourage that senior to be that first round of conversations to be able to be that gatekeeper.

Todd Rhoades: Totally agree. Matter of fact, sometimes we see that flip flopped though, right? Sometimes we see the committee that wants to be the gatekeeper. Do you ever recommend that?

Matt Steen: I don't think we have yet.

Todd Rhoades: Yeah. Because a lot of times that tells us that either there's not trust in someone else to do the gatekeeper, they are kind of close-fist, kind of high control.

Matt Steen: Or the other piece of that is it may not be a trust issue, but it is a leader who doesn't want to engage in the process. And that really kind of raises flags of concern for me because so much, like you said, is relationally-driven. And if you're not investing effort on the frontend of the church to figure out if there's

potential for chemistry, then I really question whether you're going to invest in the relationship once that person gets on the ground, and that's when things kind of go sideways as well right.

Todd Rhoades: Yeah, I think so. And this is just one person asked this question, but this is a question that you and I get quite often. And we're always happy to engage people in conversation on this. We get it mostly, honestly, well we get it from all three. We get it from senior pastors. We get it from executive pastors. But we also get it from search committee that are like, "We're just setting up our search. How do we need to structure this?" And we're more than happy. Reach out to us, and we're more than happy to have that conversation with you one-on-one because every church is different, and every answer is different. But our advice is free... exactly. Alright, talk to you soon, Matt.

Matt Steen: See ya.


Matt Steen

Matt Steen

Matt has served the local church for over two decades as a youth pastor, church planter, and executive pastor. Originally from Baltimore, Matt currently lives in Orlando, with his wife Theresa, and has a B.S. in Youth Ministry from Nyack College and an M.Div. and MBA from Baylor University. Certified as an Urban Church Planter Coach by Redeemer City to City and as a StratOp facilitator by the Paterson Center, Matt has made a career of helping churches thrive through intentionality, clarity, and creating healthy cultures. He is convinced that a healthy church is led by a healthy team with great chemistry, and loves partnering with Chemistry’s churches to do great things for the Kingdom.

Latest Resources

Apply Now! Family Pastor in Ripon, WI

Apply Now! Family Pastor in Ripon, WI

Ripon Community Church in Ripon, Wisconsin, is looking for a Family Pastor to empower and grow RCC Kids and Student Life to Represent Jesus...

How to Lead Negative Church Staff Members

How to Lead Negative Church Staff Members

How can leaders turn around a negative staff member and preserve the unity of their teams?

You Are Called to Transform Lives

You Are Called to Transform Lives

Called to transform lives, but unsure where to serve next? You have immense value in advancing God's Kingdom!