Is your congregation's nomination process up and running? It's that time of year again. While administrative structures vary from church to church, the challenge of nominating people to specific positions remains the same. Finding the right person is always a dilemma. Do you find the person who has general qualities of leadership or do you find a specialist? New research suggests that when it comes to having a high functioning community, our ancient ancestors used a combination of generalists and specialists.
A recent paper, by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Michigan, suggests that modern humans were able to migrant into new territories around the globe and survive because of their ability to mix generalist with specialists across kin groups. How this worked and to what extent is not completely understood, but the idea is supported by archaeological discoveries. However, researches don’t need to look back to understand this process. Congregations provide a laboratory for understanding how individuals are selected to serve. Here are some examples of how congregations decide.
The Nomination Committee
I used this process for many years. The committee begins to meet several months in advance of the annual meeting. One of the challenges to having a nominations committee is finding people who can put in the time. Because the process is fluid, sometimes the committee needs to meet more often than other committees. The purpose of a nominating committee is to identify potential leadership openings, to identify the qualities needed for the open positions and to brainstorm a list of potential candidates through a process of consensus building. Candidates are more likely to say "yes" if they know a group from the congregation supports them as a leader and if the pastor contacts them directly to make the offer. The upside of this method for clergy is that, depending on term limits, after a couple of years, the structure is filled with people who were chosen by their peers and personally invited to serve by the pastor. This has a positive impact on the level of collaboration and cooperation within the organization.
A Clergy Prepared Slate
In some congregations, and sometimes in the interest of time, clergy prepare the slate to be presented for approval. A nominations committee may or may not be part of this process. The upside for clergy is that they get to handpick individuals they know they can work with. The downside is that individuals with leadership potential are overlooked. There is a risk of creating an insular structure, but this risk is also real in the nomination committee model if the committee simply rubber stamps whoever the pastor recommends. Even when clergy are preparing the slate, it is important to involve the congregation by asking for suggestions and input.
The Interview Process
This is my favorite way to nominate because it addresses two of the biggest problems in leadership: a lack of motivation and the mismatch of people and positions. The first step is to create a job description for every position in the church. The second step is to invite members to apply for each position. An interview team (which can be a nominations committee) made up of a small group of current leaders and at-large members, will interview the applicants. The strength of this approach comes from the process. Those who apply are already motivated. The interview process gives the applicant and the interview team time to discern if it is a good match. The interview is also a time to talk about the applicant’s discipleship journey and the leadership opportunity. If done well, this process creates a culture of discipleship.
Whatever model you use, make sure the process is open. Let the congregation know the dates of meetings and deadlines for the nomination process. Publish the slate of nominations a couple of weeks (the earlier the better) before the annual meeting and make it easily accessible for people to review. If you are clergy or a congregational leader, make yourself available to answer questions about the slate and be open to hearing people’s responses, ideas and suggestions. Depending on your polity, consider a process where the slate can be reviewed and recommended at each level of the structure. For example, if you are nominating for trustees, present the slate to the trustee's committee and ask for feedback. Ask the congregation's council or board to recommend the slate for the annual meeting. Have small group leaders remind people in their groups to review the slate.
The best process is one that is clearly defined and open. Attempts to nominate behind closed doors in secret and resist congregational participation only creates problems.
What process works best for you and for the congregation?