Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives-The Hiring Process

Overall, I think PWs create more drama and make pastor wifedom seem like so much more of a burden than it is. However, the hiring process is a horse of a different color. In what other profession is the spouse also interviewed, the children must receive a stamp of approval, and the applicant is voted on by hundreds of people? The closest parallel I can think of is politics, actually...which I loathe.

Just for the record, we are Southern Baptist so I can only speak from that viewpoint. Different denominations do things different ways. For example, United Methodists are appointed and can be moved around by their districts (I think) and it is not a pastor or church decision. Many denominations do the same song and dance as Baptists do though. Here's the general process:

1. Churches have a need and start soliciting resumes. They usually do this through the state association, the 6 Southern Baptist seminaries, and word of mouth. Baptists are very well connected. FYI, ministry resumes are more like curriculum vitaes than traditional resumes--several pages long. And the applicant is strongly encouraged to attach a photo of himself and/or the family. Information about the wife and children are also including on the resume. No, I'm not joking.
2. There is a search committee of various church members who volunteer for the job. They go through the resumes and start making cuts. Usually they narrow down the resumes to a handful and start doing some phone interviews. Further cuts are made, usually down to 2-3 applicants.
3. The church brings in those applicants one at a time and interviews them. It's usually 1-2 days and only the search committee interviews the prospective minister at this time. The committee may also go observe the candidate at his home church preaching or teaching. It is usually a sneaky, subterfugey kind of visit.
4. After those interviews, the committee selects one candidate to bring "in view of a call." This is the real deal. Usually when a minister comes to a church in view of a call it means that the committee really likes him and he thinks that he could really mesh well with this church.
5. At this interview, the whole family is brought in. The ministerial candidate is interviewed more by the search committee, by the church staff, by the leaderships body (deacons, elders) and then meets with certain groups of the church for a Q & A (youth, music ministry, senior adults, etc.). It is a 2-3 day process. During this time, the wife also has a brief interview with the committee and meets all of the staff and other groups. The wife is usually asked questions like "What do you feel your role is in your husband's ministry? What are your spiritual gifts? How do you support your husband?" At some point the candidate preaches, teaches, leads worship, whatever and addresses the whole church, sharing his testimony, philosophy of ministry, etc. Oft times the wife also briefly shares her testimony. At the very least, she and the children are paraded in front of everyone a couple of times.
6. The "view of a call" interview lasts all weekend and typically culminates in a church-wide vote on Sunday. The candidate is informed that day if he was voted in by majority rule or not. Most ministers want at least a 90% vote before accepting a position.
7. The whole process from resume to hire can take anywhere from a month or two to almost a year.

That's it in a nutshell. During the big interview weekend it is important to remember that every meal is shared with the church members and different groups of people. I actually think it is kind of fun, because I am very social and like meeting new people. However, you must factor the kids into the mix. During our two biggest interview experiences we had very young children. And as anyone with young children knows, they get whiny and cranky when out of their element, tired from traveling, on a different schedule, and around different people. The one time they need to act their most angelic, all forces on earth conspire to make them irritable little punks. While dad is off impressing everyone and schmoozing, mom is left to juggle temperamental children and make small talk with strangers.

Fortunately, we have always had good interview experiences with lovely, gracious people. They were always accommodating to our children and respectful of important things like nap schedules (only the kids, not mine unfortunately). There is a certain "dog and pony show" or sorority rush aura to any interview experience, but all in all ours have been pretty authentic. However, not without a few snags along the way, for me personally as the PW. When Robert was interviewing in Louisiana and the whole family had to fly down, I happened to have pink eye. I couldn't wear any make-up (frightening in and of itself) and one eye was all red, crusty, and weepy. When Robert interviewed at a church in St. Louis (turned down the offer), Noah left his beloved blankie in the hotel and we realized it on the way home. We had to pay to have it Fed Ex-ed to us. However, by far, my biggest personal trauma and Robert's greatest embarrassment happened during the interview in Missouri. It will be important to remember that at the time of the Missouri interview we only had Adam and he was about 7 months old.

I'll tell Robert's story first. He was interviewing to be the youth minister--his first full-time ministry position out of seminary. There was a big Q & A thing with the youth and their parents. One of the questions asked was "Do you like barn swinging?" Robert mumbled something about how he thought he had heard of them, but wasn't sure if he like their music or not. The thing is, barn swinging--actually swinging from huge swings in a barn and dropping into a pit filled with mattresses or hay--is actually a recreational activity in Missouri. There are barn swinging places that you pay to go to. So, of course when Robert thought they were a band everyone died laughing. At this same Q & A thing I was asked to get up and share my testimony and a little about myself. I really don't mind talking in front of large groups at all and it doesn't make me nervous. I do it professionally all of the time. However, I knew that the way people perceived me could have a potential effect on my husband's employment, so I was a bit more nervous than usual. I'm up there talking, things are going well, and then...UH-OH...I feel that familiar pins and needles sensation in my chest. Yes, you guessed it, my letdown reflex had kicked in because of nerves and milk was now pouring out of my left breast. SInce Adam was 7-months-old breastfeeding had been well established, I no longer needed nursing pads, and I hadn't sprung a surprise leak in months. That day was different though. I had on a dark green silk dress and I immediately crossed both arms across my chest (hard!) to try to stop the milk flow. I'm sure my body language screamed "distant, cold, uptight" to everyone. I quickly stammered my way through the rest of my spiel, grabbed Robert and whispered my panicked plight in his ear, and held my arm and a punch cup awkwardly in front of my left boob and shaking hands with my right hand for the next 15 minutes. At that point, I finally had to explain to someone that I needed my baby and I needed to leave and change clothes ASAP. That someone happened to be the senior pastor. It was so traumatic on a thousand different levels. Nonetheless, Robert was offered the position and I lived to tell the story.

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