A friend of mine has been looking for a ministry position since he got laid off from his pastoral office.  He is a young minister who always tries to better himself and has faithfully served the church. Trouble is, even after a very good interview (according to that church), the interviewing church says that it needed to go back to the search firm (aka headhunter firm) in order to make a decision.  This and many such cases raises some issues for me.

Do you know that for a successful hunt for a candidate such as the senior pastor, the search firm, what I call “headhunters for Jesus”, can earn up to 40,000 USD? Yeah, according to this article I read in CT, churches must be loaded with a  huge budget of throwing away 40,000 USD on top of paying their senior another 100 grand per year.  There’s an economic crisis? Where?  Most churches I know have some kind of economic crunch, according to their leadership, but throwing an extra 40,000 USD in an “investment” doesn’t match the picture I see.

I think the current picture just about summarizes the many problems the church is facing in this new electronic age.  In fact, just based on this picture, I can probably write a book on the problems of the church, but let me pinpoint some of the main problems.

Here’re two challenges that will come the way of a church that relies solely on such headhunters.  First, despite what they claim about guarantee on your money, there’s no guarantee about anything when it comes to bringing in a consultant, assessing a problem, finding THE “solution” and then building up the church. I’ve seen a few churches bring in consultants that gave THE solution.  The churches either ended up NOT following the advice (because obviously the church knows better) or the advice just doesn’t work.  Well, the hard-earned money of the congregation members was spent, but the real solution is still gone adrift at sea.

Second, headhunter firms quite often use statistical tools and other analyses.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with such tools. In fact, I’m in favor of using some tools to analyze whether a candidate has the right traits to work in a certain environment, but we must also admit that such tools are based upon presuppositions, sometimes unknown to the innocent user.  There’s no such thing as an objective tool in these cases, despite claims to the contrary.  Something dehumanizing happens when we solely rely on such tools, I think. Ministry has a very human dimension, in spite of all the claims for the glory of God by certain idealists.  Tools can be dehumanizing when people rely on them too much.

So, what is my observation about such challenges?  My observation tells me that there is a set of deeper problems involved in the church’s obsession with using headhunters.

First, many such cases no longer has a leadership that has the ability to analyze both the needs of the church and the kind of leadership that would fit best. In many cases, leadership has lost the ability to think altogether.  I’m saying this after observing a few processes of pastoral search.  No outsider can tell you exactly what the insiders don’t already know, if the insiders are well-informed and pastorally sensitive.  Logically, think about it this way. How can an outsider who spends a few weeks (at most) at your place know more about your place than you when you spend week in and week out in this place for a few years?  No way!  This heavy reliance on headhunters is an indictment of leadership failure both at the pastoral staff level and at the lay leadership level.  Is the leadership so out of touch pastorally that someone from the outside needs to come in and tell leaders what to do, whom to hire and how to structure the ministry?

The second deeper problem is more serious and is completely related to the problem.  We all want certainty. We all want someone to hold our hands and tell us that the future will be bright and everything will be okay.  In fact, we all prefer a big crystal ball.  I mean, if we can’t think and we don’t know the future, why not the crystal ball.  Ta-da!  The headhunter comes to the rescue.  Based on my observation, and this should be readily obvious to all thinking Christians, the future has no guarantee even with the headhunter and the 40,000 USD you just threw at him.  Now, I’m not against using headhunters for churches that lack connections.  In fact, headhunters may be a good starting point, but we all know that headhunters charge a lot.  In other words, I fail to see how big churches would lack connections.  Reality is that such churches are very much connected. It’s usually the churches that are small that lack connections and are in the greatest need for headhunters.   We like to use our congregation’s hard-earned donations to buy a brighter future.  We can call it investment, but that’s just a secular way of doing church.

The third deeper problem is that the church is no different than a corporation.  Corporations rely on headhunters to get success.  So does the church.   Religion is big business. I’m not suggesting that we don’t need to exercise some common business sense in running our church, but is the church unable to come up with ONE single good candidate from within?  AND is the church incapable of any spiritual insight when interviewing candidates that it needs to rely on a company that doesn’t even get involved in the church pastorally to make a decision?  Some of these churches are so secular, at times, that any sense of holiness and spirituality becomes an undetectable rarity.

What is the solution?   Instead of throwing 40,000 USD at a headhunter, why not use that money to train up some future leaders, and equip them to serve? Hey, there’s an idea!  Discipleship!