Reference & Referral

Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship desires to assist congregations and clergy looking for one another - vocational reference and referral.

Churches Seeking Staff

Churches need good recommendations for staff openings. TCBF partners with CBF’s LeaderConnect  to help place pastors, associate pastors, youth ministers and children’s ministers, or other staff ministers in churches in Tennessee and beyond. Search committees are encouraged to contact CBF to communicate your staff need and solicit resumes of potential candidates.

Tennessee CBF also desires to provide helpful reference and referral to congregations seeking staff ministers. Contact Field Coordinator Rick Bennett at to communicate clergy leadership needs in your congregation and seek assistance.

Clergy Seeking Reference and Referral

TCBF provides reference and referral by keeping resumes of clergy seeking placement on file. Contact Field Coordinator Rick Bennett at for assistance.

NOTE: If you utilize the CBF reference and referral system, information is not automatically sent to Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. So, if you desire reference and referral in Tennessee, send necessary information directly to TCBF.

Helpful Resources

Go to the CBF website to find many helpful articles related to reference and referral.

Helpful Tips for Churches Seeking a Pastor

A few years ago, Dr. Mike Smith, pastor at Central Baptist Church in Fountain City, was asked to assist a pastor search committee. He shared the following list of things “a reasonably experienced and competent pastor would like to experience when dealing with a search committee.” Feel free to take advantage of this advice from this seasoned Tennessee pastor. You may modify the statements for use in your context. NOTE: The list could also be adapted to guide the search for any staff minister.

  • A clear sense that the search committee/team is united and sustained and “timed” by prayer
  • A shared and clear vision of the church’s present strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities plus candor with regard to all such matters
  • A sense that the church is taking steps to work through grief associated with the departure of a pastor and preparing itself to accept and love whoever God is preparing for them
  • Red Flag: The search committee/team is looking to replicate the previous pastor or for the previous pastor’s polar opposite
  • A committee/team that treats this as a holy task versus a “hire”
  • Considerable knowledge about how your church actually works, coupled with the committee’s ability to quickly summon and articulate such knowledge (hint: if the committee appears not to know a great deal, or to have within it widely divergent views, experienced pastors take pause)
  • A sense of humor
  • Courtesy—honest and prompt communications throughout the process, until the process ends in some way
  • What “must be done” in the first year
  • What “must be done” in the first three years
  • What do church members tend to expect of the pastor throughout the week (officially and unofficially)
  • Take the pastor’s spouse and children seriously—make a move as “painless” as possible (example: housing, job searches, introduction to school system, etc.)
  • Demonstrate that you have a clear and workable plan for introducing the prospective pastor to the church family, and allow the prospective pastor to have input
  • Prepare a clear and workable plan for helping the new pastor “settle in” during the first one to three months
  • If and when the committee and a prospective pastor agree “God may be at work in all this,” restrict yourself to dealing only with that person until such time as you conclude to proceed toward a call or to end the conversation
  • Demonstrate that you are involving the congregation through continued prayer, appropriate updates, and the like
  • Give the prospective pastor time to pray and reflect—God’s timing is not always in accord with our felt need to proceed

One final word: Never assume you know how a given pastor might respond to a request for information or a conversation. In my experience (and the experience of others), committees tend to assume that some pastors in whom they potentially are interested would not be interested in their church. In my experience, solid pastors try to be open to God’s leadership. Most, I think, are interested to discover how God might match their gifts and skills to a particular congregation to build a fruitful ministry. The size, budget, and other institutional matters related to local church are far less important to many pastors than discerning and doing God’s will. In short, contact whomever you feel led to contact, and allow God and those individuals to make their own decisions.

Ten Common Mistakes Church Search Committees Make

By Marion Aldridge, Coordinator-South Carolina CBF

1.          Lack of Spiritual Discernment

Many laity who find themselves on a church staff search committee treat the process as if they were hiring a ditch-digger. Just hunt for someone with the right credentials at the right salary and make the job offer. Sounds simple. But, there is a spiritual dimension to the process that you ignore at your own peril. This task is about your church’s spiritual welfare, as well as someone’s vocation, and you will all be better off if God is involved! Pray. Fred Andrea, pastor of First Baptist Church in Aiken, SC, says, “Prayer should infuse the entire process.” Be discerning. (On the other hand, unfortunately, some people attempt to manipulate the committee or church with pious language: “God told me in a dream last night that this is God’s person for our church.” Beware!)

2.         Impatience

Some people on search committees think that being without a pastor or a youth minister for two years is a threat to the vitality of a congregation. Being in a hurry and bringing the wrong pastor or youth minister to your church will be much more devastating. Take the time you need. Be deliberate as you prayerfully seek the right person to work within your church. The interim is the time to do whatever “housekeeping” needs to be done in terms of congregational decisions. Problems need to be corrected before a new minister is called. Some churches hope that time will heal their wounds, but by itself, time will not fix a congregation’s problems. Time, all by itself, does not grow a very fruitful garden. Congregations remember when a growing community and a church-friendly culture and a good preacher could grow a church. Those days are gone. Wishing that a great minister would return the calendar to 1965 will not make it so. Which leads to…

3.         Naiveté and Pride

Women and men who are knowledgeable in their own professions mistakenly assume that because they have been in a church for decades, they have expertise in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. They are wrong! Example #1: It is naïve to think that your new pastor will preach like Billy Graham 52 weeks a year! Example #2: Why would a layperson have reason to know which seminaries are diploma mills? Most churches need help from an outside consultant to negotiate the tricky landscape of reading a resume when finding a pastor or staff member. Ministers are, after all, trying to put their best foot forward, and a committee needs to be alert to clues that will indicate actual assets and deficits. They will not be obvious to everyone. According to Macon Sheppard, a layman at Providence Baptist in Charleston, SC, “the churches that need help the most are the ones who think they don’t need help.” Seek advice from people who work with reference and referral daily. Incidentally, one piece of advice that is commonly given by experts is that committees should resist turning the search into a “beauty pageant” in which the prospects find themselves crassly competing against one another. Some clueless churches and desperate-to-move pastors will actually consent to a “preach off” of sorts in whom the prospects are brought in to strut and preach before the congregation, one per Sunday. That is a bad idea! One other common request from those who are involved in the process is that committees contact applicants (especially those with whom they have been in contact, for example, to request video or audio tapes) to let them know when their name has been eliminated, and that candidates let congregations know when they withdraw from consideration.

4.         Reacting to the Last Minister

A common error by search committees is to find someone who is the polar opposite of their last pastor or staff member. If the last pastor was young and impetuous, they look this time for an old wise soul. Or, vice versa. If their last pastor was a good pastor but a poor preacher, then they may look for a great preacher this time. Or, vice versa. What are your church’s needs? Ask questions of your own church and its long-term needs before you “rebound” against the last minister. Tony Hopkins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Greenwood, SC, says, “there are a lot of good men and a lot of good women, but many of them ought not to be married to each other. There are a lot of good ministers and a lot of good churches, but many of them ought not to be married to each other.” Somewhere in the conversation, a church and a potential minister need to communicate honestly about strengths, challenges, and weaknesses, as well as opportunities for mutual growth and improvement. The goal is compatibility.

5.         Ignoring power issues

Churches can be very human institutions. Beware of church or committee members who have agendas that can range from helping their brother-in-law find a job to pushing some secular political agenda. Consensus is desirable, but be cautious when one or two members hold a committee hostage. I have seen two votes beat seven, and eventually split a church. Search committees need to be prayerfully discerning and shrewd about the way some people, even in churches, might be tempted to manipulate the search process.

6.         Laziness

Hard to believe that when called to a position of responsibility within God’s church, some people will resist the hard work required. Our organization uses a “high tech” database to supplement our “high touch” ministry of introduction. We want to get the right person in the right church, so we ask questions that take about 45 minutes to answer. Our experience in reference and referral tells us these are important issues for committees to discuss. Some churches do not want to take the time to respond to questions that will help them and us to discern the type of person they are hoping to call. They want to have a quick meeting (under an hour), then make a few phone calls, and then succeed! Neither God nor the world ordinarily work that way.

7.         Inappropriate advisors/gatekeepers

Committees will often assign only one person (sometimes the church secretary) to become their interface with referring agencies and prospective employees. If that person represents the committee’s intentions and best interests, that can be fine. If not, watch out! I have seen individuals wield too much power because the wrong person was assigned or volunteered to do certain tasks. Their own personal agenda and tastes then dominated the process. A committee will profit if the entire committee is fully involved with important and interactive assignments rather than having just one or two people do most of the work. Checking references is one good opportunity for the entire committee to participate significantly.

8.         Talking too much

Confidentiality is crucial, an absolute. What happens in the committee process needs to stay in the committee. Get the information you need from the congregation early in the process. Ask them to pray for you. It is indicative of an anxious, impatient and untrusting church if they do not respect the committee they have elected. Never should the congregation find it lining up behind different candidates, which will only assure an unhappy contingent when the selection is made. (On the other hand, a church has a right to receive good communication from the committee. You can and should give regular reports on process and progress).

9.         Dishonesty

In trying to put on the “best face” of the congregation, some search committees over-promise and over-promote their church. They create expectations of ecclesiastical nirvana they cannot fulfill. They hide staff problems that led to the vacancy they now have. Tell the truth. “We will work it out when you get here,” is not an honest attitude if there is no plan in place to deal with the concern. If the church neighborhood is in transition, the prospective minister has a right to know.

10.         Unrealistic expectations

You may have a job description, but what are the unexpressed realities? Do you expect this person to work 24/7? Do you expect your small congregation to compete with the local mega-church? Do you expect to grow a 21st century church using 20th century methods? You and the minister you call will be happier if you agree on reasonable possibilities for your future together.