Choosing the right people

Please, come in; have a seat.  I’ve been looking over your file, and I must say, you seem to be quite a talented individual.  In just a few short years, you’ve accomplished much more than one might expect for a start-up.  You have a unique message; you communicate it in a compelling way; you’ve attracted quite a loyal following.  This is an excellent start! 

I’m concerned, however, about the long-term health and viability of the enterprise.  It’s good that you’ve surrounded yourself with some hand-picked senior leaders, and that you’ve worked to educate them in the mission.  But I’m not sure these men have the experience or skills appropriate to the task. 

For example, let’s think together about the selection process by which you recruited them.  I appreciate the fact that you’ve done everything in obedience to your father, and I’m sure your father was quite a leader himself.  But if I may be perfectly blunt, looking back over the history, I’m not sure his choices were the best ones, especially if we’re to judge by the outcome.  

Potential leaders need to be put through a rigorous process of vocational discernment first.  I know intuition has a place.  But to be frank, it’s unwise to select leaders by simply telling people to follow you when you haven’t taken the time for a thorough evaluation.  Now that you’ve established some name recognition, you’ll need to be very careful with your public image.  You’re responsible to your stakeholders.  Trust me on this.  If you don’t get this right, the public will crucify you.

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These days, I’ve been heavily involved in committees whose job it is to choose the right people.

Last year, I was part of the pastoral search committee at our church, and since last summer, I’ve been a member of the seminary’s presidential search committee.  Both of these processes went blessedly well, and I rejoice at the outcome of each.  And two days ago, while the seminary’s board of trustees was voting on the search committee’s recommendation for president, I was at the seminary chairing an all-day committee meeting in which our task was to select this fall’s incoming class of graduate students for the Marriage and Family program in both Pasadena and Phoenix.

In each and every case, candidates go through a detailed screening process, from work experience to personal history, education to aptitude.  What skills do they already seem to possess?  How well do their motivations fit the mission?  How well do they express themselves?  And so on.  We use whatever information we have at our disposal to make what we hope are the right choices as we debate our perceptions and evaluate our options.

Having spent so many hours in these kinds of discussions, it’s actually a little odd to picture Jesus out for a stroll by the Sea of Galilee, saying “Follow me!” without so much as an application or an interview.

He didn’t even Google them first.

I’m not suggesting that Jesus picked his disciples in a purely random fashion.  Nor am I suggesting that the right way to go about selection processes is to walk up to someone and say, “Hey, you look more or less like a pastorly kind of person.  Come, and we will put you in charge of a congregation of 2,000.”

Rather, it’s a matter of perspective.  The business consultant I’ve imagined above comes to the conversation with a set of assumptions about proper organizational goals and the best practices needed to meet them.  Important decisions need to be made carefully, thoughtfully, strategically, using the best methods available.

No argument.  But I don’t want to become so enamored of our methods that we forget why we need them: we are trying to make important decisions about people who may be mostly strangers to us.  To the extent that the person is not a stranger, first-hand personal knowledge may even trump the dictates of method (“I don’t care what the report says, I’m telling you I know this person”).

There are hints that Jesus already had insight into his disciples before he called them.  Indeed, as the story plays out, he seems to know them better than they know themselves.  He sees their post-Pentecost identity.  The ragtag group of disciples that scattered in Gethsemane and hid fearfully even after the resurrection becomes a bold, Spirit-empowered group of apostles in whose legacy we still stand.

By all means: let’s continue making the wisest decisions we can using the best practices available.  But let’s not forget that we need these methods to compensate for our ignorance of what God already knows.  We pray for wisdom, offer our deliberations as a sacrifice, trust in God’s providence–and thank him for whatever guidance he gives as we stumble our way forward into the future.