Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Hire calling. With his background as both a pastor and human resources manager, William Vanderbloemen (who made the 2015 FM&C List of Top Under-the-Radar Faith/Media Innovators) knew he had something special to offer when he founded Vanderbloemen Search Group. The company’s mission: to help churches and faith-based organizations meet their unique staffing needs. In other words, to find savvy, talented people who sincerely hold to the Christian values of his clients. And, of course, in a media age, having a grasp of how to utilize the media to promote those values doesn’t hurt. In his book Next: Pastoral Succession That Works,Vanderbloemen focuses specifically on the subject of pastoral succession.

JWK: What does the Vanderbloemen Search Group do? What’s your mission?

WILLIAN VANDERBLOEMEN: The shortest way of saying the mission is we staff the Church — and that’s “Church” with a capital C, the whole Church, not just congregations. Mostly churches hire us to help them find their pastor or pastoral staff. In addition to that, relief organizations like Compassion, Living Water or WorldVision hire us to help them find their key staff. And, then, sometimes Christian-driven businesses hire us. Dave Ramsey is a very regular client. The bulk of our work though is helping churches find their next pastor.

JWK: How is staffing a ministry different than staffing a typical company?

WV: Oh, gosh, it’s a ton different. I have a good number of friends in the corporate executive search world and they all think I’m a little bit of a lunatic for doing what I do. It’s much more complex, much more difficult — and, frankly, it’s lower paying. The fees in the corporate world are a whole lot higher than what we  charge. My corporate friends say “Okay, so you don’t make as much money as we do and the drama is a ton higher. Why do you do what you do?” They just don’t understand. I mean they’re good guys but they don’t get that I do this out of a love for the Church and the Kingdom. I am, myself, a recovering pastor. I have a real love for seeing churches and pastors connect. That’s kind of a broad brushstroke.

I think another piece that makes it very different from the corporate world is (that) churches are messy. You’re dealing with people. When a church is looking for a pastor they usually have a committee of people hiring that pastor and, typically, on that committee there’s nobody who has ever hired a pastor. That’s a very thing than hiring someone out of the corporate job sector. There are little nuances…It’s not just did he preach a sermon that made us laugh and then cry and then love Jesus a little bit more — but what’s their theological operating system? How are they going to function in a crisis? What’s their ability to care? Do they the competency to run a church of (that) size? Do they fit the kind of people that we are and want to become? It’s so incredibly nuanced.

We have probably thirty full-time employees now. A good many of them — and most of our senior consultants — have a seminary degree…I think to do what we do you better have some seminary graduates on your staff to kind of understand the underpinnings of what candidates are like.

To give you a third point — and prove that I really am a recovering preacher — candidates that are pastors are just really squirrelly. I don’t mean that in a critical way but in the corporate sector you can pretty well figure what a corporate career path looks like. You know, they move from a junior associate role to a senior associate or a V.P. to a senior V.P., that sort of thing…The pastoral world is made up of people who really kind of get excited when they hear things like “Sell all you have and give it to the poor and follow Me.” A corporate career counselor would look at that and say “Are you out of your mind?!”

Pastors don’t have the same motivators that corporate folk do. It’s not always that “I’m being called to the bigger church” or “I’m being called to the more lucrative position.”

JWK: But they do have families to support and things like that, don’t they?

WV: Absolutely but there not always driven by the normal indicators of the corporate world. They might be driven by an area of passion that leads to a smaller place or something that doesn’t make sense geographically. So, there’s a balance of figuring out what’s driving those pastors and causing them to want to make a change and the needs of the client. It’s very, very different from a normal corporate career progression.

And you do run into this other piece about (whether) the church paying enough for the pastor to be able to live and support his family. So, it’s much, much more of an art than a science. I think in the corporate sector there’s a good deal more science than art.

JWK: So, while pastors may need to be concerned about money — particularly to support their families — their concerns may tend to be a little more focused on the mission they feel called to pursue.

WV: Totally. A perfect example is I’ll see a good solid pastoral candidate who has left their job with no other job in hand.  When they say “I’m in between seasons” or something, the jaded part of me wants to say “Okay, what felony did you commit?” But the part of me that knows pastors knows it might be a bad reason he’s between jobs but it might be that they really felt like God was telling them “Your time in this current place is done and I’m will provide the next place.” So solid candidates sometimes will leave a great job with no job in hand which makes no sense from a career counseling standpoint but because the pastor is following a different voice or a higher calling he’ll do things that don’t make sense to the world sometimes.

So, teasing through that and making sure you understand whether somebody really is pursuing Jesus or is just out of a job is one small example of the difference between a normal corporate search and what we do.

JWK: As someone with a background in both the pastoral and human resources worlds, did you feel a special calling to marry those to skill sets into sort of a ministry of its own?

WV: You know, I think I fell into it. I did 15 years of ministry. (Before that) I was in college and did a very, very good job of doing the prodigal journey — and was really good at being bad. And then I came to know Jesus in a more personal way. That sort of turned me around and before you knew it I had gone into ministry. (Prior to that) I didn’t know anything about ministry. I had a great time (and) loved it but I’m probably not very well suited to be a pastor of one local congregation. I don’t have the endurance for that. I then went into the corporate world — into a large oil and gas company — and got to help them with things like “Who do we hire?” and who stays and cultural fits and succession and such. Then God sort of brought those two streams together for me to say “What would happen if the Church had a better way of replacing a pastor?”

I thought of a church that I know and love that took almost three years to find a pastor. The pastor was there not quite six years and then they took all of two years to find the next pastor. So, out of an eleven year span, they were spending five of those eleven years looking for a pastor. I thought “Oh, my goodness. What would happen if we did it a different way?

The corporation where I served went though a succession plan and in a matter of about three months they were able to seamlessly change CEOs. I thought if the business world can do this, the Church deserves at least as good if not better. So, sort of by default — just falling into these two career streams — led to saying “How can we build something for the Church that would improve the process of churches finding pastors? That’s not to take God’s place or to de-spiritualize things. It’s certainly not to eliminate the role of prayer or the Holy Spirit in this. But it’s more about being a part of the equation that God uses for placing people in the Kingdom.

JWK: Is there a difference between how you would staff a church as compared to say a faith-related business or organization?

WV: Great question. The criteria is different with every single search. I had hoped for a long time to be able to find somebody to write a software code — sort of an eHarmony for church staffs. But, in retrospect, (even eHarmony) has some success but not as much as people would like. I just don’t think you can find a cookie cutter that works. We really approach every single client, every single search as a brand-new endeavor. We really spend a lot of time trying to get to know who (are the people of) the church? What are they all about?” Or “Who is this client? What are they all about? What makes them tick?” so that we can find not just a talented person to fit in but almost like a long-lost family member who’s come home to serve — where people will look at each other and say “How have we not known each other before now?”

JWK: So, in that sense, a little bit like eHarmony, I guess.

How important is a grasp of media — new media, old media, social media — to finding a pastor for a modern church? Has the culture changed in such a way that makes that more important than it used to be?

WV: Well, it’s certainly changed in the seven years I’ve been doing this, I think, in two ways.

One, the world is more connected than ever and that means that everybody sort of knows everybody. So, on the one hand, if you’re not social media savvy while you’re looking for a pastor, you’re handicapping yourself.

But, on the other hand,  the world is noisier than it’s ever been. It used to be you only knew four or five people who might give you three or four names and that sort of made things easier. But now everybody’s got 5000 “friends,” I’m saying in quotations marks, when it’s really just 5000 internet connections and (not) friends. You’ve got this ability to harvest several hundred names of people you might want to look at (but) there’s no way to know who’s who in the middle of all the noise. I think also with social media and the internet and such, it’s never been easier to look better on paper than you are in person. So, the need for somebody like us to be able to come in and look underneath the paper, behind the Facebook profile, behind what’s online about a person to find out what’s real and what’s not I think is getting more and more important as the world becomes more connected — which is not what I thought when I started the business.

When I started the business, Facebook had just hit the public sector. I thought “Well, we’ve got about three or four years before we’re totally irrelevant and actually quite the opposite has happened. We’ve become more and more necessary as the world has become more and more connected.

JWK: So, it’s easier for employers to connect with potential employees, including pastors — but, because of that, harder to wade through all the possible choices.

WV: The cleanest way I know to say it is it’s easier than ever to connect but harder than ever to discern what’s what. At the end of the day (staffing a church) is (about) discernment. It’s an art, not a science.

JWK: Do you work with clients who are involved in the media?

WV: We do. Several of our clients are on television or in radio or have large social media presences. So, we’ll find ourselves with everything under the sun. If they’re on TV, they’ll recommend us to their producer or we’ll find a producer for them. I’m amazed at the different types of searches we get asked to do.  A client might come to us and ask us to do a search we’ve never tried before. They’ll say “Well, you may not know that sector but you know us and you know our DNA. So, go figure out the sector. We trust that you know our heart and what will fit us.”

JWK: How can people on both sides of the equation — those looking to hire and those looking to be hired — reach you?

WV: One thing people who are candidates should know — or people who are thinking about making a move pr looking for a job — is that we will never, ever take money from them. That is not something we do. Our only client is the hiring agency. And, whether you’re a church or an organization that is looking for us or want to talk more about it, you can contact us in confidence. If you’re a candidate who is thinking “I don’t want this out in public but I’d like to think about my next step,” you can contact us (with) no problem. The most straightforward way it to go to In the off chance that people don’t know how to Vanderbloemen, also points back to our main site.

JWK: Can you tell me about your book?

WV: We actually did 500 case studies…We (take many of them and) go in-depth with in-person interviews about what works and what doesn’t work — like when Robert Schuller tried to hand things off to his son.

JWK: That was quite a messy situation.

WV: To say the least. And then we looked at the Osteen family and (others). We look at the good, the bad and the ugly all across the country, actually all over the world — all ethnicities, all kinds of churches and came up with some really hard data and some patterns  and also some really cool stories to try to help churches. It you ever want to talk more in-depth about that, that’s an easy conversation for me to have.

JWK: Unfortunately, our time is short now but that definitely sounds like an interesting conversation to have. Let’s reconnect about that.

WV: Awesome.

Note: I plan on circling back about that soon. I’ll also  attempt to bring you some other interviews from the 2015 FM&C List of Top Under-the-Radar Faith/Media Innovators in the near future.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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