Pastoral Transition at First Presbyterian

Our search for a new Lead Pastor

Guided by the Holy Spirit, First Pres has begun the journey that will lead us to a new Lead Pastor. From the departure of our last Lead Pastor in October 2018, our congregation has been in a period of discernment. Assisted by the Presbytery of Detroit, several key committees are gathering information that will help us begin the next chapter in our ministry. These key committees, in consultation with the Session, are building a new vision for the life of the church, examining our collective history, assessing our shared resources, rejoicing in the strengths this congregation both brings to our community and the world, recognizing our weaknesses and working to overcome them — all in the search for a new Lead Pastor. Three important groups will lead our congregation through this process: the Strategic Planning Group (SPG), the Self-Study Group (SSG), and the Pastoral Nominating Committee (PNC).

The SPG, with the leadership of elder Sue Gott, a master planner for the University of of Michigan, took the work of the Mission/Vision processing 2018, and moved forward in February 2019 to complete new strategic plan for First Presbyterian Church, a plan expected to be in final form and approved by the Session in October 2020. The plan will be accessible here with a link when complete.

The SSG, co-chaired by members (both active young adults) Haley Brown and Kelsey King Kaercher, is studying our congregation in detail, and finalizing a report about our church that the Presbytery of Detroit requires before a PNC can be formed. The report looks at the past and current culture, mission, health and strategic vision of the First Pres congregation in service to building the next era of ministry for the church. The SSG conducts a congregation-wide survey, and members’ responses help shape a clear picture of who we are as a church, what directions are important for our future, and what skills in a new Lead Pastor will align with our goals. Members’ opinions and insights are invaluable as the Pastoral Nominating Committee finds the best candidate. During September 2020, all congregants received a link to the survey. If you have questions, please contact the committee at When the SSG report is final, the Session, and the Presbytery must approve it — only then can the Session can form the PNC, a group that must be then elected by the congregation to begin their work.

The Pastoral Nominating Committee will be named by the Congregational Nominating Committee, who will receive recommendations from the congregation and prayerfully appoint the members of the search group. These men and women will work together for months to present to the congregation a person they hope we will elect as our next Lead Pastor.

Step One: Departure of Former Lead Pastor, Welcome of Interim Pastor

  • The Congregation votes to dissolve the pastoral relationship with Rev. Dr. Fair in October 2018.
  • The Session names Associate Pastors Rev. Rogers and Rev. Sanderford as Bridge Interim Pastors during the first phase of the transitional process.
  • Presbytery appoints an Administrative Commission to help First Pres in the early stages of transition.
  • The Session forms the Strategic Planning Group to address the future mission, program, personnel and capital facility needs of the church.
  • The Session names an Interim Pastor Search Committee (IPSC) to search for an Interim Pastor.
  • The IPSC names Rev. Dr. Rick Spalding as Interim Pastor.
  • The Administrative Commission of the Presbytery completes their work and is dissolved.

Step Two: Our Interim Pastor is Welcomed

  • Rev. Dr. Rick Spalding begins as Interim Pastor, October 2019.
  • The Strategic Planning Committee continues its work to develop and recommend future culture, core values, mission statement, and facility upgrades.  View the Strategic Plan Here.
  • A Self-Study Group is named by the Session to complete a report to the PresbyteryView the Self-Study Report here.

Step Three: The Pastoral Nominating Committee is formed

Step Four: The PNC selects a new Lead Pastor

The PNC will

  • Complete the congregation’s Ministry Information Form (view here) to be approved by the Presbytery and is our church “resume” to prospective candidates (completed)
  • Advertise the position
  • Candidates submit their Personal Information Form (PIF) to the PNC
  • PNC receives, reads, evaluates, and prays in a spirit of openness, but with complete confidentiality, reporting regularly to the congregation on the pastoral search progress
  • Phone interviews, video interviews, reference checks, listening to sermons helps the PNC narrow the field of prospective candidates.
  • Face-to-face interviews are conducted with the “short list” of prospective pastors
  • Presbytery approves the final list and assists with reference checks
  • An extensive sent of secondary reference checks are done on finalists
  • One nominee is chosen and terms of call are negotiated
  • PNC reports the terms of call to Session for approval, and Session calls a congregational meeting to elect the pastor

Step Five: Congregation Votes On and Welcomes Our New Lead Pastor

  • Information about the new Lead Pastor is shared with the First Pres congregation
  • Nominee is presented, leads a service of worship, and preaches
  • Congregational vote is taken to elect the candidate
  • Terms of Call contract is signed
  • First Pres prayerfully celebrates and concludes the relationship with the Interim Pastor, Rev. Spalding
  • Presbytery of Detroit receives the Lead Pastor Nominee into the Presbytery
  • New Lead Pastor is installed in a worship service at First Pres
  • First Pres welcomes our new Lead Pastor!

Important Documents


  1. What is the process for reaching installation of a new senior pastor?
    The process will have several steps:
    Study group that, in conjunction with the interim pastor and with input from the congregation, compiled an in-depth analysis of the church and its goals.
    The PNC will recruit candidates and submit for consideration by the congregation a choice for the new senior pastor.

  2. How long will the process take?
    "Decently and in order" seldom means quick.

    Also remember that in our "day jobs" we are accustomed to a decision-making process that is geared to a 5-day week, not a once-a-week church-oriented schedule. Things just take longer when church volunteers are involved.

    Finally, this is not an executive search process, to be accomplished by scheduling enough "job interviews." This is a holy discernment process of discovering God's call for both First Pres and the future Lead Pastor. It takes the amount of time that it takes. That having been said, we did put an excellent Interiim Pastor, Rev. Dr. Rick Spalding in place in October 2019 and a new Lead Pastor installed in late 2020 or early 2021.

  3. What will happen during the Interim period?
    The transition will also be a period of discernment and inward-looking analysis of the FPC mission and the status of the church, including its strengths and weaknesses. Having fresh eyes involved in that effort will help the church and the PNC through this period.

  4. What role will Presbytery of Detroit have in this process?
    The Presbytery has a critical role established by the Book of Order and its own policies and procedures. It supplies support, referrals and services to FPC, particularly in helping to match candidates with the church. The Session has met with representatives of the Presbytery, and Rev. Judy Shipman will be the Presbytery's liaison with us.

    Presbytery recognizes that a church the size of FPC has considerable talent and experience, so it will likely view its role as one of support rather than one of directing us in this process.

  5. What role does the Session have in this process?
    Very little, except as members of the congregation. The PNC does its work on behalf of the congregation, not the Session. The Session approved the Transition Team and will approve the committee that will nominate the PNC.
    After that, Session members will be involved in suggesting candidates or giving feedback to the PNC. They may serve on the PNC, but only as members of the congregation.

  6. Will the Session receive regular reports from the PNC and have opportunity to comment on the process or candidates?
    Only generally; the PNC does not work for or report to the Session, only to the congregation. Due to confidentiality requirements, there cannot be discussions about the process or the candidates outside the PNC.

  7. Can members suggest potential Lead Pastor candidates to the PNC?
    Yes, please use this form to refer potential Lead Pastor candidates to the PNC.