Introducing Our New Lead Pastor!

Courtney Square

We are very excited to announce that we have called our Associate Pastor – Courtney Harkness – to be the new Lead Pastor of Cumberland Community Church, effective January 3, 2021.

The Lord has been faithful in preparing Courtney for this role since he arrived at Cumberland over two years ago, and we have great confidence in his ability to lead Cumberland in this new chapter of its history.

- The Cumberland Elder Board

January 3, 2021 Announcement by the Elder Board

About Courtney Harkness

Harkness_Family_2

Courtney has been serving in ministry for over 15 years. He is a refreshing voice within the church, and a counter to traditional modes of leadership. His presence and approach to ministry brings to mind the Lord’s promise through the prophet Jeremiah: I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with skill and understanding.

Prior to coming on staff at Cumberland, Courtney served in various roles within the local church, spending significant time in student ministry. For several years, he taught abstinence and character education throughout Cobb County in middle and high schools. He continues to have a heart for the next generation, and he still writes curriculum for Orange, a popular ministry resource company. In addition, Courtney has served in the ministry role of Discipleship Pastor, leading his previous church in significant efforts towards spiritual formation.

Since joining Cumberland’s staff in 2018, and serving most recently as Associate Pastor, Courtney has continued to pursue his calling of nudging people towards perfect faith in Jesus Christ. And with a constant concern for the next generation, he serves on the board for First Care Women’s Clinic, a gospel centered ministry geared towards helping women choose an alternative to abortion.

Courtney holds a Master of Divinity degree from Liberty University, and a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech. His background provides an interesting perspective in ministry, as he employs creative models of discipleship to identify pathways that challenge people in their personal faith. It’s an interesting approach that he’s come to know as “spiritual engineering.”

Courtney has been married to his incredible wife, Latrice, for 18 years. They have two sons, Gabriel (12) and Asher (8). Together, they enjoy a loving home in West Cobb.

Our Search Process

Formation of the Lead Pastor Search Committee (PSC)

In March 2020, the Elder Board approved the creation of a Lead Pastor Search Committee (PSC) and appointed three co-leaders to guide it - Jasmine Taylor, Rob Kischuk, and Abner Breban. The Co-Leaders knew that assembling a competent PSC that properly represented our diverse congregation was critical. They spent many hours selecting and interviewing potential candidates and deciding who would be best for this work. After careful consideration and much prayer, the Co-Leaders selected the following faithful Cumberland belongers/attenders - Adam Huang, Ann Stevens, Annette Soto, Erika Chestnut, Leon Scott, Royal Randolph, and Sarah Nicolet.

PSC Training/Development of the Search Process

Through the Summer 2020 and into Fall 2020, the PSC participated in training, talked with a number of pastor search firms and experts, and then divided into 5 subcommittees. Each created their own procedures and standards to be used to find our new Lead Pastor based on the Job Description and List of Desired Qualities the Elder Board had developed. That work resulted in the following 10-step candidate evaluation process:

  1. Resume/Application/Short Answer Essay Questions
  2. Initial Interview 
  3. Sermon Review/Evaluation 
  4. Long Interview Exploring Fit for Cumberland, Prayer/Self Care, Pastoral, and Vision/Leadership 
  5. Spousal Interview 
  6. Leadership/Strengths Assessment 
  7. Reference Checks 
  8. Background Check
  9. PSC Recommendation to Elder Board by 2/3 Majority Vote 
  10. Candidate Evaluated by the Elder Board Using Its Own Process

Vetting Courtney According to the PSC Search Process

Courtney was the only current Cumberland staff member to apply for the Lead Pastor position so, in light of his interest, the PSC and Elder Board needed to decide how to address his candidacy. They both prayed, consulted pastor search experts, and had lengthy discussions on the healthiest way to handle him as our only internal candidate. Both groups ultimately decided that it was in the best interest of Cumberland to take the advice of our search experts and vet and decide on our internal candidate first, using the comprehensive process that was created by the PSC for all potential applicants.

After that decision was made, the PSC went to work again, putting Courtney through the full process they had designed. When that process was complete and the PSC had thoroughly reviewed its findings, each member prayerfully voted to nominate the candidate to the Elder Board for consideration. That vote was unanimous. To accompany their nomination, the PSC prepared and provided the Elder Board with a 60-page report that detailed their process and findings. An Executive Summary of the PSC report can be accessed by clicking below.

The Elder Board Evaluation Process

Next, the Elder Board began its own evaluation. It was also intense but different in many ways from PSC’s process. The Board reviewed everything the PSC provided and didn’t repeat any of their work. Instead, they spent weeks praying individually and together, fasting, talking with Courtney and discussing their own thoughts on his candidacy and what they felt God was showing them was right for Cumberland in this season. The Board’s goal was to leave plenty of room for God to speak and for them to listen.   

As that process came to a close, the Elders made a call for prayer from the congregation and then held their final vote on Courtney on December 16th, 2020. That vote was also unanimous in favor of calling him to be our new Lead Pastor. A unanimous vote of all non-staff Elders is required by the Cumberland Constitution to call a new Lead Pastor.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why was the PSC appointed to lead the search for Cumberland’s new Lead Pastor?

When there’s a vacancy in the Lead Pastor role, Cumberland’s Constitution requires the Elder Board to create a committee to search for and nominate a new Lead Pastor candidate that is then considered by the Board. That search committee must include Elders from the Board and belongers/attenders from the Cumberland congregation. Even without such a requirement, the Elder Board believes – as do the great majority of pastor search experts – that establishing a search committee made up of members that clearly understand and fully appreciate the mission, vision and history of their church to assist in the search is the best way to find the right candidate for the Lead Pastor role. Taking this approach also ensures that the congregation has meaningful input in the search process.

2. How were the members of the PSC identified and chosen?

A history of faithful and consistent service to Cumberland was a very important factor in determining who was right to serve on the PSC. Other factors were considered as well, including commitment to the search process, spiritual maturity and length of time at Cumberland. Both the Elder Board and the PSC Co-Leaders also felt that it was essential to appoint individuals that – as a group – would properly represent our diverse congregation and who had the time and skills necessary to ensure the search was successful. To that end, the PSC includes members that work in the fields of Human Resources, Finance, Education, Psychiatry, and Information Technology.

3. How can I learn more about the members of the PSC?

Please refer to the PSC’s Executive Summary (link above) for more information on the members of the PSC.

4. Why didn’t we hire a pastor search firm to directly lead the Lead Pastor search?

As mentioned above, the Cumberland Constitution required the PSC to lead our search for a new Lead Pastor. Even without that requirement, both the Elder Board and PSC agreed that the PSC was better equipped to lead the search. The search firms we consulted didn’t have a lot of detailed expertise to offer on the processes and procedures that should be used to evaluate candidates once they were identified, especially in light of the fees they would have charged. So, the PSC sought advice from those firms from time-to-time during their work, but ultimately developed their own thorough evaluation process which we believe is superior to any that could have been provided by the search firm we consulted.

5. Why did we decide that it was in Cumberland’s best interest to vet and decide on Courtney (and any other internal candidates from the Cumberland staff that may have applied for the role) before doing a broader search for external candidates?

The advantages and disadvantages of this were discussed extensively at both the PSC and Elder Board levels.  Ultimately, both decided that Cumberland would be better served if a final determination was made on any internal candidates first before opening the search up to external candidates, even if that meant that we wouldn’t have an opportunity to directly compare internal candidates with external ones. The primary reasons for this were as follows:

  • Our intent was to compare our candidates against the Job Description and List of Desired Qualities prepared by the Elder Board to find the right fit for the role, not to directly compare candidates against each other;
  • We didn’t think it would set up a healthy dynamic that was conducive to maintaining unity within the church body if we had a public, “head-to-head” evaluation process that involved Courtney competing side-by-side with external candidates;
  • We knew that savvy external candidates were unlikely to meaningfully engage in the evaluation process (or possibility even apply for the job) once they knew we had an internal candidate that they would be competing against for the role;
  • We recognized that – regardless of the diligence we showed in evaluating external candidates – we would never have the same detailed understanding of their strengths and weaknesses as we do of Courtney’s, so a parallel search process that involved both external candidates and Courtney wouldn’t result in an “apples to apples” comparison anyway;
  • We saw the potential to fill the position much sooner proceeding as we did versus engaging in a broader search that included external candidates; and
  • We were advised by the pastor search experts we consulted that this was the best way to address the situation.

6. Did other members of the Cumberland staff apply for the Lead Pastor role?

No.  Every member of the Cumberland staff was given an opportunity to apply, but no one other than Courtney pursued the role.

7. Did the PSC evaluate Courtney using the same process that was to be used with additional internal candidates (if others had applied) and any external candidates?

Yes.  Courtney was required to go through each and every step in the evaluation process just as if he was an external candidate.  The same process would have also applied to other internal candidates if any had applied for the role.

8. Why didn’t we hear more details about the status of the search process as it was ongoing or specifically that Courtney had applied to be the new Lead Pastor?

Both the PSC and the Elder Board agreed that confidentiality in the search was crucial to ensuring the integrity of the process, to protect the candidate(s), and to maintain unity of the church body.  This is typical with most lead pastor searches.  Once the decision was made to vet and decide on Courtney first before performing a broader search, keeping his candidacy and the specific details of our evaluation of him private was even more important in order to (i) protect Courtney’s future ministry and ability to serve at Cumberland if he was not nominated by the PSC and/or called by the Elder Board for the role, (ii) guard the PSC from the unnecessary influence of those at Cumberland that had strong feelings about Courtney’s candidacy; and (iii) safeguard the church body from unneeded worry/frustration over the progress of the search process during a time when Cumberland was already contending with other significant changes (e.g. COVID, building renovations, etc.).  Admittedly, we could have done a better job communicating more regularly and in more detail about where we were in the search process, but we struggled with how to do that without disclosing Courtney’s candidacy.

9. What experience does Courtney have that will translate well into this important role?

Please refer to the “About Courtney Harkness” section of this page for more information on Courtney’s relevant experience. To broaden on what’s listed there, our experience with Courtney has shown that he has a proven track record of humble leadership and strong biblical teaching over the last 2 ½ years as he’s served in a variety of capacities at Cumberland. He’s been a dynamic and engaging member of our teaching rotation, which has helped him to establish a strong relationship with and the trust of the congregation. He’s also directly managed the bulk of our ministry area/leaders since becoming Associate Pastor in 2018, leading well through a particularly challenging season in Cumberland’s history. In that capacity, Courtney has been shown to have a shepherd’s heart as he has empowered those around him to grow into their potential. Additionally, Courtney has a clear grasp of Cumberland’s culture and philosophy of ministry, and is excited to build upon the last 30+ years of vision and values that and we have established at Cumberland.

10. Where can I find more of Courtney’s teaching?

Please refer to the “Sermons” page and search by Courtney’s name for examples of Courtney’s teaching.

11. Are there any plans to hire another Associate Pastor to replace Courtney?

Not at this time.

12. Does the Cumberland congregation have any say in this decision? Will there be a vote?

No.  Cumberland is organized as an Elder-led church. This means that, per the Cumberland Constitution, the Elder Board possess the authority to make all decisions within the church body.  This includes the decision to call and appoint a new Lead Pastor.  That said, the congregation did have meaningful, representative input into this decision through the PSC, which is made up of a diverse subset of Cumberland belongers/attenders.

13. Who do I contact if I have other questions about the search process or the decision that was made that aren’t answered here?

Please go to the bottom of this page and click the “Email Elder Board” button if you have any other questions.

How To Pray For Courtney and His Family

We want to make sure that Courtney and his family are covered in prayer during this time. Therefore, would you please pray that the Lord:

  • Grants Courtney an abundance of wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:10, Proverbs 3:5-6), strength (Ephesians 3:16-17), patience (Colossians 1:11-12), and humility (Philippians 2:2-3);
  • Blesses (Psalm 1:1-3) and protects (Psalm 34:6-7) Courtney, Latrice, and their two boys Gabriel and Asher, especially from spiritual attacks; 
  • Gives Courtney boldness to accomplish His plans for Cumberland (Acts 4:18-20); and
  • Leads Courtney according to His will so that Cumberland may follow (Psalm 25:4-5).

If you have questions, please email our Elder Board.