The Pastor and Wife are Visiting a New Church; What to Look For

Each denomination has its own approach to pastor-finding. Most Protestant churches will have variations of the way we Southern Baptists go about replacing preachers.

The church selects and commissions a small group of its finest as the Pastor Search Committee. Their job, in brief, is to sift through the resumes and letters of recommendations coming their way in order to find a few good men (in our denomination, pastors are almost always male) and prayerfully whittle the number down to the one they present to the congregation as “God’s man.”

Now, you’re a pastor. You’ve been serving the Middlesize Baptist Church in Smalltown, USA, and mostly loving it. You’ve been there several years, your wife is settled in, your kids are well-established with friends and activities, and the church seems reasonably satisfied with you. You have no reason to want to leave. But something happens.

A phone call informs you that the pastor search team from Bigtown is interested in you as a possible pastor since Doctor Reverend Powers retired. At their request, you send your resume, they follow up your references, and phone calls are exchanged back and forth. The committee visits your services several times, and last Thursday night, they met with you and your wife.

Today, the phone call from the chairman informs you the committee wishes to invite you to Bigtown. If you agree, one Sunday soon, you are to preach in their pulpit, after which the congregation will vote on you becoming their next shepherd. The salary, which you are just now learning, is only slightly more than what you’re making now. But that’s no matter.

You and the family begin making arrangements to be in Bigtown that weekend. You secure a pulpit replacement for that Sunday, you tell one or two of your leaders what you’re up to (pledging them to silence!), and you get serious about praying.

The decision you and that church are about to make is critical. Since one road leads to another and there’s no returning to this spot to start over, you want to act cautiously and to seek God’s will in every detail.

When you get to Bigtown Church, here’s what to look for.

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What That Pastor Search Committee is Looking For

My wife and I were being shown around town by two ladies who were members of their church’s committee assigned to locate and sign-up the next pastor for that congregation. I will never forget something Jane said from the front seat where she was driving.

“I told our committee, ‘I want us to bring in a handsome pastor, someone who will look good behind our pulpit.'”

Had she slapped me, the blow would not have hurt more.

That shallow assessment of what they needed in the next pastor turned out to be rather symbolic of where most of the committee stood.

How does that old line go: “Too late smart, too soon dead.”

Most search committees, I want to assert with no evidence at all other than my own convictions, do not take that superficial an approach to their task. Most of them–at least in their own minds and hearts–really do want to find the person God has chosen for their church.

Just as long as God’s person is a male, between the ages of 35 and 50, with a doctor’s degree from somewhere official-sounding, and with a beautiful wife by his side who clearly adores him.

Sorry for the little cynicism there. I’m really not disparaging what they do. Most committees, once they find “the” person, even if it’s not what they originally set out for, are willing to change their requirements and go for it. That’s why sometimes a committee will bring in a 27-year-old as pastor and sometimes a 70-year-old. Sometimes they decide this preacher is so fine the absence of a doctorate is not that big a deal. And once in a while, all requirements are jettisoned and they really do go “outside the box.”

All that being said, there is one huge reminder which needs to be passed along to pastors now at the point in their ministry where they are courting search committees.

Here is what the pastor search committee is looking for when they visit your church.

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5 Things You Do Not Know About Prayer

To be sure, we know a lot about prayer. We know it’s of faith–addressing a God whom we cannot see and are unable to prove that He’s even there, much less listening to the likes of us–and we know we ought to do more of it and do it better.

But, it occurs to me, it might be helpful to address some of the things we do not know about prayer.

See if you find any of this encouraging.

1. We do not know how to pray as we should.

That’s Romans 8:26. “Likewise, the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

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Pray or Else!

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

Pray or quit.

Pray or grow discouraged and drop by the wayside.

Pray or weaken and wither away.

If I were the devil, I would do anything within my power to stop God’s people from praying.

If I were the devil, I’d be patting myself on the back about now, since it would appear that very few are praying. Well, praying in any sort of meaningful, situation-altering way, anyway.

No one believed in prayer the way the Lord Jesus did.

Perhaps no subject so permeates the four gospels like prayer. Jesus exhibited it, taught it, reminded His disciples of it, and told stories of people who did it well.

Pray or else, disciple of Jesus.

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Your Church Can Solve 90 Percent of Personnel Conflicts Before They Happen

Nothing stresses a pastor like conflicts occurring on his staff. A secretary in the office, the minister of music, the organist, the head custodian–each of them was brought to the leadership team for good reason. Now, here they are threatening the unity of the church–not to say its mission and ministry–by a conflict with another team member.

In my four-plus decades pastoring six churches, I’ve seen the following (and plenty more, too, let me add) up close and personal….

–a senior staff member addicted to prescription drugs

–staffers using the computer for online porn.

–associate ministers who were protective of their turf, who resented anyone–including the pastor!–intruding to tell them what to do.

–Staffers who wanted to be left alone to do their work and not be asked to cooperate with anyone else

–Staffers who were angry at me about something and shared that little bit of gossip to laypeople in the church before telling me.

–Lazy staff members.

–Ministers who delighted in smutty stories and had flirty ways.

Wow. I’m imagining someone reading this and wondering if I ever worked with a single godly servant of the Lord! Of course I did. The great majority of them were sincere, hard-working, sweet-spirited men and women with servant hearts. And even these above were not bums. Most had endearing qualities about them and had served well in previous churches, according to the recommendations we received on them.

If you add to these the ministers I’ve known not in my church but in others nearby, we could add adultery, homosexuality, embezzlement, and a host of other conditions to this list.

Any one of these could wreak great damage to a congregation once it gets out that the minister (or one of the ministers) is engaging in such a practice.

Here is my offering today on how to solve a great majority of these conflicts either before they occur or at least before they are allowed to wreck a good church.

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The Single Cure-All for Church Eruptions

An epidemic is sweeping our land in the form of church dissension over the smallest of issues.

The pastor wants to begin living by the constitution rather than the whims of a few self-appointed decision-makers. They are up in arms; who does he think he is, a dictator? That’s their role.

A Sunday School teacher refuses to cooperate with her church’s leadership. She and her little class have been together all these centuries; they certainly do not need to change. Everyone is upset at the high-handed way of the education minister.

The pianist has served that church forty years and now “owns” that little corner of the sanctuary. She has been faithful–let’s give her that–but now, at the hint that the pastor might be wanting to replace her with someone actually qualified, her family and extended circle of friends rise up in arms.

An influential member of the congregation gets upset with the pastor for unknown reasons and lets it be known he wants the man replaced and will not take ‘no’ for an answer. Since he employs half the church, people are afraid to buck him.

Congregations watch in stunned silence as their beloved church tries to self-destruct when a few angry members threaten to bring the whole house down.

What’s a pastor to do?

There is an answer, and this is it.

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Preaching a Sermon for the Umpteenth Time: The Temptation to “Phone It In.”

A football player’s head is not in the game and he’s just going through the motion. The narrator says he is phoning it in.

The stage actor has said those lines precisely 568 times before audiences and an untold number in rehearsal and in front of his bathroom mirror. He has to really work at his craft, lest he “phone it in.”

The teacher has gone over those lessons each year for the last two decades. She could do it blind-folded while making a grocery list. If she’s not careful, she’ll “phone it in.”

Our Lord warned of religious people using “vain repetitions” in their prayers. Putting the mind in neutral and the mouth spouting out those words and phrases we’ve all learned, as though the Lord hears and answers based on sheer volume. Phoning it in.

You’re a retired pastor and travel a good bit. You get invited to guest-supply in various pulpits and speak to congregations that have never heard any of your best stuff. By the third year of this, you’ve boiled your preaching down to a solid one dozen messages. You’re having more fun than you’ve had in a lifetime of ministry.

And no deacons meetings to attend, no church business conferences to moderate, no angry church members to deal with. You preach, accept a check from your host, pray the Lord’s blessings on him and his ministry, and go back home. Next week, another drive to another church to deliver a similar sermon.

Question du jour: How does a minister keep from robotically and mindlessly mouthing the same platitudes over and over in a sermon he has preached ten, twenty, fifty times?

It’s Sunday morning, three a.m., and that’s my challenge for later this morning. Fortunately, I know the answer. (What, you ask, are you doing up at this hour of the morning? Answer: I’m a preacher and I’m delivering a sermon in a few hours. That’s what I’m doing up at 3 a.m.)

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Ignore the Culture, Preacher, to Your Own Detriment

The big event on my Spring calendar is a pastors-and-wives retreat for English-speakers in Europe. We’ll be there several days and have time to run out to Pompeii and check on Vesuvius and such. (This is the Amalfi Coast of Italy, near Naples.)

Piece of cake, right? Not so fast.

The executive director of the International Baptist Convention, my hosts, pointed out in a recent email a thing or two I might want to keep in mind.

All the retreat participants speak English, but they are not all Americans. Therefore, guest speakers from the States have to be careful not to use idioms and references that only those from Yankeeland (my term, not his) will understand.

I knew that, but I had not thought of it.

So, I started going over some of my choice stories. These are tales of growing up in rural Alabama, of small church preachers and narrow-minded Baptists and Southern ways. Uh oh. We might have a little problem here. I’m going to have to revisit all my messages and stories and illustrations. And even then, once we begin in Italy, there will need to be some fine-tuning and tweaking.

What happens when the preacher does not make an attempt to learn the culture of his audience and adapt to it?

He messes up royally.

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10 Ways Churches Show That They Want You

My friends keep teaching me that it’s not enough to pose a negative and let it lay there. What’s the positive? So, recently….

When I did an article on this page about “how churches show you are not welcome,” among the comments it generated–and on Facebook, it pulled in more than here at the website–was one asking me to do the reverse: ‘Tell us how churches show you are welcome.” Great idea.

So, I posed that question to the 4,200 or so FB friends I’ve managed to amass in the last couple of years. And the comments began flying in.

Oddly enough, however, all the comments on how a church shows it wants you boil down to the same thing.

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10 Signals That Say “You Are Not Welcome In This Church”

“You shall love (the stranger) as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

As a retired pastor who preaches in a different church almost every Sunday, a fun thing I get to do is study the church bulletins (or handouts or worship guides) which everyone receives on entering the building. You can learn a great deal about a church’s priorities and personality in five minutes of perusing that sheet.

As an outsider–that is, not a member or regular here–I get to see how first-timers read that material and feel something of the same thing they feel. I become the ultimate mystery shopper for churches. That is not to say that I pass along all my (ahem) insights and conclusions to pastors. Truth be told, most leaders do not welcome judgments from visitors on what they are doing and how they can do it better. So, unless asked, I keep it to myself. And put it in my blog. (smiley face goes here)

Now, in all fairness, most churches are eager to receive newcomers and want them to feel at home and even consider joining. And the worship bulletins reflect that with announcements of after-benediction receptions to meet the pastors, the occasional luncheon for newcomers to learn about the church and get their questions answered, and free materials in the foyer.

Now, surely all the other churches want first-timers to like them and consider joining. No church willingly turns its nose up at newcomers, at least none that I know of. But that is the effect of our misbehavior.

Here are ten ways churches signal newcomers they are not wanted.

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