Recently, in one of our on-line magazines for ministers, a preacher friend gave twenty-five questions which pastors should ask of search committees before accepting their call. At the conclusion, he said, “I believe the Lord allows us tremendous latitude in where we serve.”
Tremendous latitude. Interesting expression. I assume that to mean “great flexibility.” Which implies, to me at any rate, that the Lord lays out all these choices and says, “It’s up to you.”
It’s your call. You can decide.
Take your pick.
I replied with a cartoon. A preacher sits at a table with his open Bible before him. He prays, “Lord, I’ve heard you give us extreme latitude in deciding where to serve. But Lord–please don’t do that. I don’t want latitude. I can’t trust myself to do this. You choose, Father. You choose!”
That’s how I feel. If the Lord were to say to me, “Choose from these three churches, all of them wanting you as pastor,” I’m afraid I would have to punt.
I can hear myself saying, “Lord, You know. I don’t. You know my little strengths and my glaring weaknesses. You know who is in each of those churches and how they make decisions. You know their secrets and I don’t. Please don’t ask me to do this.”
As a friend once preached on something similar, I do not have mentality enough, morality enough, or maturity enough for making such a call.
“Lord,” I said, “Most churches are afraid of me. If I’m such a good candidate for their church, they wonder why I am still unemployed?”
I had survived an attempt to oust me from leadership of the church I’d pastored the last three years. It had been the most difficult, up-hill period in my ministry. Then, when it appeared the coup had failed and the know-it-alls knew a lot less than they had figured, I was not given time to take a breath before the ringleader said in private, “It’s not over, Joe. It’ll never be over until you’re gone.”
He was determined to get me out of that church.
A few days later, the Father said to me, “You may leave now.”
Six months earlier, a church leader with ties to the little power group had taken me to lunch with an offer. “If you will leave, they’ll give you $100,000. And you can walk away.”
I said, “I would love to leave. The stress is killing me. But the Lord will not let me.”
A Midwest church twice our size had shown interest in me as a possible pastor. I’d sent them recorded sermons–this was before the internet–and we’d had extensive long distance conversations. They were about to send their search committee across the country to visit us when I stopped it.
The new pastor looks out at the congregation. He’s acting confident and looks the part. The search committee did a good job from all appearances. The pastor speaks well and seems to know what he’s doing.
Has someone removed the pulpit from the platform? And is that a rowboat the preacher is standing in? What is going on here? Am I in the right church? Have we entered the twilight zone?
I know of a pastor who did that on his first Sunday.
For those whose denominational system uses bishop appointments or some system other than search committees, please skip this. And for those who cannot let this pass without reminding us that Scripture has no pastor search committees, we grant that. Neither does it have air conditioning, chocolate, or penicillin, but these are also gifts of grace from our Lord. Thank you very much.
“Lead me, Lord. Lead me in Thy righteousness. Make Thy way plain before me. Amen.” (a choral benediction)
The pastor on the other end of the phone sounded almost upset.
“I had a contact from a search committee in your city. Man, I don’t know what to do. I love where I’m serving and just can’t bear thinking about leaving. Plus, my oldest child is coming up on his senior year of school. What to do?”
My answer is: “Well, the first thing to do is quit obsessing about it. The odds are you’ll never hear back from them.”
When a pastor has felt isolated and forgotten in his little corner of the world for so long, any contact from a committee can bring excitement.
We pastors are an anxious lot. We get excited and nervous when…
When a church is pastorless, no one knows who the next pastor will be. While we pray for the Pastor Search Committee regularly, has it occurred to us to begin praying for the object of their search? Here is how I’m praying for our next pastor.…
Please send our church a pastor who will be Thy choice first and foremost. Let him know it, let our search committee know it, and let the church be just as confident about it. May the pastor’s family be supportive also, and even excited. And then…
–protect the pastor and our church from anyone who would rise up later and claim this was a mistake and try to oust him. Dear Lord, protect Thy church.
Send us a pastor who will be loved as dearly as any pastor has ever been loved. This congregation wants to love its pastor.
To those who insist Scripture knows nothing about pastor search committees–or any other kind of committee for that matter–we respond, “Scripture was never intended to be a strait jacket hampering the movements and flexibilities of God’s family, but a light to our feet, nourishment to our souls, and the basis for all that we believe.” Anyone saying committees are not found in the Word might need to be reminded that neither are cushioned pews, stained glass windows, and toilet seats. But we have them and are glad to do so.
To friends newly assigned to serve on a pastor search committee, we say, “You can influence the direction of your church for generations to come by doing this job well. It’s a wonderful, scary assignment. So accept it gladly and go into it humbly.”
First, my credentials for speaking on the subject: In over 55 years of ministry, I have talked with a minimum of 100 pastor search committees. Some were in an advisory capacity but most were as the object of their inquiry at the moment. During one three-year period, I counted exactly 36 committees I’d had contact with. (Okay. I was in my early 30’s, on the staff of the greatest church in the state, and most of these contacts consisted of my telling the committee “thank you, but I’m right where the Lord wants me.”)
The brethren brought (Saul) down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus (his home town). Acts 9:30.
So, the great soon-to-be Apostle Pau, but presently still Saul of Tarsus, went home and made tents. Perhaps he moved back into his old room. We can hear his parents saying, “For this we sacrificed for him to attend the rabbinic school in Jerusalem? Why isn’t he working?”
Saul was waiting on the call from the Lord. Hadn’t the Father called him? Hadn’t he prepared himself? Wasn’t he effective in preaching? So, what’s going on here?
Saul had no idea what the Lord was up to. Later, he would write a lesson learned by hard experience: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
“Is this normal?”
This sounds like a given, but pastors would do well to tell themselves repeatedly, “I will never go anywhere without a strong indication the Lord is sending me there.” To do otherwise is to invite major trouble.
You can hardly believe it.
You’re a pastor and the search committee from Megaville has arrived at your church. It’s about time you were getting the notice you deserve, you cautiously (and humbly) think. After all, you logged the requisite years in seminary and struggled through several pastorates, all of them challenging to one degree or other. And now, something good seems to be happening.
The committee attends several Sundays in a row, and then you get a phone call. They want to take you and your wife to dinner next time they visit.
You’re both excited. You line up a baby sitter, wear your newest clothes and use your best manners. All goes well and you both begin to dream. How would it be to live there, to adjust to that huge place, to deal with such successful people, to administer such a large staff, to manage a budget in the millions? What do you suppose your salary will be? and what will you do with all that money? And could the Lord really be giving you such an opportunity?
Also, you begin to think how nice it would be to leave behind this present church with its problems: difficulty in meeting the budget, a staff member who is a constant headache, and a few high-maintenance lay leaders. Poof! Gone in one fell swoop.
We move to Megaville and start afresh.
A few days later, the committee calls again.
The only method I can find in the Bible to seeking a new pastor is to ask the Lord repeatedly (maybe ten days?), then narrow it to two candidates, offer up a this-is-it-Lord prayer and then flip a coin. That seems to have been the system the disciples used in Acts 1, but if anyone thinks that is presented as a recommended formula, it’s news to me. (And btw, I am not one of those who thinks the disciples did a wise thing there in the Upper Room. But it’s merely my opinion.)
There is no scriptural precedent for pastor search committees that I know of. Yet, they are a necessary evil, if I may be permitted to say. The alternative seems to be bishops appointing pastors or church bosses hiring them. Both methods have been tried and found wanting. But so has the search committee system been found to be flawed. There is no foolproof method.
“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
These days, some churches are hiring firms to conduct the initial searching and culling for them. If they have found this system to be an improvement over the spontaneous-committee-of-the-untrained, I haven’t heard.
Pastors eventually conclude that search committees come in all shapes and sizes, all theologies and philosophies and agendas. Ministers learn to take what they say with quite a few grains of salt. Committees often function like the local chamber of commerce, giving their community and church the glamour treatment to the point that even their own members wouldn’t recognize it. They make promises they never follow through on, and ask all kinds of ridiculous questions they ignore once the questionnaire is returned.
Not all, of course. Once in a while, a pastor discovers a gem of a committee. I once told such a team, “The Lord is not leading me to your church, but I want all six of you in my church forever!”
Alas, those are the exceptions.
Bob is the pastor of a small church in another state. The other day he told me what happened.
First, as a layman he was put on the search committee to find the new preacher. Then, they elected him chairman of the team. And then, he began to gather information to present to prospective pastors.
“What is our salary package?” he asked the church treasurer.
The old gentleman had controlled the purse strings for that little congregation for several years. So, we should not have been surprised when he told Bob, “We don’t want a preacher who thinks about those things. He should settle with the Lord if He’s calling him here, and come no matter what it pays.”
Bob said, “I don’t think so. The laborer is worthy of his hire, Scripture says.”
Because Bob wanted to do this right, he insisted that the church pay an adequate salary with benefits. And did what was necessary to put it together into an acceptable form.
And then, something interesting happened.