When the search committees say no: The question to ask

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?”

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The biggest mistake preachers make concerning huge churches

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.

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Dear Pastor: Our search committee liked you. However….

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.

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“I need to apologize to our old pastor,” he told me.

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.

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Pastors, someone else is always “on deck.” Do your job, then get off.

“He must increase; I must decrease” (said by a very powerful preacher about the One who took his place in the minds and imaginations of the crowds).  –John 3:30

Watch how Barnabas acted when Saul of Tarsus gradually moved ahead of him so that their team became Paul and Barnabas.  Acts 13.

When I said we would be writing about retired pastors who stay on to make life miserable for their successors, people began sending me their horror stories.

You don’t want to hear them.  They are too painful.

One old guy refused to vacate the pastor’s office, so the new pastor was given a house trailer as his office until the old fellow died.  Solution: The lay leadership developing a spine.

Another old guy made sure to elevate himself in the minds and hearts of the church members so that his successor would not be able to live up to the standard he had set.  Then, he sat back smiling while people tore the young pastor apart for not doing that very thing.  Remedy:  The lay leadership rising up and speaking the hard truth both to the former pastor (and encouraging him to move his membership) and to the congregation (get your eyes off men and onto the Lord!).  That did not happen.  The younger pastor carries scars to this day.

I am a pastor.  I love pastors and pray for a long list of them often.  I am a friend of pastors and sometimes their counselor/advisor/mentor.  I believe in the role of the God-called shepherd, and I encourage church members to honor their minister and obey Hebrews 13:17.

But that is not to say all preachers get this right.

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Calling a new pastor: 8 ways to avoid a lemon

A news article on how to avoid buying a lemon when purchasing a car caught my eye. It gave the usual stuff such as reading the information on the window sticker, checking the maintenance record, studying the interior, the exterior, the tires, etc.

The thought occurred to me that there should be some equally dependable methods for churches to use in verifying the reliability of the new pastor they are considering.  Veteran workers in the Lord’s vineyard all have their stories of churches that acted too hastily, of committees that did not do their background work or leaders who made a pastoral choice due to pressure from some strong individual, and the church paid a severe price for their errors.

There should be some foolproof way to guarantee that the new pastor is everything he claims to be and all the committee hopes and promises he is.

There isn’t.

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What search committees say but mean something else

You should never volunteer for the pastor search committee unless one of two things is true: Everyone agrees that your former youth minister, who is serving a church in Podunk and was so beloved, is going to be the next pastor, making this the easiest job ever; or, you have a death wish.

It can be the hardest, most thankless assignment you’ll ever have.

It can also make a world of difference for good in a church that needs just the right combination of visionary pastor, anointed preacher, competent administrator, and down-to-earth friend.

If your church is selecting such a committee, pray big time for the Lord to lead in filling the slots. Never volunteer for it.  Accept it if the Lord leads you and those making the decision.  If you are a member of such a group, then this little piece is for you.  Think of what follows as a cautionary note, exaggerated in places, attempting a little humor at times, but with much truth.

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Pastors: What not to do with search committees

We’ve written on this website regarding pastor search committees and how they should be approached by alert pastors.  Perhaps it’s time to say a word on what not to do regarding these church leaders determined to find a new leader for their congregation no matter how many bruised and bleeding ministers they have to leave in their wake. 

Just to be safe, you may wish to go ahead and plant your tongue firmly in your cheek.  While the subject is serious, my treatment of it will be only partially so.

Okay. Pastor, you’ve been invited to meet with the search committee from the First Church of Butterfly City, and you’re plenty excited.

You’ve been at your present church a number of years now and have about run out of ideas, patience, and life-savings.  A change would not only be good, it might save your life, your ministry, your marriage or all three.   In fact, your wife might start believing in God once more if you told her He was transferring you to a new church.

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Those killer questions search committees ask

What started this was something Josh Woo said yesterday.

Josh, a fascinating young friend who grew up in my last pastorate, is a veteran of game shows and quiz programs. When he was 11, he was a contestant on Jeopardy.  As a student at the University of Southern California, he hosted his own television program on the campus station.  A few days ago, he was a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” In between, he’s done the Wheel and several other shows.

The question that tripped him up on “Millionaire” went something like this: “At 7’7″, So-and-so is the tallest player in the NBA.  But he is slightly shorter than what portion of the Statue of Liberty?”  The choices were her right arm, her eye, the tablet she is holding, and her finger.  Using his final lifeline, Josh asked a buddy to help him, and they missed it.  Anyway….

Josh said veteran contestants (like himself) have a name for that kind of question, but perhaps he shouldn’t tell his pastor.  I said, “Come on. Give.”

“We call that a Go To Hell question.”

“A ‘Go To Hell’ Question,” he explained, “is one relying on such fine detail that no reasonable person should be expected to know it.”

Ah yes.  Who among us is not familiar with such.

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Pastor, grow your church…as God enables.

“Over ____% of churches in America have plateau’ed.”  (The percentage depends on who’s talking.)

Let the pastor dedicate himself to growing the church as much as possible.

Let growing the church be important to the shepherd.

But let the growth be the real thing, not something hyped up.  Solid growth, not inflated numbers.

A generation or two ago, pastors in our denomination took it for granted that if they wanted to (ahem) move up to a larger church, they needed to show numerical growth where they were presently serving.

Before long, some less trustworthy preachers decided to play that game to the hilt and ruined it for everyone. They grew creative in their counting, they schemed and plotted and even lied about numbers, and doctored the records to make it appear they were experiencing greater growth than they were.

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