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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The pastor’s wife: Target on her back

“What are these wounds? I was wounded in the house of my friends” (Zechariah 13:6).

A year or two back, I wrote an article on pastors’ wives that has traveled around the earth a couple of times.  “The most vulnerable person in the church” struck a nerve with a lot of good people, many of them hurting from mistreatment by the Lord’s finest.

If something about that seems backward to you, then join the party.

Pastors’ wives seem to be more at risk than anyone else in church.  The expectations on them are the highest, the support the weakest, and the attacks arrive from the unlikeliest of sources.

Periodically, these women send me their stories.  Most are happy to be serving their churches, possess a strong sense of God’s call, and are grateful for the love of His people.   Once in a while, however, their stories make me cringe.  More than once, I have shed tears at the way church people make impossible demands and place heavy burdens upon these sent to lead the Lord’s congregations.

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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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What to do for an unemployed preacher

Now, preachers and ministers come in all stripes and varieties, I understand that.

In the denomination I serve, there are some who are called “jack-leg preachers,” and it is not a compliment.  No dictionary defines that term, but mostly it means they are self-taught, self-designated, and probably self-called.

I’m not talking about these.

I’m referring to solid God-called well-established servants of the Lord who have been cut off from the church they were serving for one reason or the other and now find themselves unemployable.

I’m referring to faithful preachers of the Word who should be out there leading a congregation, but have not been able to find one willing to give them a try.

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The light-hearted pastor is an oxymoron

“…the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

After pastoring three churches for nearly nine years, I joined the staff of a large Southern Baptist church in our state and suddenly found myself attending Sunday services without having to preach.

Now, I loved to preach, don’t get me wrong. But for almost a decade, I hardly knew what it was like to attend church the way normal people do.

I recall sitting on the platform during the early part of the service feeling as light as a bird, carrying none of the burden I had grown accustomed to when I was pastoring.  I would sing the hymns and enjoy the worship, and then at the appointed time in the service, get up and make my announcement or extend the welcome or offer a prayer.  When I finished, I walked off the platform and joined my family in a pew.  It was a wonderful feeling.

One day something occurred to me. Before long, I will be re-entering the pastorate.  I’ll be the person bringing the sermon each Sunday.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could be as free and light-hearted, as burden-free, as I feel now?

Not going to happen.

I knew that.  But I longed for it, nevertheless.

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The pastor goes before the search committee

There is no established manual for search committees.

There are no laws on how these things are to be done.

The Bible has no search committees and thus no guidelines for them.

So, the result is often a mess. A hodge-podge of arrangements and a plethora of assortments.

So, lower your expectations, pastor.  And buckle your seat belt.

Some committees are well-organized and infused with a strong sense of purpose, convinced they are engaged in a holy mission, doing the Lord’s work and honoring all the Lord’s servants they encounter.  They represent their church well and every pastor they interview falls in love with them.

Oh, that they were all that way.

Allow me to say that few are that way, but without citing examples of the other kind.  Let’s just say pastors should expect anything and be flexible.  They will want to keep their eyes on the Lord and not on people.

As a veteran pastor with a half-century of dealing with search committees–I’ve been interviewed by a hundred, have counseled scores, and have served on two or three–perhaps what follows here will be helpful to someone.

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Everyone’s least favorite preacher: The cocky kind

“Be thou humble, preacher.”  (Stated and repeated and reinforced one way or the other in a hundred scriptures such as Isaiah 57:15, Micah 6:8, and I Peter 5:7.)

It’s a personality type, I suppose.  If Mr. Hotshot were not a preacher, but were a bus driver or school principal or insurance agent, he would still be full of himself and cocky.  But as unpleasant as that trait is in any profession, it’s ugliest and deadliest in a man of God.

You’re sitting in his church listening to him preach. He’s not five minutes into the message before you realize Mr. Hotshot is appearing before you in the flesh.  His words and mannerisms give him away.  Listen to him:

— “I told my…I want my…My convictions are…I believe…I insist that my staff….”  All church employees are “my staff” and the new program is “something God told me to do.” It’s all about him.

–Listen to his Bible expositions: “The translators have this wrong.  Any first year Greek student knows this word always means….” and “Scholars say otherwise, but they can be wrong if they want to. What this verse really means is….”

–He alone has the truth.  He alone knows how to lead the church. He wants lots of time in the worship service because what he has to say is more important than things like actual worship and praise.

How the Lord ever got things done before he came along is the mystery of the ages.


Every disciple of Jesus has to have become humble at some point. It’s how you enter the Kingdom: “as a little child.”  (Matthew 18:3)

It’s not a stretch, therefore to expect those called as role models and examples (I Peter 5:3) to be shining exhibits of the grace of humility.

And some are. Some of the greatest preachers I know, some of the finest pastors and best success stories, are genuinely humble.

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“Another lazy preacher: The last thing we need!”

I awakened the other morning with this scenario playing in my head.

A young friend was being called into the ministry.  He was trying to get his bearings. In my dream–if that’s what it was–I was saying to him, “Please learn to study.  Learn to discipline yourself.  Because we don’t need another lazy preacher.”

So, as I come to full consciousness, I’m concerned about lazy preachers?

Wonder where that came from.

Do we have lazy preachers?  Of course.  Always have had and always will have.  You see laziness in ministers in a hundred ways, including some of these…

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What to do in a “trial” (candidate) sermon

The prospective pastor walked to the pulpit, took the measure of the congregation, and began. “There is a powerful lot of wondering going on here today.  You are wondering if I can preach. And I am wondering if you know good preaching when you hear it!”

I know a good Flip Wilson story that fits here, but I’ll tack it onto the end of this.


Not all pastors are asked to deliver a “trial” sermon to the congregation they hope to serve.  Some are appointed by a bishop and some are chosen by elders or a committee. We Southern Baptists usually use the procedure listed below.  Of the six churches I served over 42 years of ministry, only one brought me in without the people having heard me preach.  The other five administered the usual “trial.”

The procedure goes like this….

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