20 questions a pastoral candidate should ask a search committee

After the committee has grilled the pastoral candidate and the tables are turned, what information should he want from them?

Pastors toss me this issue regularly.  Somewhere in the archives of our website, I’m sure we’ve dealt with this subject.  However, with over 2,000 articles and no index of these things, I suggest that they google “McKeever + (subject),” and see what comes up. Usually, if I’ve written on the subject, it’ll show up in the results.

That said, perhaps it’s time to say a few more things about this.

Here’s the situation.  You, the pastoral candidate, are sitting in a room with a committee of anywhere from 6 to 20 people. They have spent the evening tossing questions, real and theoretical, at you.  You are drained and everyone is ready for the evening to end.

But not yet.  Finally, the chair says, “And pastor, is there anything you would like to ask us?”

You bring out your list.

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The clue that tells the story on you

“Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12)

We are reading through the gospels, watching the interaction between the religious bigshots as they bully the Lord Jesus Christ–imagine that!–and are brought up short by noticing the prominent role fear played in the lives of these people. Consider…

–“Herod feared the multitude” (Matthew 14:5).  Ah, a good reminder that tyrants always fear their subjects. Always.

–“The Pharisees feared the multitude” (Matthew 21:46). And so do religious bigshots fear their people.

–King Herod feared John the Baptist (Mark 6:20).  Wickedness fears righteousness because it cannot understand it, cannot control it, can’t intimidate it, and cannot silence it.  God’s faithful people must never forget this for one minute.

–The chief priests and scribes wanted to destroy Jesus, but “they were afraid of him, for all the multitude was astonished at His teaching” (Mark 11:18).

–The Lord Jesus said to the disciples, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).  Even the Lord’s closest friends were filled with fear.

 Nothing speaks so eloquently about who you are as what you fear. And whom you fear.

We are literally defined by our fears.

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To those just starting in ministry

A friend who works with student ministers on the various college campuses around New Orleans has invited me to address his team in their weekly gathering. Asked if he had a  topic in mind for me, he said,  “Give us three things you would tell those just starting out in ministry.”

Three things?  How about a hundred! Here are a few that come to mind, in no particular order.

1) Make sure of your calling.

The ministry can be tough and you will often be lonely and experience great frustration. Things are not going as you had planned. The people you trusted have proven themselves untrustworthy.  Those over you in the work have been unable to fulfill their promises.  You’re seeing little results from your labors. You are exhausted and see no way to clear off the schedule for a well-earned rest.

Unless God calls you into this work, you will not last.

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Whether to give to this cause or that guy. It’s so hard to know.

“Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30).

Two days ago, my wife and I were parked briefly at the rear of a local drive-in eatery, waiting for our orders.  A man on a bike came onto the grounds and wheeled over to our car.

“Sir, I’m traveling and am broke and haven’t eaten all day.”

He might have said more, I forget.  The backpack and his scruffiness indicated he probably was telling the truth.

No one enjoys being accosted like this.  Later, I realized that parking in the rear of the establishment as we did is what drew him to us.  He left after our little encounter without asking anyone else, even though 20 more cars ringed the diner. The reason, I realized, is that the management would have seen him and ordered him off or called the cops. That would indicate he has done this before.

I’ll tell you what I did and what I wish I’d done.

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I do not retain some things. Here’s why.

“For if anyone is a hearer of he word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:23-24).

I asked my friend Freddie Arnold what to do about the mildew on my concrete.

Our water heater had busted and water leaked everywhere in the garage.  After we mopped it up and replaced the heater, I noticed that the water had soaked into some things stored in the cluttered garage and we had a mildew problem.  Freddie would know what to do.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s flooding of metro New Orleans, the procedure for restoring many of the damaged homes was to throw away all the furnishings, mud out the floors, then strip out the sheetrock down to the studs.  At that point, you treated everything for mildew.  Only after you were certain there was no mildew would you start to rebuild.  Because Freddie Arnold was knowledgeable about these things, in his role as Disaster Relief foreman and NOBA assistant DOM, he led in the salvaging of hundreds of homes.

I called Freddie at the East Baton Rouge Baptist Association where he’s working these days in semi-retirement. (A joke. Freddie has never done half a job in his life. Pay him for half a day’s work and you will get far more than you expected.)  He told me what to buy to treat the mildew and I wrote it down.

And promptly forgot what he had said.

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Things a believer decided long ago

“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

In the late 1980s when the country of Lebanon was trying to self-destruct and life was hazardous for everyone, President Reagan ordered all Americans out of the country. The edict included missionaries also. And that created a dilemma.

One of my missionary friends protested, “This is when we do our best work, in a national crisis when people are fearful and disoriented. They become open to the gospel. Please leave us here.”

Another missionary agreed. “Whether our lives are in danger or not, we settled this a long time ago, the day we accepted the Lord’s call.  This is no time for us to abandon these people.”

Matters settled long ago do not need constant rehashing.

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Seven of the most amazing things Jesus ever said

Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).

Somewhere around the house I have an old book with the wonderful title of “657 of the Best Things Ever Said.”  It would not surprise you to know most of them are silly.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, doubtless it’s true that  the “best things ever said” is also arbitrary.

With one exception.

Literally hundreds of millions of people across this world agree with the judgement of those early Galileans that “No one ever spoke like Jesus.”

Our Lord spoke a solid one thousand mind boggling things never heard before on Planet Earth, all of them surprising and wonderful and memorable. And, let’s be honest, many who heard Jesus also found His words provocative, offensive, and even blasphemous.

When Jesus stood to preach, no one was bored.

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The power of small things: God’s open secret

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…” (Matthew 13:31)

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much….” (Luke 16:10)

When the Heavenly Father gets ready to do something major, He loves to begin in tiny, unseen ways.

When He was ready to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt, He called an 80-year-old has-been who was keeping sheep on the backside of a mountain. When the Lord got ready to redeem the world, He sent a Baby.

When He decided to do something grand, He called you.

So many scriptures make the point that God specializes in using the tiny and insignificant to accomplish great things.  The parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31-32 says it.  The question of Jonathan in I Samuel 14:6 says it.  The Lord’s approval of the widow who brought her tiny offering says it (Mark 12:41ff). The little boy’s lunch in John 6:9.  Old Simeon and Anna in Luke 2. Mustardseed faith in Luke 17:6. Ordinary people in I Corinthians 1:26.

Zechariah’s question–“Who has despised the day of small things?”–lays the matter squarely before us (Zech. 4:10).

Who despises small things? The unthinking and the shallow-minded, that’s who. The carnal-minded who wants glitter and drama, who prizes celebrity and gaudiness.

We have learned about the power of small things. There is the atom. Nuclear energy. The hummingbird. Honey-bees. Bed bugs. Viruses. Babies. Puppies. Words of encouragement. And a hug.

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What hypocrisy looks like and why the Lord hates it with a passion

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29).  “Woe to you, blind guides!” (Matthew 23:16,24,26).  “You serpents, you brood of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33).

The Lord has this thing about hypocrites.

He doesn’t care for them much.

You and I have learned something God hasn’t managed to do: to accommodate ourselves to those who say one thing and do another.

Take the beer company of St Louis, for instance. We read this and it sounds normal to us. It took a secular writer to point out the hypocrisy in their moralizing.

“We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.” –Anheuser Busch, responding to recent scandals in the National Football League (TIME magazine, September 29, 2014)

Humor writer Ian Frazier nails the famous beer company for its duplicitous moralizing in the same issue of TIME magazine.

In recent weeks the NFL has been under attack for its mishandling of the serious misbehavior of players who, among other things, knocked out a wife in the elevator and was caught on tape doing it, and beat a four-year-old child leaving whelps and open wounds on his skin.

The famous beer company, known for its massive advertising throughout every sporting event available, takes the NFL to task for its pitiful reaction.  Such behavior is against Anheuser-Busch’s moral code and culture.

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If you’re not living the life, do not tell people you are a Christian

“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

The politician convicted of racketeering tells the press that since Jesus is his Savior, he will be all right.

The businessman who taught a Sunday School class and gave millions to the Lord’s work is convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and swindling millions from people who trusted him.

The  preacher found guilty as a child molester insists that his faith in Jesus will see him through this crisis.

God’s people trying to get this right want to say to them, “Would you just shut up about being a Christian!  This is a time to keep it to yourself. You have not earned the right to go public with your testimony.”

Those who bring shame upon the Lord have no right to a public declaration of faith. Let them repent and “bring forth fruits meet for repentance.”

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