“He leadeth me in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).
Pastor, you do not want to know why that committee turned you down for that position you wanted so badly.
I’m rereading my daily journals for the decade of the 1990s. Much of it I’d long since forgotten, so in many respects, it’s fun. One thing struck me, however, about the year 1992.
I was looking for a way out of this church!
By “this church” I mean the one I served as pastor nearly 14 years (1990-2004) and remained as a member through 2016. It had come through a crisis 18 months before I arrived that almost resulted in its self-destruction. The Lord sent me to half a congregation, millions of dollars in debt, an odd-shaped sanctuary that had had major problems from the beginning and constantly needed work, and a dysfunctional leadership team of some of the greatest souls in the kingdom mixed with some of the strangest birds ever.
My wife and I were hurting financially and it appeared to be getting worse. We were living in rented quarters and were cutting into the small savings we kept from selling our house in North Carolina.
Some of the leaders were unhappy with us from the first and looked for ways to undercut everything we tried.
Nothing about this was fun.
So, when–according to the journal–three nice-sized, healthy congregations inquired about my willingness to talk with their search committees and a huge church asked if I would consider becoming their executive pastor, I jumped at it. Perhaps the Lord has something better than this for me, I (humbly–lol) thought.
Yes, I did talk to the Lord considerably and, according to the journal, received His permission to say ‘yes’ to them.
Nothing came from any of them. Nada.
I have no idea why, and know that subsequent volumes in this journal will not shed light on what happened. (There are 56 of these hard-bound hand-written books!)
The truth is, I do not need to know what happened. It doesn’t matter in the least. The Lord blessed in that 14-year ministry and I’m thankful for it!
But let’s just suppose…..
Suppose back then, I had written those church committees to ask why they rejected me. “Dear Committee: Last year you were considering me as your pastor. Then, I no longer heard anything from you and you ended up calling someone else. May I inquire why you dropped me?”
What if I had written that to them?
And suppose they wrote back to say why. I mean, something more than “the Lord led us elsewhere.” (In case anyone wonders, I’m confident no self-respecting committee would answer such a letter with anything other than this line, that the Lord led them.)
Now–continuing the supposition–just suppose the reasons they gave for not choosing me were in error. That is, perhaps they misinterpreted something I said, or they believed a false rumor, or a reference they checked raised red flags for them.
The question is: Could I have handled that/
Knowing they had made such a momentous decision based on an error, could I have been okay with that?
I can imagine me tossing and turning, obsessing over the church in Atlanta or Huntsville or Jackson, wondering why they did what they did, worrying as to whether I should try to straighten out the misinterpretation, even long after it no longer mattered.
Silly, isn’t it?
So, the Lord did me a great favor: He never let me know why a committee moved on and went elsewhere.
It’s not about me.
The bottom line is it does not matter why they “turned me down.” The ministry is not about me. It’s not about my career, my reputation, or my advancement. It’s not about my record, my achievements, or my self-fulfillment.
Pastors–all ministers of the gospel–would do well to keep saying this to ourselves: “It’s not about me.”
I recommend daily doses of Luke 17:7-10 which ends with our telling ourselves, “I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my duty.”
If God had wanted me at that church, He could have put me there.
It was simply not His will for me to go to any of those churches.
I know it now, even if I didn’t back then.
In my case, in late 1992, we were just beginning the third year of a most difficult pastorate. Amost nothing about it was fun. However…..
Look into the future. (We’re able to do that now, since over 30 years have elapsed since I wrote those things. We now know what happened, and in many cases, we know why God let them happen.)
–We ended up with a healthy church. In October of 1998, we burned the mortgage on that sanctuary, everyone on the staff got raises, and we increased our giving to missions. The last half of my fourteen years was pure joy.
–I amassed a zillion stories and experiences from all those years. As my friends will attest, Joe does love a good story! And we made a ton of forever friends.
–We reached a lot of people for Christ in this church and throughout the community. How many? God knows. And knows He does, make no mistake (see 2 Timothy 2:19).
–And then, the biggie: In 2004, the Lord made me the “Director of Missions” for the Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans (a 5-parish area reaching from the end of the Mississippi River up through the city and westward to LaPlace). I was the DOM when Katrina stormed through, wreaking the worst devastation in the history of New Orleans and destroying many of our churches, displacing hundreds of thousands of our people, and redefining Christian ministry in this area for all time.
It was awful. Heart-breaking. Stressful beyond belief.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
For me to sit here wondering why some search committee in 1992 decided to look elsewhere for a pastor is about like obsessing over something a kid said about me in the third-grade. It’s silly. It does not matter. Laugh about it.
I have learned the truth of Paul’s admonition to the church at Thessalonica: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18).
Thank you, Heavenly Father. You do indeed lead us in paths of righteousness for Thy name’s sake. We would not want it any other way.