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?”

The young friend has been handed another disappointment from a search committee.  This one had looked so promising.  The committee member who had called me for a reference three weeks ago indicated they were so impressed by my friend and this might become a reality.  “I’ve not heard from them now in three weeks,” he told me.  “And yet these committees always promise to call, one way or the other, and I never hear from them.  Is this normal?”

I told him unfortunately there is no normal, that every committee does as it pleases based on its makeup, its own agenda, and factors within the church that we’ll never know about.

I’m thinking today of him and a number of other colleagues in the ministry who have been unsuccessful in finding church positions.  With some, it’s a bad experience two churches ago which is sabotaging their efforts to get up and try again.  Committees are so deathly afraid of making mistakes that they refuse to step out on faith and give a good man another chance.  And with some, the factors are completely unknown except to the Lord.

But my counsel to the chronically unemployed minister, no matter how strongly he/she wants to get back into church work, is to answer this question:  What else does the Lord want you to do?  Something that will not depend on a search committee’s agreement and a pastor’s endorsement?

What else would the Father have you do?

Many a servant of the Lord has found a great calling after being turned down by committee after committee.  They had answered the Lord’s call expecting–as we all did–that He wanted them to serve a local church in some capacity:  Pastor, education, pastoral, missions, youth, children.  In most cases, they had the opportunity to serve smaller congregations during their years in college, Bible school, and/or seminary.  But at some point, that all ground to a halt.  Now, they sit at home, send out resumes, answer inquiries, and wait for the call that never comes.

They are doing the best they can. Some are working at funeral homes or hospice, some volunteer with youth programs or at women’s clinics, and others visit the jails and nursing homes.  Each one tries to stay busy doing what the Lord has called and equipped them to do.

It can be a strain waiting for the Lord to open a door that never seems to be there.

So, the minister without portfolio may want to drop back and ask a more basic question:  If I were not to serve the local church as pastor or staffer, what else would the Lord have me do?

–Where is your heart, your burden?

–What do you love to do which doesn’t require the approval of a pastor or committee?

–What do you do that others seem to appreciate most? that your spouse encourages?

At first, it’s not necessary to see how this ties in with the Lord’s work, so long as it is positive and good.

As a young man, I had two passions: history and drawing cartoons.  The Lord called me into the ministry as a senior in college, about to get the degree in history.  What in the world, I wondered, do I need with a history major when I’m going out to pastor churches?  And how could I ever use my love for cartooning in the ministry.

On the surface, it appeared that I had wasted the years I’d spent in college studying American and European history, and taking those courses in cartooning.  My first thought was to wish I’d gone to the local Baptist college and majored in biblical studies as some of my friends did.

Later, I learned the Lord was a better career counselor than anyone!  My love for history has never waned.  During seminary, I took all the courses I could on church history.  At the moment–I’m about to hit birthday number 78, Lord help us!–I have shelves of books on Lincoln, Churchill, World War II, and Harry Truman.  The stories and illustrations have often showed up in my sermons, although mostly this love for history is simply there as a gift from the Lord, period.  It doesn’t have to have an immediate application to the ministry.  Perhaps He sent it to keep me from being one-dimensional.

And the cartooning.  I always sketched the children in church. And as a seminary student, I learned people respond to these drawings. At first, I’d sneak into class while everyone was in chapel and draw something based on the previous day’s lecture, then leave and enter with everyone else.  Then, I arranged to be conveniently caught in the act, and was asked to contribute a drawing to the student newspaper.  It occurred to me that the local parish weekly might run a cartoon of mine alongside the devotional which I was contributing to the publication.  So, for the remaining two years of my seminary life and pastorate, the weekly paper gave me almost half a page in every issue, as they printed my devotional and the cartoon.  In time, various publications of our denomination requested my cartoons.  These days, Baptist Press’ website carries thousands of my drawing which editors download and print.  I’ve done books of cartoons, several of which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

Okay, these may not be the best illustrations of our premise (that God has a backup plan for your ministry, something you love but had not realized He could use), since neither my love for history or cartooning has furnished me with enough income to support my family.  But–smiley-face goes here–it’s all I could think of personally that fits.

–Think outside the box, as they say.  What do you enjoy doing, and would love to do if money were no object?

God bless you.  Be faithful where you are, and keep your eyes on the Lord.

In Saul’s case, a revival broke out among the Gentiles in Antioch.  When Barnabas traveled up from Jerusalem to check it out, he quickly remember that Saul of Tarsus had been called as an evangelist to just such as these.  And we read one of the great sentences in the history of this small planet:

“And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul” (Acts 11:25).

When he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  And the Lord took it from there.

God is good.  God knows what He is doing. Trust Him.



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