My longtime friend Will was telling me his story.
I was the student minister in a fine church many years ago, We had a wonderful ministry. The single negative about the entire experience was the pastor. You never knew what he would do next.
Case in point. One night in a church business meeting, the pastor announced that some property the church owned, including the former pastorium, was being offered for sale. At the time, my wife and I were living in that house! And now we learn they’re selling it. This was the first we had heard of it.
That night, my wife was angry because she thought I had known about it and not told her. But that was the way this pastor worked.
Staff members were nothing to him. Just pawns to be manipulated.
Listening to my friend tell of that experience, I thought once again that the number one trait a staff member is looking for in a pastor–as employer, supervisor, mentor, and hopefully a Christian brother-–is integrity.
Without integrity, nothing matters.
Will said the only thing that really mattered to that preacher was the mission work he was doing overseas. Everything in church either served that cause or had no use. The ministerial staff could be manipulated, violated, and emasculated by the pastor if it served his purposes.
Is this extreme? Thank the Lord, it is. But there is enough dishonesty, misrepresentations, and deceit in the pastorate to make every potential staff member take great care before accepting an invitation to join a church team.
Question: How does one learn about the integrity of a pastor who is inviting you to work for him?
1) Ask around. Former staff members will usually tell you freely whether the man keeps his word, whether he looks out for his staff members, whether he is dependable. Ask denominational people who know him. Ask the pastor who preceded him at this church or the one who succeeded him at his previous church.
Most will tell you enough that you can feel you know the answer. A clue: if they hem and haw, nothing more is needed; they’ve told you all you need to know. Keep in mind that you’re not looking to build a case for or against the man. All you want to know is whether legitimate questions about his honesty and dependability have been raised. If so, you are gone.
2) Ask the Lord. Seriously talk to the Father about the preacher. If you have concerns, tell Him. If you have seen nothing but good, tell Him that too, but ask Him to stop you if this is not going to be a good match.
3) Ask your spouse. I’ve noticed that wives tend to be more sensitive than husbands about subliminal messages other people send out. So, assuming she meets this minister, pay close attention to her impression afterwards. Never ever move your family to a church without your wife being in on the interview–at some point–and having a part in the decision. The same is true when the staffer is female, although there would be differences (which I’m not prepared to address).
Do not ask about the pastor in a letter or email. For good reason, people are afraid to put negatives in writing. This must be done in person or by phone.
Do not join a church staff where the pastor is a liar or cheat or con man. Or is rumored to be such.
This sounds so obvious, saying it may insult your intelligence. But not so.
I can hear someone insisting that even though the pastor is questionable, moving to that church is simply too good an opportunity to turn down. For instance….
a) “It’s a huge church and a great career opportunity that I don’t want to miss!”
Let’s say the young minister is eager to join the staff of a sizeable church and get to work pouring himself/herself into teenagers. He/she has a passion for reaching kids for Jesus. And now, he/she has been approached by a church’s “student minister search committee.” This is too good to be true. The wonderful people on the committee are impressive. There is, however, one little snag: A couple of friends keep saying the pastor is a bear to work for and that the previous staff members could not wait to leave. That’s where the second concern comes in….
b) “The committee assures me that everything will be okay.”
When the young minister raises the issue of the pastor’s questionable reputation, the chairman insists that all of that has been taken care of, it’s ancient history, it’s overblown, or “the fellow you probably talked to was fired and didn’t like it.” Most of all, the chairman assures the young staffer that “You will indeed be able to work with our pastor because we will stand with you and take care of you.”
I’m sorry, but no, they won’t.
They may mean well, but they are promising what they cannot deliver.
You will work with and for the pastor. You will see him daily, and the laypeople perhaps weekly if that often. Furthermore, if you ran to the chairman every time you had a problem with the pastor, a hundred things could result from that, all of them bad.
Search committees cease to function once they have done their job. This committee will no longer be an entity in the church; its members will not meet regularly with the young minister they recommended, and if they did it would raise serious questions (like, “Why can’t they turn him loose? They’ve done their job.”).
Once you join a church staff, young minister, you will work under the pastor. And unless this is a mega-church with layers of administration, you will relate to him more than anyone else in the church. He will define almost every single aspect of your ministry.
So, choose your pastor carefully.
One final caution….
Sometimes, the check you sense in your spirit comes from the Holy Spirit and is not the result of a phone call or a bad reference.
As a young minister, I was a staffer of a dynamic church and being contacted regularly by search committees. One day, the pastor of an equally large church in a nearby state called to inquire if I would consider joining his staff as his assistant. A few days later, he was in our city and came by my office. At the end of an hour, I knew this was not going to happen. Why?
The Holy Spirit put a “hold” on my spirit. And that is all it should take for any of us. We don’t need a reason and we definitely do not need to give the other person an explanation. But the crowning event came for me when this pastor, a man the age of my father, wrapped his huge arm around me as we walked down the hallway and addressed me as if I were a teenager. I knew at that moment that were I to join his staff, I would feel like a child with him as the grandfather. And that is one thing no minister needs.
Listen to your heart, child of God. Obey the Spirit. Love God’s people. Rejoice always.
You will never go wrong obeying the Father.