Sunday, January 17, 2021

Practical Considerations in Candidating


Pastoral Transitions 14 

          In the last post, we discussed some underlying approaches that you ought to consider or keep in mind whileseeking the pastorate of a church. In today’s post, we will offer a series of practical suggestions with some short commentary on each one.

1) Talk to the chairman of the pulpit committee.

          Once the committee contacts you, gently ask for a phone conversation with the man in charge. It prevents him from getting muddled information and helps you to build immediate rapport with the most influential decision maker. Do not grill him. Introduce yourself, follow his lead, and do not stay on the phone too long.


2) Answer any questionnaires.

          In many cases, this precedes the previous step. Either way, fill them out. Yes, they are tedious. Yes, they are invasive. Yes, sometimes they are even massive. I had one that came in at around seventy pages. But answer them, keeping in mind your philosophical approaches mentioned in the previous post. And double-check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.


3) Have a phone conversation with the entire committee.

          This will generally follow their receipt of your questionnaire. Your answers will provoke a desire for clarification here and there. It is a group interview. Welcome it. In fact, if they do not ask for it you should probably consider offering it yourself.


4) Seek an in-person discussion.

          I realize we live in a Zoom meeting generation, but nothing can replace face to face meetings. You do not misunderstand near as much that way. You can ask and answer questions more effectively, and emotionally connect much better in person. If you live some distance away, offer to meet half-way. If you currently pastor, and you feel it appropriate, invite them to attend your services incognito and then sit around your dinner table for as long as they want afterward. (I am mystified by most pulpit committees in this respect. They peer into every corner of a man’s life but never visit the church he is actually serving in at the moment.) Failing all of this, drive out there yourself.

          I chose this latter approach in interacting with the church I now pastor. It was about a three and a half hour drive. After initial phone conversations I offered to come out and sit down with them. I think that was the right decision. It certainly was very helpful to me. I got to see the church property, and look the men right in the eye. Further, I then had the opportunity to begin my own investigative process. At some point, questions need to be asked, not just toward you but from you.

          Here is the list of questions I used in face to face meetings with pulpit committees. I did not use every question every time, but rather tailored them to the specific church I was meeting with.

1. How would you describe your church?

2. How would a neighbor around your church portray your church?

3. In your opinion, what are the 3 best things about your church? What would the average person in the church say is the best thing about the church?

4. In your opinion, what are 3 areas you think need attention in the church right now? What would the average person say is the biggest area that needs attention in the church right now?

5. What are 3 areas you feel definitely should not be changed? What would the average person who attends your church say is the biggest area that should not be changed?

6. What percentage of your adult attendance is involved in serving in some capacity in the church?

7. What has been the biggest conflict in this church since you have been a member?

8. Has there ever been a church split? If so, what were the issues involved?

9. In your opinion, what was the best quality about your previous pastor? What was his worst quality?

10. What do you think your previous pastor would say was the biggest difficulty in pastoring your church?

11. Briefly walk me through the candidates you have had since your previous pastor left. Were any voted down? If so, what was the consensus reason? After preaching for you did any of them change their mind about wanting to come? If so, in your opinion why?

12. How are decisions made in the church, formally and informally? What decisions in the church require a congregational vote?

13. If I was your pastor and I wanted to change the Sunday School curriculum would that be easy or difficult? What if I wanted to change the time of the Sunday night service?

14. What was the most contentious business meeting you remember? What things are normally discussed in your business meetings? How often do you have them? When you have a pastor does he moderate them?

15. What caused you to be interested in me as a potential candidate?

16. How does the church currently evangelize?

17. In your view what is the single biggest obstacle to continued numerical church growth?

18. When did your last new members join? What would they say attracted them to the church?

19. How much prayer is involved on your end in the process of choosing a pastor?

20. What is your understanding of the role of the pastor's wife? What are you expectations for her? For the pastor's children?

21. Does the pastor have the authority to hire/fire the staff?

22. Does the staff answer to the board of deacons or to the pastor?

23. What Bible colleges has the church traditionally recommended/used?

24. What percentage of the vote does the candidate need in order to become the pastor? What percentage of a vote is required to fire him?

25. Has the interim period since the previous pastor left been stable or fractious?

26. Please define in your view what the role of the senior pastor is. What are your expectations regarding preaching, teaching, counseling, office hours, administration, and soul winning?

27. Is your church a formal member of any Baptist association or fellowship? Has it historically had a good relationship with other independent Baptist churches in the area?

28. Does your church operate financially via an annual budget? Do you consider the budget as authorizing the pastor to spend money, or does he still have to ask permission?

29. Do you have any requirements/standards in place for choir members, Sunday School teachers, ministry workers, deacons, etc.?

30. Do you have a weekly teachers/workers meeting?

31. Of the children that are in the church what percentage attend public school, Christian school, and home school? Is there a good Christian school in the area?

32. What are the specifics of the process of candidating/voting on your end?

If you desire to proceed to the candidating stage I would ask for the following information to be provided for me before I decide to candidate.

1. The last three years worth of business meeting notes, including any financial reports.

2. The most recent statements from your church's checking/saving accounts.

3. A detailed description of the pastor's pay package. Please include an explanation of whether there is a process for an annual review of that pay package, and if so, what it is.

4. A copy of the current annual budget.

5. A copy of the church constitution.


          Understand, they will not be able to answer all of these questions. In fact, many of them they will never have thought of, and many others they will not be able to give you any detailed response to. That is ok because that in and of itself tells you something. Best of all, it brings up subjects that are important to you for discussion. In my experience, it is incredibly helpful to say to a church, “I discussed this with the pulpit committee before I came.” Be kind. Be respectful. But be intentional.


5) Ask to preach an evening service.

          I am not talking here about candidating. I am talking about what is commonly known as pulpit supply. It is a lower pressure way of letting the church evaluate you while at the same time evaluating the church. Take the afternoon, drive through the town. Get a feel for it. Count the number of men in the evening service. Watch how they sing. Do the people seem happy? Is there a blend of ages and ethnicities? What is the overall spirit of the church like? Is this the kind of church you can see your family being a part of for the next ten years? Could you see your ministry here? Is this the kind of church you want to be a part of?


6) During the formal candidating event.

          If it is a weekend or a three day period or a Sunday, here are my suggestions:

          -limit it; don’t keep returning endlessly while they delay a decision

          -ask for a vote sooner rather than later, preferably immediately at the close of your time with them; if they refuse and schedule it later accept that delay with good grace

          -kindly but firmly insist on seeing the specifics I listed above in relation to their finances, their business meetings, and their constitution

          -formalize the pay package; do not be rude but do not ignore it; in the end, if this is God’s will for you, accept the position regardless of what they do or do not offer financially, but bring it up for discussion; your future pastor self will thank you

          -consider asking for a congregational meeting of some sort; if there isn’t one, ask for a fellowship dinner or something similar; circulate from table to table and just listen to the people’s concerns

          -choose carefully what you preach; include some of your testimony, call to the ministry, and ministry experience; preach something that reveals you know the Bible well; preach about Jesus; preach comfort; preach a bit about your core values

          -decide before they vote whether you will accept or not


          I am well aware that many a man reading this will take a contrary position here or there to what I have written above. That is perfectly fine. This piece is almost wholly my opinion. By the same token, please understand it is a hard-won opinion. There are (what I think good) reasons for every word I have written here today. If someone chooses to go a different direction it does not make them wrong or even short-sighted. I simply ask that they consider what I have said and think it through carefully. And, whatever happens in any particular situation, know two things. First, I am pulling for each man of God. If that is you, I am in your corner. Second, yielded to God’s will He will not let you miss it. Trust Him. Follow Him. He will lead you.

          May God bless you as you seek to serve Him wisely and well.  




Monday, January 11, 2021

A Candidating Philosophy

 Pastoral Transitions 13

          Thus far in our series on pastoral transitions we have discussed how to decide whether to stay or go, and the next steps to take if you have decided to go. Each of these we have looked at from several different angles. We come today then to what is chronologically next in progression, the candidating process. As with the others, we will look at this from several different angles but we will begin today with a pastor’s underlying philosophical approach to the process.

          Baptist churches, almost by definition, are disorganized. We reject any over-arching denominational network or support for biblical reasons. Thus, when a church is looking for a pastor or a pastor is looking for a church each party is largely left to their own devices. What has risen to fill this void is a curious creature called candidating. A candidate is defined by the dictionary as a person who seeks an office. When a man seeks the office of pastor or a church seeks someone to fill that office the resulting process is called in our circles candidating.

          How should a pastor approach this in his mind and heart? What guidelines can help to protect him as he makes this all-important choice?

          First, I would advise that a candidate not get involved in a beauty contest. What is a beauty contest? There are two general approaches Baptist churches take from their side of the process. One is to bring in an individual candidate, decide whether he is a good fit, decide whether he is the will of God, and if not, move on to the next man on their list. The other approach is to compile their top five potential candidates, to bring them in one at a time, and then to determine which one of the five to pursue as a potential pastor. My counsel is to avoid at almost any cost the latter scenario.


For two reasons. First, because when you involve yourself in a beauty contest as a potential candidate the process has a tendency to drag on endlessly. Churches have no idea how hard this is on potential candidates. Yes, I realize it is not easy for a church to choose a new pastor but it is excruciating on the pastor and his family. The longer this process goes on with a particular church the longer the process will be for the pastor, period. If a beauty contest runs for six weeks or three months, say, then during all of that time the potential pastor cannot accurately involve himself with any other church. He is essentially locked in to consider just that one while the church meanwhile is keeping its options open. And open. And open. And open.

          Second, such a process short circuits the point of candidating, which point is to discover the will of God. For the pastor the question is, “Does God want me to pastor this particular church?” For the church the question is, “Does God want this particular man to be our pastor?” A beauty contest moves that consideration to the background as it inevitably becomes a popularity contest. The pillars and the people gather in little groups while they debate for weeks which guy is better. It becomes about argument and political maneuver rather than a straight-forward process of discovery of the will of God.

In my recent search for a pastorate I inadvertently got myself involved in two of those situations. I say inadvertent because I did not realize that was the approach the pulpit committee had chosen. They did not tell me. When I discovered it, the first time I went along. The second time I immediately withdrew from consideration. Both of them wasted a tremendous amount of my time and attention in what was, in my mind, an unfair, painfully lengthy procedure.  

Second, be patient with the pulpit committee. Yes, I just criticized some of them for taking forever, but the truth is they have a thankless, almost awful task. They have to do something they probably have not prepared at all to do, to do so at a difficult time in their church’s life, and to do so under a myriad of pressures they were not built to handle. Pulpit committees will fail to treat you with common decency. It is ok. They will take forever to decide on what is to you a fairly obvious next step. That is ok too. They will ask inane questions, focus on piddly things, overlook important things they ought to investigate, move someone much less qualified ahead of you, and do a thousand other things to aggravate you. It is still ok. This is, after all, God’s church. Time and time again He somehow manages to use this process to pair suitable pastors and churches together in marvelous ways. You will end up at some particular church and you will pastor some pulpit committee eventually. When you get to that point you do not want to begin by having to forgive them for their humanity. They are doing the best they can in an impossibly bad job. Cut them all the slack in the world.

Third, when they talk to you, listen. Resist the temptation to lead the conversation for a while. Like weeks. Just listen. You need to learn where this church is at spiritually, financially, emotionally, ministry-wise, and a million other ways. Listen. Let them talk to you. Encourage them to talk to you, whether that be individually or in a group. The more information you have the better informed your own decisions will be. They know their church, even if they struggle to articulate what they know. You do not know it at all. Listen.

Fourth, be honest about your positions but not critical of theirs, or of their former leadership. If they are wise they will ask you a million questions. If you are wise, you will welcome it. In fact, you will bring up things with them they have not thought to ask, important things about how you function, lead, communicate, operate, and pastor. If they ask you what you believe about the Bible or repentance or music or specific colleges or budgeting answer honestly. You do not have to be brutally honest, but the broad strokes of your answers ought to be true to what you believe and practice. Maneuvering yourself via deception into what seems a desirable position is so short-sighted in this endeavor. You will pastor these men, their families, and their dear friends. If you are not open and honest when they discover it they will resent you. That resentment can easily grow into a cancer that swallows your pastorate whole. Tell the truth.

At the same time, try not to criticize the former administration. Learn to use phrases such as, “I have no desire to criticize someone who does it differently but here’s where I stand” or “Going forward, I would be guided by this philosophy or use this approach.” Almost certainly, they still respect their former pastor and rightly so. That ought to be encouraged, not torn down. Criticize by building better, not by criticizing. If you become the pastor, you will get your opportunity to build differently, to show by that difference what you think of the past. But do not disrespect that past. It is both unwise and unseemly. After all, you will be the past someday and you will want what you built to continue on. Do not throw grenades; bring a trowel.

Fifth, do not tell them everything you would change or every area in which you are different. And, no, this does not contradict the previous one. It is applied wisdom. You did not arrive at your doctrine and practice overnight. You grew into it. Likewise, they will need to grow into it. Leadership is about influence, about moving people from one place or position to another, but that takes much time and patience and careful dealing. Give the broad strokes, honestly, about where you are heading but do not fill in every detail. They are not ready for that.

Sixth, pray. Prayer must be part and parcel of everything you do in this process. Pray when you hear of a church that is open. Pray when your preliminary investigations rule it in. Pray when you send off your resume. Pray when you hang up the phone after your first call with the pulpit committee. Pray with them when you talk to them. Pray when you walk alone late at night around the block. Just pray. Use every ounce of the hard-won experience and wisdom you have gained, but actively cultivate constant dependence upon the Lord.

Seventh, envision the future. Day-dreaming is not helpful, but envisioning the future is. The difference is when you have a specific, actual situation to contemplate. Can you see yourself pastoring in that town? Can you see your family there? Picture yourself in the pulpit, leading a men’s meeting, and soul winning from house to house. Do you see potential? Do  you see what God can do? You must, for you cannot lead people unless you are going somewhere. Where do you want to take them? If you cannot answer that question or do not want to answer that question then that answers the question, so to speak.

          In the next post, we will examine some specific practical helps on the pastor’s side in the candidating process. The following week we will see how candidating looks from the pulpit committee view. Stay tuned.  

Sunday, November 29, 2020

When Next is Long Delayed


Pastoral Transitions 12


Note: Following today’s post I will begin my now customary December break. This series on pastoral transitions will resume in January of next year.


          You are in the ministry. The Lord has stirred your heart about what comes next in your life. You have carefully sifted that, refining it to ensure it is the leading of the Lord. You have ascertained that it is. You have begun privately preparing your current ministry for this transition. You have never prayed so much. You have sought counsel. You have pondered long and hard about what to do next. Through much labor you have painstakingly compiled a plan of attack, including what kind of ministry opportunity to pursue next. Now, after an indescribable amount of work, you launch your plan and… nothing happens. Very few ministry opportunities that meet your criteria cross your path, and those that do entirely fail to return your interest in them. You think till your brain bleeds. You pray till your knees callous. You work your fingers to the bone. And there you sit, still, never so still. The heavens are brass. The phone is silent. The mail is all ads. You have launched this tremendous undertaking and your craft sits there, idly rocking in the wake of boats large and small zooming by.

          How do you handle that? How do you handle the sometimes long delay in ascertaining the will of God and apprehending that will?

          First, you pray. Yes, I know you already have. Yes, I know I have included prayer as a step in every single one of my blog posts on this subject. That is not accidental. Nothing God’s men do ought to be done unless it is marinated through and through with prayer. God is more interested in developing your dependence on Him than he is in you developing a substantial ministry. So pray. Pray for faith enough to trust God with the delay. Pray for contentment with your current field of service. Pray for peace of heart and mind as you balance on this inner-knife-edge of go or stay. Pray for patience. Pray for wisdom as you make decisions for yourself, your family, and your ministry. Pray for acceptance, that God will mold your will, patterning it after His own. Just keep on praying.

          Second, accept that this long delay does not make sense. I really struggled with this. I was a rather successful pastor, as those things are measured. I had a wide network of good friends. I had a purposeful plan. I worked hard at executing that plan. It did not make sense that the calendar crawled by interminably as opportunity after opportunity passed me by. I could see that if I was a rookie. That would make sense to me if I had taken a haphazard approach to it all. I could understand it if I had a history of pastoral struggle. I could grasp it if I was anonymous, known by no one but God alone. But none of those things were true. Yet still I waited. And waited. And waited. I cannot count the number of times I said to God, “This just doesn’t make any sense.” Nor did it. But I finally had to come to terms with that. God’s leading in my life does not have to make sense to me. I know. That last sentence should not have been so revolutionary to me but it was, on a deeply personal level. I had to learn that, and accept it.

          Third, determine to hoe your row as well as you know how to hoe it while you are still in it. If your current sphere of ministry is as a youth pastor then give your heart and money and time and love to those young people as long as you are there. Etc. Etc. Fight the urge to leave before you leave. I do not mean be unwise in your leadership and we have spoken of that already. There are some things you must avoid doing if you know you are planning on leaving. But that does not mean you give up, that you check out emotionally, financially, or spiritually on your current ministry. Put your head down and hoe that row as hard as you can, as well as you possibly can. You are a worker in the Lord’s vineyard. Be diligent in husbanding your section no matter if you now see it as a temporary assignment. Your conscience will love you for it, and while your people may never understand all that it costs you, they will thrive. And your Lord will be pleased.

Fourth, remind yourself of how it turned out the previous times God pushed you to really trust in Him.

God blesses faith. It warms Him. He is drawn to it as a freezing man is drawn to a blazing fire. He pours out the favor of His lovingkindness on those who exercise belief in Him, even if or especially when that belief is tried. The trial of our faith is most precious to Him. Remind yourself of how good God has been to you in the past as a result of your faith in Him.

God tried me first in high school. He pushed me to my emotional limits. He forced me to learn to walk with Him, to find in Him my life. He tried me again in college, cutting me off from a planned future that made sense and that I dearly wanted. He launched me on some weird isolating tangent into the middle of nowhere. And at the end of that tangent I found the rich blessing of God. He tried me again in my twenties as I stood in the snow of a freezing December afternoon, buried my daughter, and went home to try to comfort my heartbroken young bride. Oh, how He tried us. And how He has since blessed us. He tried me again in Chicago, pushing my sense of myself, of my ministry, of culture, of America, of my strengths and weaknesses, forming me into an instrument fit for His use in the stony field of a great American inner-city. And then He blessed our church.

Now, He was doing it again. He was tearing me away from me all of my external and internal supports, forcing me to rely on Himself alone. And every other time He had put me through a season of such testing He had blessed me. I looked at my wife, at my children, at my thriving church, at my growing writing ministry and I saw the deep blessing of God. So if He was thrusting me back into the fire of some private dare-I-say-it agony then there must be some rich blessing at the end of that one too. And there is.

Fifth, remind yourself of the blessing that came to people in the Bible who waited on God. Abraham waited – and God blessed him for it. Isaac waited. Jacob waited. Joseph waited. Job waited. David waited. Jesus waits yet for the fulfilment of His Father’s promises. It is a pattern you see from one end of the Bible to the other. All of God’s children are called to wait on Him, sometimes a waiting of seeming endless duration. And then His blessing overflows out of their life onto the lives of those around them they love so much. Tell yourself those stories, again and again, as often as you need to.

Sixth, learn the difference between adjusting and settling. In college, I searched the scriptures for what kind of a wife I ought to pursue and how I ought to pursue her. She never materialized, no matter how hard I worked at it. But I refused to settle. Plenty of girls ran the halls with their hand held out, metaphorically begging some guy to put a ring on it. I wanted no part of them. I had a pretty good understanding of what the arc of my life and my family’s life required, and I was not about to settle for less because I was lonely or desperate or frustrated. So I did not. As I type this on Sunday afternoon at my dining room table my wife sits three feet away from me, and I am thrilled that I did not settle for less.

By the same token, in my transition from one pastorate to the next, though it would be unwise to settle for some quick opportunity just because it was available, it was wise for me to adjust some of my expectations. I had to let go of some of the things on my I’d-like-to-have list. I had to realize some of my expectations were unrealistic. And I had to discern how to do that while at the same time not settling for less than God’s best.

Seventh, refuse to panic. Akin to the young me who at some point thought he was doomed to eternal bachelorhood, the mature me thought he would never find the next place of service. It stretched, receding before me as the mirage temptingly recedes before the thirsty desert traveler. I was tempted to panic, to make a sudden and violent attempt to solve it. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has well defined faith as a refusal to panic. I love that. Hold steady. God is at work, whether I see Him at work or no. I am not doomed. I am here under His keeping for His time, and I will not panic.

Eighth, persevere. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep going soul winning. Keep mentoring men. Keep preparing messages. Keep catching tears. Keep bearing the burdens of the ministry. Just keep on. The brighter, better days of the will of God will never come if we refuse to wade through the darker waters of the present. Persevere. You are not worth your salt as God’s man if you cannot and will not persevere.

He may not make you wait. But if He does, He has very good reasons. Trust Him in it.  

Saturday, November 21, 2020

When Next is Starting from Scratch

Pastoral Transitions 11

Note: Today's post is by Justin Soto. He pastors the River City Baptist Church in Natomas, California.


The ministry journey of each of us is navigated from the sum total of all of our experiences, influences, and training, with the Holy Spirit’s interjection into any and all of these. At thirty-eight years-old I found myself with the daunting task of reflecting on nearly eleven years of pastoring the same church and knowing that that chapter would soon close. What next?

To answer ‘what next’ the ‘what before’ must be explored. In the summer of 2000, at what foolishly seemed like the over-the-hill age of twenty-seven, I was in a similar situation as I was transitioning from being an assistant pastor to taking my first church. I accepted the pastorate at Charity Baptist Church of Colusa, California - a rural farm town two hours northeast of San Francisco. Several things during that ten-plus year period were affecting my decision making on the next step. First of all, my original inkling of I’d never start a church was something that seemed God reminded me of often. People would ask ‘Did you start your church?’ and for reasons I can only explain as Holy Spirit working, the answer ‘no’ always brought some level of conviction. God seemed to remind me that I had told him I could not start a church. (I’m musically inept and can’t carry a tune in a bucket and that was my biggest obstacle in starting a church as new churches almost always need the pastor to lead singing.)  Another internal prodding was watching and mentally cataloging many church plants. The successful ones brought an obvious example, but I think I gleaned more from the church plants that didn’t make it. What not to do and what should be done, if you will. Additionally, it seemed like God brought me across the path of several different people who were wanting to start a church and each of them described their desired cities as the most ideal place in all the world. I’m exaggerating some but I recall them saying something like 200,000 people in a city with no one saved, but all wanting to be saved and just waiting for me; all upper middle class people who will buy in to back tithing at the moment of their conversion. I always thought, what about the tens of thousands of cities that don’t fit your perfect mold? Don’t they need a church too? Finally, I personally knew I needed a bigger pond. A decade in a town of 6,000 in a county of 20,000 was wearing on me. When you can knock every door in your city within a week or two and every door in your county over the course of a three-month span a sense of claustrophobia can set in - at least it did for me.

Three years prior to my actual departure I counseled with one pastor and told him that I felt my time in Colusa was winding down. Only this man and my wife knew my heart. I didn’t want to fill out a résumé, seek out a pulpit or church, or even let it be known that I was interested in change. I simply told God that He knew where I was and that if He wanted me to move elsewhere that someone would reach out to me. No such call came which solidified in my heart that God wanted me to start a church. Not only do we need more churches and not fewer churches, but we also need more conversions and fewer transfers. Church growth built on being the popular church in town and matriculating transfers may populate someone’s sphere of influence, but doesn’t necessarily populate the Kingdom of Heaven.

Where? Sacramento has always been near to my heart as it is the city where my father was born and raised. In fact, my grandfather was minding his own business in Guanajuato, Mexico in the 1940s amidst WWII. The rail yard in Sacramento contacted Mexico looking for able-bodied men to move to California because so many of our nation’s young men were fighting in the war. My grandfather, grandmother and their eight children moved to Sacramento to answer that call. Joseph Soto, my dad, was born a few years later. For those unfamiliar with California geography, Sacramento is 400 miles north of Los Angeles and is about a seven hour drive from where I grew up in Southern California. Colusa, where I pastored at the time, was only an hour north of Sacramento. My wife’s family lived in nearby Chico (my wife graduated from the same high school as Aaron Rogers and I jokingly say he is the second most famous alum from Pleasant Valley High School) and Elk Grove, which is a suburb of Sacramento. The capital city of arguably the most influential state of the most influential country is a place that ought to be prayerfully considered for church planting. The zip code where our church started and still resides today, 95834, was at the time and I believe still is the tenth most ethnically diverse zip code in the US. Though we are not technically in the inner city or the downtown district of Sacramento, we are smack dab in the city and it is only 6.2 miles from our church to the State Capitol building. Cities are very expensive, transient, loud, crowded, dirty at times and so needful for church planting. Their suburb counterparts may be more appealing at times and God will call many there as well, but let us not forget the cities of our country. 

A great pastor friend of mine had previously done a lot of scouting work for church planting in the greater Sacramento area including the Natomas neighborhood of Sacramento where our church currently is. He ended up going to Roseville, which is a growing affluent suburb, and so I had a lot of his research for Natomas at the ready from his hard work. Jen and I took many trips to Sacramento just to get away and we would always drive up and down the streets of Natomas praying, scouting, and planning. Two places that I frequented were grocery stores and schools as they were letting out as those locations would be the truest window into our future constituency. The more we prayed, planned, and sought God’s will the more we realized that Sacramento and more specifically Natomas was where God was leading.

On May 22nd of 2011, I offered my resignation at Charity Baptist Church and continued there for the next six weeks. Parenthetically, that was the most difficult church service I had ever been in. We spent what in hindsight seems like not enough time from July until October of 2011 making preparations to start the church. Jen and I were (married sixteen years then), our four children ranging in age from seven to thirteen years old, my wife’s ninety-two year-old great aunt who lived with us, all packed up our stuff and headed south to Sacramento for this cause. We have had lots of ups and downs along the way these last 9 years, but God has been faithful. I would be remiss if I did not highlight the fact that without the support of my family and their tireless labor our church would not exist.

In three months time we were able to raise some support from likeminded friends, travel on Sundays and Wednesdays preaching at churches, knock 9,000 doors, secure a building that included some painting and prep, design and print logos and tracts, acquire all the necessary items such as hymnals, pulpit, chairs, platform, etc., buy a house, move our family, figure-out homeschooling, prepare our home in Colusa county to be rented, and a wide array of unforeseen things that always arise.

Sunday, October 9, 2011 as a nervous thirty-eight year old paced an empty auditorium around 10:45 a.m., an unrecognizable car pierced the early season Sacramento fog pulling into the parking lot. Someone would indeed attend, and then several more someones. And River City Baptist Church of Sacramento would have her inaugural service.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

What Kind of Church to Look for Next

Pastoral Transitions 10

          In this series, I have sought to emphasize the wisdom of serving the Lord with our minds. We are not somehow more spiritual if we refuse the tools of wisdom, discernment, prudence, planning, and common sense. Yes, I am a toiler in the Lord’s vineyard. Yes, He has the right to send me anywhere He pleases. But in over two decades of pastoring I have noticed that He almost always pairs a man up very well with a specific church. He does not assign us willy-nilly, and I do not think we ought to look for that assignment willy-nilly either. We have carefully thought through whether to stay or leave. We have carefully thought through how to help our church prior to our departure, and we will do much more of that before we leave. Now we will carefully think through where we are going next.

          At the outset, let me say taking another church is not the only option available. Indeed, I could make an argument that America needs urban church planters desperately. It may be the Lord wants you to resign your current church and go start another one. But I have delegated that discussion to a friend of mine who actually did, and that will be next week’s post. There are also men who resign their church and enter evangelism. In that case, they go where they are asked. Other men resign a pastorate and enter into a professorship, but again, that generally comes to you instead of vice versa and so does not enter into our discussion today either.

          There are, I think, two primary things you must understand and apply in this decision. First in priority and precedence must be prayer. There is no part in this whole process in which prayer does not lay the foundation. If we are sure the Lord is leading us away from where we are currently serving then just as assuredly He is leading toward something else. Let us be careful to ask His guidance, His leadership, His wisdom, His illumination, and His direction as we look. Yes, we serve the Lord with our mind, with our common sense, but that does not set aside the importance of constant prayer. I have lived to thank the Lord that He led me in such a way as to dodge several pastoral bullets, and in all three of my pastorates I was/am convinced the Lord led me directly to them. That does not happen without prayer for only in prayer do we constantly resign our will to His. Only in prayer are we careful to come back to full dependence upon Him rather than our own work, our own reasoning, or our own networking capacity. Prayer throws us on Him. We are His men. We must ever pray, and certainly at such a season as this.

          Second, we must learn the difference between what we want to have in our next church and what we must to have in our next church. In this sense, a pastoral search reminds me of house hunting. Mandy and I recently purchased our own home here in Dubuque. That process was long, and part of it involved determining what on our list of we’d-like-to-haves we could leave off. In a similar way, a pastoral search involves the same determination, and often the same learning curve along the way.

          Let me illustrate this with my own pastoral search. At the beginning, this was my list of things I was looking for in a potential church:

          -city: large enough to be interesting; small enough to be peaceful; need to be able to drive around it easily b/c of Meniere’s but have enough population to produce continual prospects for church growth; somewhere pretty; good local economy; diverse demographics

          -property: large church building with room to grow with enough property to add on; well situated for visibility in a good part of town

          -staff: an assistant pastor and a secretary

          -youth group: active, for my children

          -school: either runs or close to a church that runs a Christian school for my children to attend

          -strengths: financially stable; soul winning; committedly IFB; dress standards; conservative music; men led

          As time went along, my list winnowed down a bit. No matter how desperate I became I refused to embrace the whatever-church-will-have-me and I will write more about that later in this series. But I did realize I was going to have to set some things to side. My final list included the following:

          -city; large enough to be interesting; small enough to be peaceful; need to be able to drive around it easily b/c of Meniere’s but have enough population to produce continual prospects for church growth; somewhere pretty; good local economy

          -property: enough space to grow

          -strengths: financially stable; soul winning; committedly IFB; dress standards; conservative music; men led

          A blind man on horseback a mile away can see the difference between those two lists. So how did I come up with them? And how did I adjust them? How did I determine what to look for in the next church?

          To answer that question I will proffer you three other questions. First, what battles do you not want to fight? Decades ago, the pastor of a fast-growing Georgia church named Curtis Hutson wrote a book entitled, “Building and Battling.” In this, he was simply following in the steps of the pastor of a fast-growing London church named Charles Spurgeon who started a paper called, “The Sword and the Trowel.” Pastoring always has included battles and always will include battles. But there are some things I decided I did not want to spend the rest of my life fighting.

Of course, one way to avoid battles is to surrender. I am convinced numerous middle-aged pastors give in to that temptation just as numerous middle-aged parents do. They are tired of fighting so they simply throw in the towel. They let the children or the church do what it wants to do. But God has thus far given me grace not to take that route. I am still willing to fight about numerous subjects and concepts in the wider religious world yet at the same time not willing to fight about them at home. Here it is settled. We have already decided. We are all already on the same page, for the most part.

For me, those battles revolve largely around Bible version, dress standards, an emphasis on personal evangelism, and conservative music. I had no interest in fighting a deacon board and a Sunday School staff and a choir about such things. You may have different priorities and different values. My point here is that you ought to determine ahead of time what kind of a church you want on such points. And resist all temptation to the contrary.     

In an earlier post, I spoke of how to research a potential church. It is precisely here that this research becomes so valuable. You have a finite amount of time, patience, and focus. If you spend three months working on a potential church only to then discover it is weak in some area that is important to you those three months are wasted months. Or you will be tempted to compromise. “Well, I know their music is weak but look at everything else they have.” So you proceed. And purchase for yourself a decade of ministerial frustration and grief. So I ask you again, which battles do you not want to fight?

The second question that can lend insight into what kind of a church you should look for is this: What burdens do you not want to carry? Make no mistake, the pastorate is and always will be a burden. Only hirelings do not have burdens, but real ministers multiply them. Having said that, there are some burdens that are so restrictive, so constraining as to limit your potential ministry. Others are almost crippling. You cannot eliminate burdens, but like temptation, wisdom can walk around many of them, taking a different route.

For example, for some men, the thought of a church renovation makes them wake up at midnight in a cold sweat. For other men, the idea of pastoring a church with a Christian school produces shudders of sheer terror. I am not in this post weighing in on the wisdom of one particular thing or another. I am simply asking you to ask yourself that question – which burdens do you not want to carry.

For sixteen years I carried the burden of inner-city ministry. I carried the traffic, the crime, the grime, the claustrophobia, the noise, the constant parental tension, the asphalt and concrete, the high cost of living, and the spiritual warfare endemic wherever you find high concentrations of godless, materialistic, practical paganism. I chose to lay that burden down. I am delighted when others take it up. I pray for others to take it up. But unless you have served a lengthy period in a great American city I gently ask you not to sit in judgment on me. In turn, I will not sit in judgment on you for the burdens you choose not to carry. After all, neither you nor I are currently serving in the Congo, are we? Why not? We could have gone. But we chose not to carry that burden.

          I preached in a church once, a typically-sized church of about a hundred or so, that carried a debt load of more than two million dollars. They were looking for a pastor. There was much there that was attractive to me. But Mandy looked at me one day and said, “Tom, if you go there, you will spend all of your time and effort managing that debt load.” She was right, and I am not pastoring there today. I am not saying you would be wrong to go there; I am saying it would have been unwise for me. I say again, ask yourself, which burdens do you not want to bear?

          In addition to those two questions, I would offer you one final question, or perhaps I should say two sides to the same question. What are you good at? What are you bad at? As a young preacher, fresh out of Bible college, the honest answer must be that you do not know. But as an experienced pastor certainly you ought to be able to answer that question. You have strengths and weaknesses. Accurately assess them, and tailor your search accordingly.

          Sometimes, we do not like the answers we discover when we ask that question. Sometimes, we answer it too optimistically. If such indeed is the case, and we do manage to land the church we think we deserve, we will find ourselves in over our head. The Lord knows that. Let Him tell you.

          How does He tell you your strengths and weaknesses? Through your friends. Iron sharpens iron. Through your wife. She knows you better than anyone and is on your side. Be slow, most cautiously slow, to proceed where she deems it unwise. Pulpit committees will tell you, sometimes with repetitious brutality. Let them. Your people where you pastor now will tell you. I do not mean the sycophantic followers; I mean your men, your deacons, your leaders, your teachers, those who labor with you in the work. Listen when they talk to you. Their compliments mean something. So do their criticisms. Seek to strengthen your weaknesses, but if you are going to build a new life somewhere you should probably build it on what you do well. Your new church, like a new suit, should fit you well. Do not be afraid to keep looking through the rack until you find it.

          We must always yield our will to His will, and rarely do the situations we deem perfect for us actually end up being so. He knows the end from the beginning; let Him lead. But do you work at it. Labor at it. Study yourself and your ministry. Be ruthless. Be honest. Be thorough. Then go look for a church that mostly fits that paradigm.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Nine Things to Do Before You Resign


Pastoral Transitions 9

          There are two sides, broadly speaking, of each pastoral transition. One side I loosely label the pastor’s side. This is his thought process regarding whether to leave or not, how this will impact his family and himself, and where and how to go on to what is next. At the same time, he must also balance, or perhaps I should say fulfil, his responsibilities as a pastor to his current congregation. As a shepherd, he must be most conscious that his flock are about to undergo quite a blow. Duty and wisdom thus combine to bring him to prepare them as well as possible for what they do not yet realize is coming down the pike.

          In a very real sense, every pastor should be doing this all the time. As Peter Folger pointed out last week, every pastor is ultimately and always an interim pastor. But in another sense, there is something actually different about leading a church that you are planning on staying in for many years and leading a church you know you are planning on leaving. You cannot pastor them the same if you are going to do so with integrity and effectiveness. To be clear, I am not speaking of what a pastor does in the time immediately around his resignation. We will discuss that in posts to come. I am speaking here of his approach in the months prior to his resignation, when all of this ferment is still contained within only his own mind and heart. How do you or how should you pastor a church you know you are going to leave? How do you help to prepare them for a future that is not even on their radar?

I have nine hard-won suggestions to offer for your consideration. Three are philosophical; six are practical.

          On the philosophical side I would say first, it is vital to keep uppermost in your mind that these people are not going anywhere. My wife taught me that, standing on the sidewalk outside my office in our church in Pennsylvania many years ago. We were about to walk in the side door. Things had been going so well recently. In the last year we had added numerous people and several ministries. The first five years we fought and clawed and scratched and bled and got hardly anywhere. But in the last year and change God opened the windows of Heaven and rained down the blessing of progress. I said to Mandy, “Why do I have to go right when it is getting good?”

She said, “You always said you didn’t want to go if the church was struggling; it isn’t struggling.”

I sighed, and said, “I know, but not only do I not want to do this, I don’t know how to do this. How do I pastor them knowing I am planning on leaving?”

God bless her for the sentence that came out of her mouth next. “Tom, it isn’t complicated. You just have to remember that they aren’t going anywhere. This is their church. They’ll be here after we leave. You just have to keep that in mind.” I did, and that church stands today decades later as testimony to the wisdom of that statement.

          The decisions you make now for your church will probably not impact you because you are going to leave, but those decisions will impact them. For much longer. And that thought must drive your approach. You have no right to do what will be easier and better for you if it will be harder and worse for them after you leave. Your future may be elsewhere but theirs is not. You must do what is best for them long after you leave, whether they ever see that or not let alone understand that or not.

          Second, study how Jesus prepared the Apostles for His exit. In all things Christ is our example, and this is no different. He knew He was leaving; they did not. Thoughtfully, diligently, and carefully He prepared them for His absence long before they ever saw it coming. When you trace the arc of His ministry you can see this building in His actions and teaching over the last year of His life, coming to a point during the Passion Week. It is marvelously thoughtful, a splendid example of applied wisdom married to deep care.

          I do not have time within the constructs of this blog post to develop this thought. It needs a book, really. I will briefly say that He spoke often of His leaving, sought to unite them, spoke much of peace, encouraged them to love each other, and many more such things. If you really want to pastor like the Shepherd and Bishop of our Souls pastors then study Him in this.

          Lastly on the philosophical side I would urge you to pray. Prayer undergirds all of our spiritual decisions with spiritual strength. It supports and develops in God’s church that which we are attempting to do. Pray for these people to whom you have given your life. Pray for their future. Ask God to do what He is so good at doing, prepare them for what they do not realize is coming. Ask Him to give you wisdom and grace and strength and clarity. Ask Him to guide your mind and your heart. Ask Him to strengthen your people, to peel them away from you and draw them to Himself. Ask Him to prepare not only them, but the things and people they will need to make it through their time without a pastor. 

          Now on to the practical side, first, put off any major projects. If you were going to remodel your auditorium, do not. If you have already begun then finish it. Get it done before you leave. If you were going to buy that land, do not. If you were going to hire another staff member, unless it is specifically in relation to replacing yourself as we have already discussed in this series, do not. If you were going to fire a staff member, do not. If it is a big deal do not pull the trigger. 

          Second, squirrel away money. Pastoral transitions are not only rough on pastors and their families, they are rough on churches. Many, if not most, times churches lose members and their giving declines. The new pastor often stabilizes that, of course, but you cannot see the future. I promise you, your successor will not be mad at you that you left him a pile of money. It gives him the flexibility to focus on pastoring his new flock instead of immediately entering crisis mode. Give him that flexibility. Let his vision lead going forward, whoever he is. It will help the church in the interregnum between you both, and it will help the new pastor when he comes.

          Third, make sure your paperwork is up to snuff. While I would not necessarily advise undertaking a constitutional revision at such a time it may perhaps be necessary. Ensure your membership records are accurate, your financial paperwork is in order, your business meeting notes are organized, etc.

          Fourth, develop ministry redundancies. While this is always helpful, it takes precedence when you know the church is heading into troubled waters. If you only have one song leader, develop another. If you have the bare minimum of nursery workers, recruit some more. If your volunteer youth leader is shaky, make a back up plan. If an usher goes catawampus in your absence it probably will not hurt the church, but if a key member develops a problem it will. Without being obvious about it, develop people who can do someone else’s job somewhat capably if that someone else kicks in the traces after you resign.

          Fifth, preach about mature Christianity. Such a Christianity finds its pastor edifying but not specifically necessary. I do not mean a mature Christian can go without a church and a pastor. What I mean is that a mature Christian has such a direct attachment to the Lord their pastor, while helpful, is not critical to their spirituality. They do not need a milkman as much as the next guy because they have their own cow. Develop that thought repeatedly in your preaching. It is true in any case, but rather helpful in this specific case.

          Sixth, organize a pastoral succession plan. In a later post I will go into more detail about what this should look like. My point here is that you ought to have one, and have one long prior to announcing your resignation. Upon your resignation, your church will be in shock, and that is bad mental territory to develop a carefully thought-through plan for how to go forward. Again, as with so many other things on this list, it ought to be done period, but it most definitely needs cared for if you know you are planning on leaving. Such a plan will be of great comfort to the leadership of the church you are about to leave behind. Just knowing it was already in place and that they do not have to start from scratch while dealing with everything else a pastoral resignation involves them in will be an invaluable blessing.

          You are a steward. These dear people are not yours, but His. Good stewards prepare for the future, even a future that does not involve the steward himself, because that future always involves them and involves Him.

Be a good steward.  

Monday, November 2, 2020

What I Learned Succeeding My Father

Pastoral Transitions 8 

Note: Today's blog post is by Peter Folger. He pastors the historic Cleveland Baptist Church in Brooklyn, Ohio. 


“Every pastor is an interim pastor.” – William Vanderbloemen

This was the first sentence in a book entitled Next: Pastoral Succession that Works that we were reading as a pastoral team during the pastoral transition we were navigating here at Cleveland Baptist Church prior to June 2019. I was captivated by this opening sentence and haven’t forgotten it since. I’ve now served as pastor of Cleveland Baptist Church for 16 months. I’m only 41 years old, and I assume I am just getting started in my pastoral ministry, but I cannot shake the thought that I’m simply an interim pastor. I’m only holding this position temporarily. Someone will come behind me, preferably someone I’ve worked with, mentored, trained, and invested in.

I’m a firm believer in smooth pastoral transitions. The first pastoral transition I ever beheld, was as a junior in high school. It was personal for me. The outgoing pastor was my childhood pastor, Dr. Roy Thompson (founder and pastor of Cleveland Baptist Church for 37 years). The year was 1995 and the incoming pastor was no stranger to our church, nor to me personally. My dad had been designated to serve as Pastor following Dr. Thompson’s retirement or resignation and would serve faithfully in this role for nearly 24 years. The transition was seamless, Spirit-filled, and worthy of replicating. Many churches and pastors observed as the great Cleveland Baptist Church, led by its renowned founding pastor transitioned to a new leader. Roy Thompson had been forward in his thinking, unselfish, and humble. He had put the church’s needs ahead of his own. He would become known as much for this portion of his ministry, as he would for any other ministry accomplishment.

Have you come to the realization that you too are aging, the church must go on without you, and you won’t be able to pastor them forever? There are plenty of transitions in the Scriptures. I’m reminded of some of the great transitions in the Scriptures. Moses to Joshua, Samuel to Saul, Saul to David, Elijah to Elisha, John the Baptist to the Lord Jesus Christ, The Lord Jesus Christ to His apostles. Each could be gleaned from and is worthy of studying. The above transitions have been written about and certainly reveal great truths, but I’d like to consider an attempted transition by David’s son Adonijah to follow his father and sit on his throne. This futile attempt gives some very poignant truth about what is indeed necessary for there to be long-term triumph in leadership transition.

·       The logical choice is not always God’s choice – 1 Kings 1:5-6 

Adonijah was David’s second-born son, born after Absalom. Absalom had died in his efforts to overtake his father’s position and kingdom. Not only did Adonijah fit the qualifications to be king by birth, but it seemed he measured up in other ways too. The term goodly is used to describe him in I Kings 1:6 and it probably applies to his appearance more than it does to his character.

So often we make decisions based on the appearance of a thing. Adonijah checked off all the boxes necessary for a man to be king except for the most important one – he lacked the divine call of God to lead in this capacity. Adonijah might have been a good-looking man, but God had not chosen Him. One may look the part, and have the desire to function in that role, but if they do not possess the character or integrity necessary it is likely God will not call them to lead. 

·       The king’s passivity opened the door for an unfit, uncalled man to attempt to usurp the leadership of God’s people – 1 Kings 1:6 

David had taken a passive, uninvolved approach toward Adonijah his whole life. His father had never corrected him when he had done foolishly. Perhaps David’s busy schedule had kept him from being an involved father in the life of his children. It is not my position or job to call my son to succeed in my role after I am gone, but it is my job to prepare and mold him so that if God were to call him, he would be ready. 

With David on his deathbed, Adonijah took the opportunity to exalt himself, because David had not been as aggressive and authoritative regarding potential succession plans. The phrase “Long live the king” may be a cute, loyal, and loving expression but it is not rooted in reality. Every role we play in life is an interim role and we must work diligently to prepare and equip the generation coming behind us. David served for forty years as king, but this kingdom would long outlive him. 

It is imperative that a ministry leader give considerable thought to the day he is no longer able to serve in the role he is functioning in. He should work together with the leaders in his organization to develop and articulate a succession plan for those coming behind him. The organization should seek to train younger leaders who are familiar with the culture, men of integrity who share a like-mindedness. If we fail in this, it is highly likely that our passivity will lead to confusion and chaos as those we lead look to replace us, oftentimes settling for less than what God might have. 

·       The incoming leader must have full support if the transition is to be a success – 1 Kings 1:7-8 

Adonijah had the support of Joab and Abiathar, but he did not have the support of Zadok, Benijah, Nathan, Shimei, Rei, and David’s mighty men. Because he did not have the full support of the leaders in David’s kingdom his reign was not to be. 

My dad and I began to pray about whether God would have me to follow him probably ten years or so before it happened. We both believed that if it were to be the Lord’s will, then the people would recognize this as God’s plan, and they would call for it. We were determined not to move forward if the people were not in favor or agreement. This is His church, not ours. Over a lengthy period, key leaders began to see things and to make comments to both of us confirming that what God was doing in our hearts, he was doing in theirs as well. God chose that I should succeed my father as pastor of Cleveland Baptist Church, but the church, beginning with its leaders wholeheartedly recognized and confirmed it. To try to force something and to attempt to lead people who do not trust your leadership or the way you ascended to your position as Adonijah did, will usually not end well.

·        For there to be a successful transition, the outgoing leader and the incoming leader should be unified – 1 Kings 1:32-25 

Unity between the outgoing and incoming leader is crucial to the success of the transition. This is clearly seen throughout scripture. Moses and Joshua worked together for years prior to Moses’s death and Joshua’s ascent. When Joshua died there was no heir apparent and the nation plunged into a tumultuous period we read about in the book of Judges that was devoid of leadership and every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Saul and David were not unified and the transition between them was messy, drawn out, and altogether a disaster. Here, Adonijah tries to slide into the throne without David’s blessing or authorization and it leads to confusion and problems. Ultimately, David does select His successor and the unity between he and Solomon leads to a very smooth transition in the kingdom of Israel 

Allow me to share some very practical thoughts that I observed as the incoming leader in the midst of transition.

The outgoing leader must be a man of great humility 

He is transferring the love and respect he has enjoyed from the people he has led to another man. He is doing this intentionally. He must keep this in mind with every decision he makes. There will be things the incoming leader does differently (even if they are related). He must adapt or adjust to the way the new leader is. I’m speaking more methodologically than I am philosophically. In order to do this, he must take a step back and help the man coming behind him to step up.

The incoming leader must resist the impulse to turn everything upside down 

It is deceitful and unethical for a man to become the new leader and immediately make wholesale changes. More than likely the new leader was chosen to continue down the path the organization was traveling, to begin with. For a new leader to immediately cast off everything that was done throughout the tenure of the man he is following is disrespectful. Give people time to adjust to you and your leadership. Be patient in your new position, observe, and get to know your people before instituting change. I was taught by my father that a big ship turns slowly. Changes are needful, but they should be done slowly, carefully, and after much prayer.

The incoming leader should put a heavy emphasis on the counsel and wisdom of the outgoing leader 

If the man leaving has served well and been faithful and beloved by those he has led, the incoming leader would do well to carefully consider his counsel and advice. Before David passed off the scene he met with Solomon and imparted two types of advice or counsel to him. 

Philosophical – 1 Kings 2:1-4 

Practical – 1 Kings 2:5-9 

There are times a leader makes a decision, and we might wonder how they came to the decision they settled on. David informed Solomon of some of the conflicts he had endured and that he was leaving some of these problems for Solomon to clean up. He counsels him how he might best be able to deal with these things. It may be that David did this so Solomon could establish his own authority and leadership in the kingdom. A leader may not be able to clean up all the problems before his departure, but he should take care of as much as he can so the new leader can settle into his new role without having to deal with too many conflicts from the previous administration.

The incoming leader should approach his new position with humility and a strong desire to grow and learn – 1 Kings 3:5-9 

Solomon’s view of himself was that he was a little child (vs. 7) and a servant (vs. 8). Both are positions of humility. Even though Solomon had been raised in the palace and mentored by the king he knew those were not equivalent to being the king and sitting upon the throne. Solomon’s simple request to God was for wisdom, understanding, and discernment. There will be an enormous learning curve for a new ministry leader. Be teachable and humble and the Lord will elevate you!