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.