Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Resignation

 

Pastoral Transitions 20


          For several months now on this blog we have been looking at pastoral transitions. I have sought to address this from as many viewpoints as possible, but my overall approach has largely been chronological. We have discussed how to know when it is time to go, how to decide what to look for next, what to do for your current church once you have made the decision to go, how to execute your plan to look for another ministry, how to handle delays, what the candidating process looks like, how to deal with being voted down, and how a church should approach the pastoral search process from their side. That brings us to the next step in this process – your own resignation. At some point, almost always after you have secured your next ministry position, you will offer your resignation to your current ministry. What is the best way to do that? How can you soften that blow? How can you do it in such a way that even in this you are ministering to your people?

          First, inform your deacons privately. For years, they have had your back. For years, you have labored together in partnership with them. You have wept together, laughed together, prayed together, planned together, worried together, struggled together, fought together, lost together, won together. They deserve better than to be blindsided in a public service. Instinctively, your church will turn to them in the storm that is about to come. Let them prepare themselves for that by telling them ahead of time.

          In that deacons meeting, it is important that you emphasize your decision is not because of their lack of followship or problems you are currently experiencing as a pastor. And that needs to be the truth. Next, explain the reasons that have dictated your decision. In such settings, it goes without saying you should not lie. It does not then follow that you have to say everything you think, believe, or plan. Some men give no reasons because they do not want to have to answer questions or try to dance around things. I think that is bad pastoring. Tell them why, though not necessarily all the why. They will naturally have questions, perhaps even angry, antagonistic ones. Accept that. They will be surprised and hurt. Minister grace and truth to them in your responses.

          Following this initial notice on your part and succeeding discussion, take a few moments to plan what comes next. Do not overload them here. They need time to process this before you dive into the specifics of their responsibilities in this transition. Explain to them the timing of the events that will follow – how and when you will tell the church, how long you will remain as pastor, and when your next planning meeting will be.

I would also counsel that you and your deacon chairman prepare a statement that he can provide to the church. Following your public resignation, he should come to the pulpit and read this statement. Its purpose is to help settle and calm the initial nervousness that will come to your church when you resign. As he reads it, he should seek to portray a calm, controlled, everything-is-going-to-be-ok vibe. He should express gratitude on behalf of the church for your service, but a desire that the pastor continue to follow God’s will for his life. He should announce to the people that the deacons will meet very soon to begin planning the transition, and then he should close in prayer.

          Second, decide what format to use to resign. Some men do it via letter or email. Some men do it in a huff, or in a rambling and emotional speech at the conclusion of a service. In my opinion, it ought to be done in person via a prepared statement. Your people love you. Look them in the eye when you tell them. Do it in person, but use a prepared statement so you can ensure clear communication. I think it is best done at the conclusion of the Sunday morning service. The end of a service is better than the beginning for they will not be able to think about anything else once you resign. Plus, you can tailor the service to help prepare them for it. Your Sunday morning crowd is probably your largest crowd, and yet many of them will return Sunday night. This will allow you to minister to them the same day, softening the impact. Otherwise, you have to send them away from a service with your resignation the last thing on their mind for days. So do it in person on Sunday morning via prepared statement.

          Third, in the message that immediately precedes your resignation preach about trusting God. They will forget the message when you resign but they will remember the context of the resignation later and the message will help them.

          Fourth, read your resignation at the conclusion of the Sunday morning service. It needs to be a relatively short (not more than a few hundred words) summation of what you told the deacons in the prior meeting you had with them. Have your deacon chairman follow immediately with the statement he has prepared, and then have him dismiss in prayer.

          Fifth, decide ahead of time whether you are going to answer questions or not. I think this is an either/or kind of thing with no middle ground. I resigned on Sunday morning, and I chose to stand up on Sunday night and answer every possible question I could from the entire church. I did this in public because I wanted to control the narrative of what everyone heard, and I did it for an entire service because I wanted to get it largely behind me and behind the church. Such things are curious combinations of fear, worry, anger, confusion, frustration, and misunderstanding, yes, but they are also opportunities for you to display patience, grace, and lovingkindness. The next sentence I write is probably the most important one of the entire blog post – the way you conduct yourself as you leave a ministry determines whether your continued long term influence is beneficial or problematic. Do not throw hand grenades over your shoulder as you walk out the door. At all costs, be gracious and loving. They have no idea how much you have struggled, to get to this point or once you got to it. They do not know your deep pain and almost certainly never will this side of Heaven. Now is not the time to vent that. Jesus suffered the little children. Suffer God’s children. Minister to them in your suffering and take yours later to Christ alone. And continue in this mindset for the weeks remaining of your service to them. It is absolutely critical.

          Sixth, brace yourself and your family. Several times in this post I have alluded to how your people will respond. I have not undersold it. If you are a good minister of Jesus Christ your people will love you. They will trust you. And your decision will come as a betrayal to them. They will feel like a jilted wife, one whose husband has just told her he is leaving. This is not rational; it is emotional. It is also eminently understandable, or ought to be on your part. As a result, they will lash out in numerous, sometimes contradictory ways. They will accuse you of lying in your explanation, of being under-handed in how you have approached it, of abandoning them, of never loving them in the first place, of hypocrisy, of hiding something, of leaving them to flounder while you sail off on smooth seas into a beautiful sunset. They are hurt, and hurt people hurt people. You cannot control their response nor are you responsible for it, but you are responsible for your own response. It will help you to respond with grace and charity and deep patience if you and your family prepare for what is coming ahead of time. As the weeks pass, they will go through the stages of grief and finally come to acceptance. Do not damage your relationship with them while they are in that process, minister to them in it.

          We have spoken before in this series of how to prepare your church for your resignation. That context was earlier in this transition process, before they were aware of it. Now your resignation is open and public. How do you lead your church well in the weeks you have left? What should you do? How do you prepare your church for its future after you have resigned? That is the subject of next week’s blog post.

          See you all then.    

 

 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Five Things Your Church Should Do for Your Next Pastor


Pastoral Transitions 19


          More than once now it has been my privilege to step into a pulpit previously occupied by another pastor. This blog post is not about how the pastor should handle that transition. It is, though, about how the church should prepare for it. Primarily, I am speaking here not to philosophical or mental preparations but to practical preparations. There are some things a church should do to make the pastor’s transition better, and there are some things a church could do. If your church is between pastors or is about to choose to a new pastor I recommend these for your consideration.

          First (not necessarily in importance but on this list), a church should prepare the parsonage. If your church does not have one, please do not get one. I have lived in church owned housing for forty-two of my forty-seven years. I would much prefer to never do so again. The pastor and his wife ought to be able to choose their own neighborhood, and their own home containing the features they like. They ought to be able to build equity in a home they purchased just as the majority of Americans do. They have the same right to a sense of privacy and refuge that the rest of Americans do. Their salary should not be artificially reduced under the guise of “Well, we are giving them free housing after all.” Pay them what it costs them to live, including what it costs them to buy groceries, to buy transportation, to buy health care, to buy clothes, to buy education, and along with all of that and more, to buy a home. Parsonages take all that away from pastors. I repeat, if your church does not have one, do not buy one.

          Having said that, if your church does have one, it is about to be your new pastor’s home. In this scenario, the church is a landlord and has at least the same responsibilities as a landlord. (In reality, a church has more, scripturally, but at least understand your legal and ethical responsibilities here.) One of the reasons I really dislike parsonages is the fruit of long experience – they are never kept in good repair. Never. Ever. I do not know of a single exception to this rule, at least in the independent Baptist orbit.

          There are at least two contributing factors to this. First, the previous pastor who lived in that parsonage could not prioritize putting it into tip top shape. I promise you, there was usually something that could be justified as being ahead of the parsonage in line when it came to spending maintenance money. Further, there is always something ahead of it in line when it comes to make-it-really-nice money. If he tries to combat this, his conscience accuses him of being self-serving and his people will be more than happy to agree. Harder still, if he tries to combat this, he has to go hat in hand for the repair/renovation money to the entire church. It is beyond embarrassing; ‘tis humbling. Second, congregations make lousy landlords. A job that no one has (except the pastor, who cannot do it for the reasons I just stated) or a job that everyone has is a job that never gets done. Congregations generally live in ignorance of the physical condition of the house they own they make the pastor live in. Out of sight is out of mind. So the pastor does not lead in this area and neither does the congregation. Ergo, the poor pastor’s wife and kids live with a leaky basement, kitchen drawers falling out, ceilings falling in, ancient linoleum, poorly functioning HVAC systems, drafty doors and windows, holes in the floors, and carpet that was first laid down for Noah.

          Your church is currently between pastors. You have a golden opportunity to fix all of this, at least for the medium term future. The parsonage is sitting there empty. Descend upon it with the intent not just of fixing what is broken, but making it a very nice place to live. Take your expectations and desires for your own home and raise them. (Double honor, anyone?) Fix the wiring and the plumbing and the furnace. Haul out the old carpet. Refinish the hard wood floors. Throw a hand grenade into the kitchen and then when the smoke clears, start over. Waterproof the basement. Upgrade the electrical panel. Think about the energy costs and the comfort. Have it professionally landscaped. Paint and stain everything that has ever been painted and stained. Wow your next pastor’s wife. Overwhelm her with thoughtfulness. Let the home you as a congregation have provided shout, “We love you!”

          You can do it. And you should.

          Second, prepare the pastor’s office. You are his new employer. Walking into a disorganized mess is par for the course in our line of work, but it does not have to be. Paint his office. If the desk/chair/carpet are not in tip top shape, replace them. Make sure there is a comfortable seating area for counseling, preferably chairs that are not seventeen years old. Provide book shelves that are both sturdy and attractive. Buy him a new laptop and have it waiting on his desk when he arrives. Get the stationary and the church sign updated with his name. Prepare a list of vendors. Organize the church keys in such a way that he does not just inherit a pile of them in a desk drawer with no idea what key goes to what lock. Prepare a list of the workers in different areas of ministry so he has some sense of how the church currently functions. Just as with the parsonage, all of these say to the pastor, “We care about you and the proof is we have thoughtfully prepared for your arrival.” Additionally, they will genuinely help to smooth his transition, one that is impossibly difficult and rather indescribably so.

          Third, inform the community. This is an opportunity to put your church on the map. Even the lost world understands how important getting a new pastor is in the life of a church. Generally, clergy are still viewed with respect and seen as leaders in the community. So tell the community. Call your local newspaper/television/radio station. Prepare a brief biography of him and make it available. Try to connect the media with him for a personal interview. You have a wonderful chance to reintroduce your church to your community by introducing your new pastor. Seize the day.

          Fourth, prepare a first Sunday welcome. Get a banner printed welcoming him and his family and hang it above the front porch. Plan things to make the day special. It could be as informal as an old-fashioned pounding and a church fellowship dinner or as formal as a banquet. Have a corsage prepared for the pastor’s wife. Present each of his children with a personalized gift. Suspend the normal Sunday School and gather everyone together for one massive service. As part of the service, have the deacons come and pray over him. Read sections of the Pastoral Epistles from the pulpit. Solemnize and celebrate the occasion. Make it a big deal. Because it is.

          Lastly, pray. The devil is the biggest believer in abortion you ever will see. He is smart as a whip and has thousands of years’ worth of experience. He loves to kill beautiful things while they are still in seedling form. If he possibly can, he will whip up the natural insecurity and disagreement that a church endures in between pastorates into a raging storm. He will seek to immediately undermine your confidence in your new leader. He will play fear like a harp, and add pride and strife as supporting instruments. He will plant nagging doubt in your heart. He will seek to make you protective of your area of ministry, as if your new pastor is a raging maniac hell-bent on ruining your church. At the same time, he will attack the pastor and his family. He will seek to plant the same doubt and fear in them that he is trying to plant in you. He will tell the pastor’s wife the new church will never accept her. He will tell the pastor’s children they will lose all of their friends and never get any new ones. He will seek to focus the pastor on the herculean task of pastoring well a group of people he knows nothing about, and intimidate him with the prospect. He will seek to insert himself into every crevice he can find, widen it with lies and deceit, and bring destruction with him.

          So, yeah, pray. Ask the Lord to protect your church’s peace during the interim until the pastor arrives. Ask the Lord to help your pastor and his family to feel the love and welcome you genuinely have in your heart for them. Ask the Lord to help them with the deep pain they feel (but cannot ever express) of losing dear friends and walking away from years of work at the previous church. Beseech the Lord to use your new pastor to edify His people, advance the cause of Christ, and glorify His name.

          Did you ever stop to think how you will feel your first day in Heaven? You know, the Heaven your Saviour has so lovingly and graciously been preparing for your arrival? You will feel overwhelming joy. You will never feel more loved, more welcomed, more eagerly anticipated. Choirs of angels will sing, the Apostles will form the Welcoming Committee, the news will flash from one end of Glory to the other, “Another saint has joined us. Come and welcome him.” And then there will be Jesus. You will never feel more at home than you do your first day in Heaven.

          You and I and your new pastor all know your church is not Heaven. But it should be, as the old song says, a foretaste of glory divine. Think of your first day in Heaven and aim for that. If you do not quite make it, that is perfectly fine. He and his dear family will still get the point. “They have prepared for us. They dearly want us here. They already love us. We are finally home.”

             

Monday, February 15, 2021

For the Church That Cannot Find a Pastor

Pastoral Transitions 18

Note: Today's post is by Evangelist Scott Petty. Based locally here in Iowa, his ministry largely consists of serving rural churches. Often these churches struggle for years between pastors. I asked him to draw upon his experience in serving them to give us some insights into mistakes churches commit that make finding a pastor difficult.
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Dale Schillerstrom.  That was the name of the man on the other end of the phone on that evening in 2004.  His church was without a pastor.  They needed someone to preach and he wondered if I would be willing to help.  My wife and I traveled to their country church located at the intersection of two gravel roads miles from any town.  The Lord not only allowed us to help those folks but He used that invitation to open a ministry.  He’s allowed us to help a dozen churches keep going through the time between pastors as well as filling the pulpit to help pastors.

Of those dozen churches some have found a new pastor almost immediately.  Others have struggled in their search, some for years.  Each search, as each church, is unique.  There are also, however, some similar difficulties among those who struggle.

“Brother Petty, we scheduled a meeting of the pulpit committee.  I brought pizza for everyone but I was the only one who showed up.”  That story came from a member of a church who was without a pastor for the second time in three years.  It took them a year and a half to find another man in that instance.  One of the most common challenges I’ve encountered with churches in the midst of a long term search is a lack of leadership.  ”For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1Co 14:8)  While there may be an abundance of talk, multiple meetings, and opinions to spare, all of it is uncertain.  There is a shortage of godly leadership willing to step up and take responsibility.  Everyone is busy and someone else should shoulder the load.  For all our paranoia of deacons usurping authority I’ve seen more instances of men slacking in their service to their church.

That’s not to say that the opposite does not happen.  Sometimes a person sees their opportunity and grabs the reins of power for themselves.  “I don’t control enough votes to get someone in but I can keep anyone out.”  This prideful usurpation of authority stinks in the nostrils of God and will turn away His blessings.

“We called a college but they couldn’t recommend anyone.  What do we do now?”  Churches also face a lack of resources in their search for a new pastor.  We are Independent Baptist and stand firm that a local church should be autonomous.  The problem is that we often treat independent and autonomous as synonymous with isolated.  It is difficult for a pulpit committee to know where to turn.  They may call a Bible college or two but then what?  Most of the pastors who have come to the churches with which I’ve worked have been referred not by Bible colleges but by friends, preachers, and other churches.  If we have cut ourselves off from other congregations of like faith to whom do we turn? 

“Some of the members think we need a young man but I think we need experience.  We don’t want someone who just graduated to try to pastor here.”  The man who said this to me was at a church where the pastor had retired after decades of faithful service.  The church was struggling to find a replacement in part due to a lack of unity.  We are told to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) and this lack can lead to infighting, bickering, and bitterness none of which are “the bond of peace” nor are they conducive to finding a pastor.

I live in Iowa and the churches I’ve been blessed to aid have been located in the Midwest.  Most are rural.  None are what could be considered a large church.  These facts alone present obstacles in the minds of those seeking a pastor.  They understand how a person would want a church in a populous urban area with a newer building, available resources, and a large congregation but they can’t offer that.  I’ve heard variations on “What can we offer? Why would someone come here?” more times than I care to remember.

Each difficulty seemed insurmountable to these churches.   I’ve sat across the table from folks who were weighed down by them.  I’ve talked on the phone with members worried about the future of their church, people who loved their churches but saw no way forward.  In spite of their fear the Lord worked in every situation but some things were needed.

There was a need for leadership.  The great leaders of which we read in the Bible did not seek out leadership but neither did they refuse it.  Moses gave excuses to God but when he it was time he led.  Gideon doubted but when it was time he led.  If it be our time, let us lead and lead well.

There was a need for unity.  Facing the imposing threat of the British army Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  Our enemy strengthens his position by sowing discord among the brethren.  A crisis is not the time for strife but for “all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” (Eph. 4:2)  In the battle, let us close ranks.

There was a need for prayer.  I was invited to preach in a church without a pastor in Nebraska last year.  At the close of the service the entire congregation came to the front of the auditorium and knelt in prayer begging God to bring His man for them.  It struck me like a blow.  I had prayed for churches.  I assumed the members of each church prayed for the Lord’s help but had they prayed together?  Had they knelt next to their brethren and gone to their Father for His provision and guidance?

There was a need for trust.  We read how God worked despite circumstances and overwhelming odds yet we let the difficulties we see rob us of our faith.  God knows where we are.  He knows the difficulties.  He is not intimidated in the slightest.  What seems overwhelming to us is nothing to Him.  He has provided in the past and He will provide now.

There was a need for patience.  Years ago, I was asked to preach in a rural church which had been without a pastor for a couple of years.  I didn’t know that they were so discouraged in their search that after the service they were to vote on whether or not to close the church.  The Lord led me to preach “Why I Can’t Quit” and the Spirit moved mightily.  As I preached, ignorant of the coming vote, I wondered why tears were streaming down the faces of the congregation.  I preached, I left, and they had their meeting.  That church still exists today.  In fact, it is growing.  They resolved to keep on and the Lord sent the man He had been preparing to them.  As the song says, “Jesus never fails.”

If I may say one thing more, there is a need for planning.  In the midst of the emotion of a pastor leaving is not the time for a church to realize they have no idea how to proceed.  The time to prepare for a pastoral search is while you still have a pastor.

Dale Schillerstrom.  That’s where we began.  The Lord provided a pastor.  That church held on, prayed, held together, and now has seen souls saved and added to their numbers.  God is able.

 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Nine Mistakes Churches Make While Searching for a Pastor

 

Pastoral Transitions 17


          As God sees my heart, my desire with this series on pastoral transitions is simply to help God’s people. So much about this process is misunderstood and thus misapplied. This is certainly not intentional. The men who are looking for a pastorate and the churches that are seeking a pastor both want to do things right. So often, however, they fail in this for one simple reason – they do not know any better. No one has told them, “Do this; don’t do that.” So they muddle forward, realizing their inadequacy but not knowing any other approach. I have no desire to set myself up as any kind of expert here, but I do want to help both sides avoid mistakes and proceed wisely. To that intent, in this post I am going to make some negative comments directed toward churches. I am not upset, bitter, or grouchy. I just want to help.

          Typically, when a pastor dies, resigns, or is fired, the church has no plan in place to proceed. In my view, that is the pastor’s fault and I will speak to that in a few weeks. The result of this failure on the part of the pastor is that his church is ill-prepared to deal with the storm that is coming. That lack of preparation is seen in more than a few mistakes. This list is not totally inclusive but it does accurately represent a sampling of things I have personally seen done, and done badly in this process on the side of the church.

1) Churches make a mistake when they decide to look for a preacher instead of a pastor. The New Testament term “pastor” literally means shepherd. God Himself likens His people to sheep. Sheep need a shepherd. Certainly, feeding the sheep via teaching and preaching is the primary responsibility of the pastor but he does not necessarily need to be entertaining while doing so. A plain meal often contains just as much if not more nutrition than a fancy one. The same is true of a sermon. By the same token, just because a guy can shell the corn it does not then follow that he will be a good shepherd. Preaching is relatively easy. Pastoring well over the long term is complex and exhausting. If a man does the latter well his preaching, whether fancy or not, will feed God’s people. But if he does the former well he may or may not be able to shepherd well. So put the priority on the pastoring side of the equation. If the guy preaches well that is a bonus, but he simply must pastor well.

2) Churches make a mistake when they put unqualified men on the pulpit committee. There is a certain temperament, a certain approach, and a certain spirituality that is required in that position. It should not go to a man simply because he gives a lot, has been in the church for a long time, or talks a good game. He must be considerate of others. He must be patient. He must be a hard worker. He must be entirely dedicated to the long term health of the church. He must have a decent knowledge of biblical doctrine. He must be a servant. He must be willing to follow and to bear the responsibility of leadership all at the same time. And he has to be willing to be misunderstood without bristling about it all the time. Choose most wisely here, for in choosing who makes the choice of candidate you are choosing the future of your church.

3) Churches make a mistake when they hold business meetings during the period they are without a pastor. Business meetings are potential buzzsaws at the best of times and this is not the best of times. Business meetings in the absence of a pastor often – and I do seriously mean often – degenerate into a whirl of accusation and counter-accusation as the church descends out of fear into chaos. What in the world do you need to have a business meeting for anyway? Choose the pulpit committee and then just have church until a candidate needs voted on. Let the budget continue as is. Let the staff continue as is. Let the membership continue as is. The fewer decisions and changes you make during this interim period the safer you are. Avoid business meetings like the plague or plague your church they will.

4) Churches make a mistake when they fuss amongst themselves. This is almost always the case, but it is especially the case when they are without a pastor. Yet for understandable reasons, they often do fuss with each other at such times. Good people who love their church find themselves afraid when they do not have a pastor. They are afraid of what will happen to the church they love. They are afraid what will happen to their family if something happens to their church. They are afraid they will end up with a pastor they do not like, do not respect, cannot follow, is a spiritual fraud, cannot preach his way out of a wet paper bag, will close down their favorite ministry, or any of a dozen other things. That fear births panic, and panic is what really kills you. Panicked people lash out unreasonably in all directions. Which is exactly what happens so often in churches during their time without a pastor. If a church is taught that this temptation will come, and taught to respond with grace, with charity, with faith, and with patience there will be fewer spiritual casualties in between pastorates.

5) Churches make a mistake when they seek to have too much input in the pulpit committee process. Many cooks spoil the broth. If you chose those men carefully the wisest thing you can do now is let them alone. The temptation is two-fold. One is to constantly demand information on what they are doing, but what on Earth do you need that information for? You cannot do anything with it except create a fuss. Demands to know where they are at in the process, who they have considered, who they have ruled out, who they have ruled in, what they have discussed, etc. are all unnecessary and unwise. No one works well when the boss is breathing down their neck, and it only gets worse if your boss is an entire congregation. Give them space and time to operate. The second temptation here is to badger them with your own information. “Here’s my nephew’s cousin’s ex-pastor’s resume. He would be a fantastic choice as our next pastor. When are you going to reach out to him?” or “Here’s exactly what you need to watch out for in graduates from X Bible college.” I could go on ad nauseum. Choose the pulpit committee carefully. Pray for them fervently. But for the love of all that is holy, leave them alone.

6) Churches make a mistake when they fail to treat potential candidates with respect. Little things mean something. Acknowledge receipt of every resume. If you say you will call a guy back with a decision call him back. If he leaves you a message, respond. No, you may not think he has much of a chance of becoming your pastor but he is God’s man nonetheless. Treat him as one. It is the decent thing to do. It is the professional thing to do. It is the thoughtful thing to do. I know he does not understand the pressure you as a pulpit committee are under or how many balls you are trying to keep in the air at the same time. But treat his time and attention with the respect he and his family deserve. You will share Heaven with him someday. Conduct yourself in such a way that you will not need to be embarrassed when you come across him up there.

7) Churches make a mistake when they turn the candidating process into a beauty contest. I have mentioned this briefly before, but it needs a bit more explanation in this context. A beauty contest is when you bring in a series of men to preach, and then choose your favorite one from among them to ask to be your pastor. It is a bit like the television shows with ten bachelors and one girl. It becomes an unseemly competition. The men who have come in to preach are always trying to ascertain the pulse of the church from a distance, where they stand in the pecking order. The church runs the perilous risk of dividing up into little cliques that each like their own preferred candidate and despise everybody else’s choice. Going this route drags out the process for each potential candidate making his life borderline miserable. Worst of all, it essentially turns the entire church – carnal people and all – into a pulpit committee of the whole. It makes the decision large and unwieldy. Additionally, it flirts with the disaster of choosing a guy simply because he is the equivalent of being good on television. He smiles well, kisses the babies, and preaches a good sermon or two. So he is in. There is nothing of discovering God’s will in that mess. Pick a man. Vet him to within an inch of his life. If he passes that, bring him in to minister in your midst. Be honest with him. And beg God for His guidance as to whether this one is His will or not. Then make a decision and move forward. A pox upon beauty contests!

8) Churches make a mistake when they fail to provide helpful information to potential candidates. I promise you, he wants nothing more than to make an informed, spiritual decision about your church but some churches unintentionally make that borderline impossible. Have a website. Have a Facebook page. Update them at least once a decade, please. Have a clear point of contact for each potential candidate you interact with. If you pass on him do him the courtesy of informing him so he too can move on. Make a packet of information that you can mail or email to each potential candidate who contacts you. It should include a bit about the church’s history, and some information in broad strokes about your attendance, your financial health, your preferred ministries, your doctrinal positions, your town, and the demographics of your congregation. You do not necessarily need to put all that online but you do need to provide it to every one you are actively considering. Additionally, if you bring a man in to candidate, open the kimono. Give him your budget information, the specifics of your financial situation, your constitution, your recent business meeting notes, your church directory, and anything else you can possibly think of. When in doubt, give it to him. It is better to give him too much information than not enough. AND DO NOT HIDE ANYTHING. Be honest and open. You desperately want that from him. In fact, you need it from him if you are going to make a good decision and if you are going to have a good relationship with him as your pastor. That street runs both ways. Do not forget it.   

9) Churches make a mistake when they do not prioritize prayer in this process. The church is His body and His bride. It is the pillar and ground of the truth. It is the best hope for the evangelization of the world. It is the lighthouse for your entire community. It is your family’s second home. Its work is a spiritual work and must be undertaken via spiritual power. We have spoken much in this blog series about the practical side of things and I do not apologize for it. But what good is a host of practical applications if you are making all your decisions in the flesh? What good is any of this if God is not neck deep in everything your church is doing? In truth, you as a church can violate every single one of the previous eight things I have written about here today, do this last one well, and end up in absolutely great shape. It outweighs all the rest put together. Pray as a pulpit committee. Pray as a deacon board. Pray as a Sunday School class. Pray as a church. Pray every service. Call special prayer meetings. Pray with each potential candidate. Marinate your decisions in prayer. The Lord delights in our need of Him and He delights to honor us in it. Lean on Him. Often. Fervently. With a childlike faith. And just watch and see if He does not send you His choice servant.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Voted Down

Pastoral Transitions 16


Note: From time to time, candidates get all the way through this lengthy process only to be voted down at the last minute. Needless to say, that is a severe blow. In today's post, Pastor Jeff Vinci of the Faith Baptist Church in Montgomery, New York walks us through how to deal with that. 

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          We had been searching for a church for almost two years and no opportunities were presenting themselves. I had been an assistant at a couple of different churches over the course of 10 years. I felt that God had finally brought my level of experience to match the desire to pastor that He had placed in my heart a long time before, but the search was not going well.

          I was not a pastor’s son. I didn’t have a recognizable name. The pastor I was called to preach under was no longer in the ministry. I didn’t have strong ties to the Bible college I graduated from. Nobody really knew me. I watched other guys my age, with a “network” in place, get plugged in quickly while I floundered. I lost track of how many questionnaires I filled out, but at least about halfway through the search I realized I could at least copy and paste answers from previous ones. I was becoming a professional at filling out questionnaires, so at least I was developing some kind of skills…(I hope you are picking up on the sarcasm here).

            Finally, a response came back from a church in Texas. It looked promising! Google maps revealed a paved parking lot, and even a couple of buses parked out back. The church had not gone through a church split or anything like that. The previous pastor had just retired and they were looking for his replacement. I knew that my brother-in-law was getting ready to move down to Texas from Jersey to help out as a youth minister in his wife’s home church. Texas is a big state and I thought the chances that he or his wife would know anything about this church were slim, but I brought it up in a conversation with him. I was shocked to find out that it was the same church and his wife’s father was on the pulpit committee! My brother-in-law couldn’t believe it either. After almost two years of searching, you try to keep yourself from getting excited because you don’t want to be disappointed again, but we couldn’t help ourselves. I could see God putting this all together! Only He could orchestrate something like this so that my brother-in-law would be my youth pastor! A conference call with the pulpit committee went well and they wanted to fly me and my entire family down to candidate for a week.

The trip itself was exciting. We had never flown on a plane as a family. They rented us a car and gave us “the royal treatment.” The people were warm and friendly and we loved the “southern hospitality”. The auditorium had been built in 2000 and could easily seat 300-350, but there were only about 50-60 people in attendance. I preached on Sunday, Wednesday night and the next Sunday. We went out to eat with different people every night to get to know them. The longer we stayed the more we liked it. I woke up every morning, walked the perimeter of the church property and prayed for God’s guidance and will. After the last Sunday night service, I had a conference meeting with the pulpit committee. There was a stipulation in the church constitution that they were supposed to wait a week before they could vote, but the committee was unanimously convinced that it was already a done deal. Members of the committee were saying that it was a “slam dunk”, were asking when we could move there and what did I want to do about VBS in three weeks. To top everything off, after the meeting we went out for ice cream and my wife lead one of the workers at Dairy Queen to Christ. We were already seeing fruit and we hadn’t even moved there yet.

We flew back the next day and waited a week with eager anticipation. All reservations of “not getting our hopes up” had been abandoned as the circumstances had me fully convinced that God was in this. Sunday night came and we eagerly awaited the news via text message from my brother-in-law. “Sorry, you didn’t get the vote”, flashed across my phone screen. I waited 20-30 seconds for, “lol JK you got it, congrats”, but that message never came. Slowly, the depressing, discouraging, truth began to sink in that we didn’t get the vote. Too shell-shocked to cry, we went to bed. The next morning I got up early to go drive a delivery truck for 84 Lumber (a job I was doing to make ends meet). I cried as I drove and prayed. What went wrong? What could I have done better? I was certain God had put this together. If He had not, then how could I be confident in my ability to recognize His hand in anything? I just wanted answers. My wife called her brother up and found out that there was a lady in the church who had been the decorator there for 30 years. When she found out that my wife liked to decorate and would probably change some things in the church building, she called up every women in the church and slandered her so that enough women voted “no” to put us right under the 75% that we needed to get in.

A few days of depression went by. I was reeling from this one so bad that I was not sure I could recover. “Maybe you’re just not cut out for this”, or “Maybe God didn’t call you to this and you are trying to force it”, were just some of the thoughts I had. In addition, my wife was hurt that she was the point of contention. I felt like I had dragged her through the mud and had nothing to show for it. I could offer her no security, no answers for the future, and no benefits for following my dream.

As I was driving one day, I began to meditate on scripture. I knew that God spoke through His Word and since I was driving I obviously couldn’t read it, but I could meditate on the stories I did know. In my mind, I began to compare my situation to see if there were any similar stories in the Bible that God could speak to me through. It wasn’t long until I came upon the story of Joshua and Caleb. God had given Israel the command to go into the Promise Land and take it. Joshua and Caleb were sent as spies along with ten others. They were the only two that brought back a good report. They were part of the nation of Israel. Their individual futures depended upon what the nation as a whole decided to do. God’s will was plain: Go in and possess the land, but the nation as a whole voted no. It must have been frustrating and depressing for Joshua and Caleb to watch Israel rebel against God’s will. It must have hurt even worse when they realized that this corporate vote would affect their future, and the future of their families for the next 40 years. They could not go into the land by themselves.

I could identify very well with their story, and the depression and frustration of it to that point. Then as I meditated on the God’s Word, His Spirit reminded me that Joshua and Caleb’s story did not end there. Sure; they were more than inconvenienced for forty years while their faithless generation died off, but God brought them back later. Joshua became the leader of Israel and Caleb got his mountain! God showed me through that familiar story that my life may hang in the balance by the way unspiritual people vote, but God is sovereign enough to still bless me individually for being faithful. He is not going to violate people’s freewill to vote no, but He is not going to allow His faithful to be destroyed by it. The tears began to flow again as I drove. Nothing outwardly had changed about my situation, but the Spirit gave me what I needed for that moment. God knew right where I was. I was not alone, and it was enough for me to keep taking the next step in my wilderness.


Some people look at the way things turn out and conclude whether or not it was God’s will based upon the results. I think God’s will is more complex than that. I am not convinced that church in Texas was not God’s will just because it didn’t work out. They voted no, and about a year later, God brought me to another church that voted yes. Both could have been His will, but He was not going to violate the freewill of those voting members. It took about a year to find the strength to “get our hopes up” again but I can say that so far I have found His promise to be true: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” I Thessalonians 5:24. I must admit that we are not fans of winter weather, and whenever it falls below 20 degrees here in New York, my wife and I look at each other still and joke: “Stupid Texas…”, but it’s just a joke. We are not bitter or fixated on the past, but rather we strive to be fixated on God’s presence. We know that God put us where we are, and we are excited to do His will. I have only written one poem in my life, and it was during that transition time in our lives. I will include it here in hopes that it might encourage one of God’s servants who might be struggling through a transition right now:

Not so long ago
In innocence of my youth
With hero's all around me
And passion for the truth
 
Committed to a righteous cause
And surrendered to Gods call
A new recruit approaching D-days beach
Ready for landfall
 
Jumping into battle
A shout ten thousand voices strong
The Future bright, with conquering night
Vanquishing all wrong
 
The glamour of this war
Quickly wore thread bare
This foe is not retreating
Never fighting fair
 
Hero's around me falling
My recruiters giving up the fight
Causing me to question
The worth of spreading light
 
Others sorely wounded
Suffering in sacrifice
Rejected by those we’re trying to reach
Is it really worth the price?
 
Some do not choose to fight
To this world they have succumb
I use to view them with disdain
Now envious I’ve become
 
They do not mourn a loss
No discouragement, stress or pain
Daring to say I told you so
They mock all the slain
 
I fear this war has changed me
Numbing my passion, drive and zeal
Obeying out of duty
But asking is God real?
 
I'm not the conqueror
I once dreamed that I would be
Influencing tens of thousands
For Christianity
 
Feeling like a failure
I’ve thoughts of giving in
Wanting to have a "normal" life
Not struggling for the win
 
Then in my mind
The Spirit spoke, the Captain came to me
Oh precious Comforter of my soul
Breath of Life and Energy
 
My surroundings fade, Circumstances dim
In light of his pure power
"Don't you think I could end this war" he said
"Even this very hour"
 
I wanted to shout
Why don't you then? Make the struggle cease.  
But my questions melted in His love
And granted perfect peace
 
"I don't need your help
The victory is already won
Your purpose is to follow My lead
And glorify my Son"
 
Motivated by His love
Let us all strive for this prize
Bringing Glory to God’s Son
That's the purpose of our lives

 


Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Pulpit Committee View

Pastoral Transitions 15

Note: Today's post is by Bert Glaser. He is a member of Bible Baptist Church in Dubuque, Iowa, the church I pastor. He was on the pulpit committee when I came. I asked him to share a few thoughts about how this process looks from his side of the discussion.

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Before I give my input on the screening of possible future pastors for our church I believe it might be of value to you to know a little about myself.

I have served on two pulpit committees in my lifetime twenty years apart in two different Baptist churches. The first time I was a newly elected deacon in a church running a little over two hundred in Sunday morning church attendance when the pastor suddenly resigned after announcing from the pulpit that his wife was divorcing him. He was a short time later arrested and charged with the crime of having sexual relations with a woman counselee over the previous four years, unbeknownst to any of us. A little over a year later when we finally had a new pastor after candidating three or four people, our Sunday morning attendance was around forty or fifty. We had attacks from the outside and from within the church during that year of time.

The next pulpit committee experience was a little over twenty years later in a church that had had the same Pastor for twenty-three years who died while in office as the senior pastor. We spent four months deciding not to candidate the former Assistant Pastor of twenty-three years. We then candidated one man, and he was voted in as the new pastor with only one dissenting vote.

Just a brief note of my own personal history: I am currently seventy-two years old. I grew up attending a Catholic church as a boy. I went to a secular college, and from that point believed I was an atheist for some seventeen years. I was saved at the age of thirty-five through an evangelical radio ministry, and then realized I was attending a church that did not preach the gospel. I attended an evangelical Bible college for two semesters at the age of thirty-eight. My family and I attended an evangelical church that was associated with the Bible college for nine years before transferring our church membership to the Baptist church described as my first pulpit committee experience. We did not grow up in a Baptist tradition. We are Baptist by choice and conviction.

At the age of sixty I became the leader of the Reformers Unanimous ministry of our Baptist church and was ordained. These have been the best years of my Christian life with victory over personal sin, and a Spirit led walk with God. During this time, I have written multiple gospel tracts and taught weekly Bible lessons to drug addicts. Well, that gives you a brief summary of who is writing to you about the experience of this pulpit committee member.

I was talking to Brother Ron Gansemer last night who has had the same two pulpit committee experiences as myself. He wanted me to express how vital it is for all parties to be totally honest with one another.

I asked Brother Larry West for his input on this subject. He has served on five different pulpit committees. He said the most important thing is for everybody to be honest and above board at all times. He also emphasized that any candidate had to believe the Bible and be a soul-winning man of God.

Brother Don Long Sr. has served on two pulpit committees in the same church. He said the most important thing to him is to remember that the only thing we want is to do what God wants us to do.

You can see from these comments the common emphasis on transparent honesty and godliness on both sides of this process for both the committee and the candidate. The question is how to communicate and achieve the will of God in this process of choosing a pastor.

I suppose it is obvious but one of the things that both the pastoral candidate and the pulpit committee are trying to do is to get to know each other well enough to decide as to whether they are a good fit for each other in a long-term relationship. Open, sincerely honest communication is the absolutely necessary ingredient to this process. Do not hide the real you. If you are hiding who you really are, you are in the wrong place, seeking the wrong job. We of the pulpit committee are also making every effort to be transparent and absolutely honest.    

When you see something in the prospective church or in the pulpit committee members that you are wondering about, sincerely ask questions looking for sincere answers. If they don’t seem to answer with enough information, probe again with more pointed questions. I appreciate someone who asks deep questions about finances, about happenings of the past in the church, about sincerely held doctrinal positions of the church, about splits in positions of doctrine inside the church, about the future direction of the church. Does the pulpit committee want to change the church, and are hoping to use you to change it to an evangelical non-denominational type of church? That would be a good thing to know ahead of time! Questions about music standards, versions of the Bible, dress standards, continuing the bus ministry or starting one, soul winning ministry, or RU type ministries may give some clues as to where the church is, but I think there are more fundamental questions to be asked.

As a medical professional, I can look at a person on the outside and they sometimes can look pretty good based upon the externals that can be seen.  The previous questions are about a churches externals and they need to be asked, but both sides need questions that look at the internals. After all, while a person may look good on the outside, they may be moments away from a fatal cardiac or stroke event, or terminal cancer diagnosis. The church is no different.

On the church's side, we need to have questions that will help us know your internal spiritual health and power with God. Why? Because your approach with your own spiritual life will tell us how you are going to lead us to have a healthy spiritual life ourselves. If you don’t know how to do this for yourself, how are you going to teach anyone else how to do this?

Here are a few questions that are potentially useful from the pulpit committee side, but they could also be used by the pastoral candidate to see what kind of answers you can elicit from the church leaders. The responses would certainly give you insight into the spiritual condition of the people of the church.

1.     How will you teach us who God is? Will this teaching include personal anecdotal things you have experienced in your relationship with God or merely the academic style teaching of God’s biblical names.

2.     What makes a human being a unique creature in God’s creation?

3.     What changed in humans after the fall into sin?

4.     What happens to the nature of man after the born-again experience of salvation? How is it different from his unsaved state?  

5.     Who are you? Note: This question is not asking what you do or facts about your personal history, but “Who are you?”

6.     How do you teach a person to overcome the tempting thought, “I am a failure.” “I am an addict.” “I never get things right.” “I always do it wrong.” “I am a no-good husband.” Etc.

7.     How do you overcome the temptation to sin? Lust? Covet?

8.     What is your purpose in life? How do you find that purpose for this day, today?

9.     How do you obtain God’s power to carry out your purpose in life today?

10.  Tell us how to overcome fear, depression, anger, lust, or pornographic images in your mind?

11.  Tell us how to overcome demon oppression? Please give examples.

12.  What does the following mean for your ministry? 2Corinthians 3:5 “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” 

13.  Do you minister in the Spirit or the letter? How can you tell which is which?

14.  How do you keep your marriage spiritually healthy? How will you promote that in the members of your church?

15.  How do you keep your kids spiritually healthy? How will you promote that for this church?

16.  How will anyone in the church get to know you? Do you want them to get to know you? What level of interpersonal relationship do you expect to encourage amongst church members with yourself?

17.  How are you going to promote fellowship amongst your church members?

18.  How are you going to handle problems in the church?

19.  Have you led anyone to saving faith in Jesus?

20.  Have you discipled anyone? Are they still in church?

21.  How will you handle staffing and financial decisions?

22.  What are your standards on: dating, dress, Bible versions, music, etc. How are you going to handle these issues in church teaching? Will you stick with these standards over the years?

23.  Why are you leaving your present church, and how long have you known you were going to leave?

24.  What have you done to prepare your current church for your leaving?

25.  What things are you good at? What things are you bad at?

26.  What are your hobbies? Will you go soul winning?

27.  How do you lead people?

What am I looking for with these questions? I am looking for the depth of answers. What I do not want is an academic answer that does not create attitudes and behaviors that overcome the flesh in the candidates personal walk with God. That is why I ask for experiential examples of your theology. Because without those it may well by dead-letter-of-the-law-intellectual-answers for the seminary exam.

I want to know if your approach to living the Christian life is to preach the external standards and drive your people to do those things and everything will be ok. Or do you teach the biblical basis for the standards and then teach how to claim the all-sufficient empowering grace of God by which we are enabled to keep those standards.

The other thing I am looking for is whether you are an appropriate addition to the family of this church fellowship. And you should be looking to see if we are an appropriate addition to your family. Yes, you will be in a leadership position. But does that mean that you do not need more that a superficial-functional-working-relationship with the people of the church family? You have a leadership role in your family. Do you have only a superficial-functional-working-relationship with your wife or children?

I would close with this verse: 1Corinthians 2:4 “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” This is what I am looking for. If you have books you have written, or testimonial tracts of support for your theology; these will show what you are as a living theologian. Please supply these writings to the pulpit committee.

The final analysis is that we all must rely on our God who knows all of us and our mutual needs. No methods or lists of questions will ever be enough without God’s clear answer to each of our prayers for His leading in following His will for one and all. Discernment from God by His answer to our prayers will bring us His will.  Thanks, and God bless.