My thoughts about a Pastoral Search Committee

I actually wrote this article last year, but I’ve never really shared it with anyone before, so here you are!

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I have one of those faint childhood memories. Well, actually I have a lot of them, but some stick out more than others. I remember mom crying; or maybe she was at that stage that comes right before crying and she was trying not to go into a full-blown cry. And she said something like this- “Your dad doesn’t know yet, but he’s going to be heartbroken.” Now my mom rarely remembers my childhood memories; so this is just my perception of what happened. Of course, I’m never wrong, but that’s another issue…

Dad is a pastor. He is no longer actively pastoring a church, but like truly called pastors, he’ll be a pastor until his dying day. He still preaches quite often. He is a primary part of my earthly legacy. I look to him as an example of what a pastor should be and now that I’m in my adulthood, I emulate him more than any other person on earth.

He and my mother and my younger siblings had traveled up to coastal North Carolina and he had gone through the process of interviewing at a church for the position of pastor. I didn’t go; I was a teenager and I was working or in school or something like that. I just remember talking to my parents on the phone while they were up there and I remember them having a favorable impression on how the process was going.

It must’ve been mom who picked up the phone and received the official rejection notice. It may have been a letter, but regardless, she knew before my father did and she was broken–hearted in anticipation of the inevitable feeling of rejection he was about to experience. Fortunately, I was blessed to have spiritually mature parents, and an incident like this would in no way shake their faith or resolve in serving the Lord. Still, it didn’t make the moment much easier, I’m sure.

It turns out that dad was one of three pastors who had consecutively interviewed at this church, and the “voting” process the church had was apparently to select out of these three which should be the pastor. I don’t think he knew this going into the situation. Dad didn’t come in first place, and thus was not called as the pastor of this church. I never witnessed first-hand his reaction. I do remember mom telling me it was the youngest candidate – the one who led worship on a guitar, who received the call.

I grew up as one of those fabled “pk’s” (preacher’s kids). You know, those kids who were scrutinized by parents and parishioners alike (or least, I imagined I was). At an early age, I showed some promise musically, and to make a long story short, I ended up at an early age knowing I would be a music minister/worship pastor someday. Now, I am indeed that. This article, however, is not about my merits or history. Rather, I’d like to touch on personal recent experience that might help other worship pastors. This experience very closely resembles what my father went through in the mid 80s.

Recently, I served at a church in Ohio for about 6 years. Wonderful church, wonderful people. Up until about two months before we left, I honestly thought I would be there for my lifetime. It was one of those churches that I would’ve been blessed to have had that happen. God had other plans.

About 4 years into my tenure as worship pastor there, I began to experience a personal and spiritual change regarding my future. Sometimes, a person is blessed to serve the same people for decades. Other times, the words of the Kenny Rogers song are right on – “The winds of change are always blowing.”  In Ohio, my family was comfortable and happy. However, we felt strongly led to look into different ministries in other churches, and we felt like we were being obedient to God as we tentatively looked into the world of open church positions.

I’m deathly scared of being at a new church (ironically enough, I’ve been on staff in my position for less than 2 years now, but I’ll get to that in a moment). When I’m a new staff member, I don’t know names, I don’t know life stories, and I haven’t shared many memorable moments with the people I serve. The people don’t know me, and an intimate trust hasn’t been created between us yet. I haven’t laughed or cried with many of them yet. Ministry seems much more effective to me when I truly know the people I am serving. I do feel called to serve local churches and communities, and being new is sometimes a hindrance to effectiveness in this calling.

Going back to the time 2 years before we ended up leaving Ohio – After praying and spending much time in prayer and thought, we sent out resumes to three or four churches. We only heard back from one, and this one church called us almost immediately. They were friendly, upbeat, and were truly in love with Jesus Christ. We were praying for God to keep the right doors open and to shut the rest of them, and God seemingly answered this prayer.

Before too long of a time had passed, I and my family, at the invitation of this church, drove the four or five hours down the interstate and had two or three days with this church, including a Wednesday. We met with committees, staff, and music groups. It was a blessed time. I poured my heart out to them, and they to me. From my perspective, it seemed as if God was moving and preparing the way. We were excited, but we were also terrified. My pastor at the time was notified, and suddenly we didn’t feel as safe or secure in our present church. Things were in a great state of upheaval as we had stepped out onto the ledge of faith, ready to jump into whatever God has for us.

It was near the end of the trip that something was “slipped” during the interview process. They were going completely through the process with multiple candidates simultaneously. I confirmed this shortly thereafter in a phone call in which the gentleman said something like this (paraphrased according to my memory):

“When we had you down here, we thought it’d be you. Then we talked to the next candidate and we thought’d it’d be him. Then we talked to the third guy, and we thought it’d be him. I keep switching favorites. We’re really having to wait on God so he can show us the right person to pursue.”

What???

One of the questions I remember being asked during the interview process was “Are you currently considering other churches right now? And in our minds and hearts as well as to the committee, we pledged not to do just that, thinking it would be unfair to that church if we were keeping ‘options open.’ We felt like we would not be trusting God fully and completely if we tried to provide His plan with a ‘backup plan.’

I was crushed to learn that I was in effective competition with 2 other men, assumedly pursuing God’s will with the same heart as I. To this day, my major regret was that I did not back out of consideration then and there. From the incident with my father, I believe that the multiple candidate process is a scheme of man, not God. I remember how much my heart sank as I began entertaining thoughts that it wasn’t about who was God’s man for them, rather, it was about “which one of those guys” did they think was the right fit. My heart sunk even more as I knew I found this out after I had already jeapordized my position in the church I was serving by serving notification of my actions. I had made the fatal mistake of not asking specifically if the church was pursuing other candidates. I had erroneously assumed since they asked me that question about other churches, they would view the process with the same guidelines as I would.

How can a church truly follow God’s will if they have established emergency procedures and contingency plans in the form of multiple candidates? How can a church celebrate with joy the man God has brought them if in doing so, they cause unintended and possibly drastic consequences for the ‘unchosen few,’ and their spouses and children? This church knew that by considering this position, we were possibly burning bridges. I had told them this and had asked them to earnestly pray for me in this regards.

I’m reminded of the story in the Bible as Samuel considered which of Jesse’s sons to name as Saul’s successor and the future King of Israel.

1 Samuel 16:4-9 (NIV):

                Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”  Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.  When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”  But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.”  Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.”  Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.”

I believe this passage can provide valuable insights regarding the pastoral interview process. We can see that Samuel did not eye all of Jesse’s sons simultaneously. He went through multiple candidates, one at a time. He did not use his own eye to judge the strongest, the fittest, the wisest, or the tallest. The Lord specifically told Samuel that “man looks at the outward appearance.” God looks at the heart. Later on, we know that David is brought in, selected by God, and that this calling from God is recognized by Samuel, who then anoints David.

Back to my original story – I do feel that after that point, God gave us a grace beyond our own. We began to feel like the reason for us going through the interview process was for reasons other than a job change. It was as if he poured out his love and peace on us, so that when I finally received the polite but short rejection phone call, I was able to receive it knowing that God had worked His will out. He had not abandoned me or my family. He was keeping us right where He needed me to be, with the people we needed to be around. Through His grace, we were able to continue serving the people we were called to serve in an effective manner.

Well over a year later, we felt led to contact another church, and God moved mightily and swiftly. One of my first questions to them regarded if they were considering multiple candidates or not. They had indeed considered several candidates, but were only doing so one at a time. I am blessed to be serving at that church now.

Do I believe that God worked in the previous church? I do. I know that God’s will works out through both the perfections and imperfections of man, churches, politics and processes. God used many unlikely sources to accomplish His good and perfect will throughout the scriptures – evil nations, donkeys, floating axeheads, blankets full of animals, large hungry fish, harp music, weeping prophets – they all can be found as part of the wondrous book we call the Bible which guides, directs, encourages, convicts, and so much more. Though I have no idea personally, I do believe the right person was called to that church and that God made that happen. I also believe that there was a purpose in the trial, and I know our faith grew as a result. I and my family learned through the experience – we were drawn closer to God, and we pulled together for our reliance on each other through times of stress and turmoil.

I would definitely advise any pastor to add the multiple candidate question to his list of early inquiries for churches he may be considering. I would also encourage both churches and individuals alike now to do that which I still am working on daily – trust Him completely and fully. We will fail each other, but He will never fail us. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the moment, in the process of life and consider our own needs without thinking of the possible effects upon others.  Philippians 2:3 tells us that we should consider others better than ourselves. Shouldn’t this extend to how we consider the needs of others?

If God is truly in control, then we need to let Him truly be in control. After all, His solutions and His ways are much better than ours!

Psalm 20:7 – Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

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