Posting your "ad"
I've talked before about some utter failures (and about some slightly more subtle problems) with some of the "want-ad" like venues. Today I'll point you to some really solid advice from Pastor Mike Abendroth (host of No Compromise Radio), who spoke earnestly and truthfully last spring about "Want Ads for Pastors."
Pastor Abendroth speaks with some irony about some of the foibles and mis-steps that some search committees have made—some of which are not nearly so obvious as the failures I point to above, but may actually come across as good and legitimate criteria to ask for; indeed, some of the things he describes may be part of YOUR criteria for seeking a new pastor.
After exposing these follies, however, Pastor Abendroth has some excellent and useful words to search committees about what you really SHOULD be looking for: a man who will faithfully preach the Word. Period. The other things are all secondary concerns.
If you are on a search committee, I think you may find this fairly brief (25 minute) podcast episode well worth the listen. Click here to listen to Mike Abendroth's podcast on "Want Ads for Pastors."
Desperation and the job search
(Read the whole article here.)
"…If a job candidate comes across as someone who desperately wants to get back to work (or wants to change jobs), we reject them. Which leaves candidates who are currently unemployed (or are in bad jobs) in the weird position of having to pretend that they are fabulously wealthy and just want to get a job to get them out of the house for a bit."
With regard to pastoral transition, my evidence is only anecdotal—but if accurate, then this bears out with pastoral searches, too.
One search committee member told me about how one candidate seemed tired and worn down by the process, and that was a big mark against him. I asked her, "do you know how long he had been looking for a position?" and she said she thought it might have been over a year. Is it any surprise that he appeared weary and worn?
(To be fair, the committee I just referenced recommended another candidate for more reasons than just this—but this was the stand-out reason she gave for what made him less favorable.)
This is a hard part of the process. Unless a candidate makes the foolish mistake of simply jumping at any opportunity that is available, then inevitably he has had to do some digging and research, and probably some waiting, for an opportunity to arise that is a good fit.
So, here's a bit of advice to both sides of the equation.
To CandidatesIt's hard, but do your best to present yourself as fresh, confident, and eager (but not over-eager)—even if you have been worn down by the search process! Don't mislead or misrepresent yourself to search committees; let them see you as you really are. At the same time, do everything you can to be well-rested before your interviews and visits. Trust in God that His timing for your transition is perfect, and exhibit that trust in how you speak about your willingness to accept a call.
To Search CommitteesBe aware that the men you are interviewing may have been in a season of transition, and don't judge them solely on how "fresh" they are, how much they seem "desperate," or whether they seem content in where God has them right now. They may be very discontent or quite weary, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they can't serve your congregation faithfully and with real energy and contentment! (And realize that whether they can do these things is often more dependent on YOUR congregation, and how healthy and peaceful it will be to serve in, than it is the candidate's current circumstances!)
Summing upThe article I linked to above has a great wrap-up that I'll borrow here as well:
"Your first priority should be hiring someone who can do a fabulous job, and sometimes that person is desperate for a job. Don't reject on that basis alone."
We're doing another survey. And we need your help!
If you are a pastor in any church tradition, or of you are an elder (or a church leader that is the rough equivalent to a presbyterian elder), there are questions on this survey for you! Please fill out the survey and help us with our research.
Oh, and we're doing a drawing of all of those who complete the survey for a $25 Visa gift card. If you want to win free cash, then fill out our survey!
Here's a link to the survey, which is online:
Thanks SO much for your help!
Reflecting on the decrease in placement
(If you're not the video-watching sort, you can read a transcript here.)
The bottom line for everyone in the video is: the ratio of available candidates to available opportunities continues to be less favorable for candidates. (An argument could be made that a glut on the "market" of many qualified candidates is, in some ways, less favorable for churches seeking a pastor, as well.) Or at least, the number of seminary graduates that are finding placement into pastoral ministry is at a low—not an all-time low, as the video pointed out, but a low point nevertheless.
One candidate, Brian Brown (a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary) comments at one point: "I was always thinking there’s going to be a job at the end of this, you know. That was the hope and that was—and that’s the desire. It’s still the desire." He later comments on how he is following a call from God, and that demands a certain faith and faithfulness. Another CTS grad, Allen Sipe, talks about how being a pastor isn't just what he does, but it's who he is.
I think these are sentiments shared by most seminarians—certainly most of those who plan to become pastors (rather than matriculating from seminary into PhD study, say, or simply planning to re-enter the secular workforce). But clearly many otherwise called and qualified candidates are coming out of seminary and not finding a particular call to a ministry position. What can be done?
If you've read much of what has been written on this blog, you will know that I/we believe strongly that simply "sending out resumes" is not enough. There is a certain work-ethic that must accompany any placement, and especially an effective one. And part of that work must include exercising one's network as much as possible. I continue to find that, more and more, the "network" of the Body of Christ is vital to the search and transition process, from both sides of the equation: more churches are simply not "casting a wide net" by using the various lists and services, but utilizing the network that they have to find candidates.
(A disclaimer here: the PBS video presented many of the featured graduates as having "sent out a bunch of resumes" and did not represent any further efforts on their parts. I am in no way either assuming that this is all they did, nor trying to cast these folks as being to blame for the struggles they have each had to find placement. I do not know, nor can I know, what the reasons are for why they have not found placement; I assume that each of them has faithfully explored every possible avenue toward finding placement, and that for reasons that remain mysteries to us God has not seen fit to put them into a pastoral call.)
Another change that I believe will be increasingly present in the climate of pastoral transition is the need for bi-vocational and non-traditional pastoral calls. While the traditional pastorate will prevail for the foreseeable future, I think it will continue to decline in frequency in lieu of more non-typical options. I already see and read about this occurring in church planting situations, especially outside of the denominational mainstream; I'm convinced that we will see it increase and expand into other areas of pastoral ministry, too. (I'm not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so don't stone me if I'm wrong!)
Of course, one thing that is off the radar for many Christians—even seminary-trained ones—in the U.S. is that Christianity is on the rise in Africa, Asia, and South America in unprecedented levels. Dr. Bryan Chapell (President Emeritus of Covenant Seminary) has said that "we are in the midst of the greatest expansion of the church in history." What many don't realize, even if they are aware of this growth, is that this represents an opportunity for pastoral ministry. Those who believe that, without a doubt, they are called to pastoral ministry could consider moving to a place where there is a great shortage of pastors and taking up their calling there. The problem is that there are no mechanisms (that I know of) to do this at present—maybe a major ministry opportunity for Doulos Resources (or a ministry like ours) could be connecting candidates with international opportunities to serve as pastors.
Another direction that this conversation could go is this: perhaps the reason that both seminary attendance AND pastoral placement out of seminary are in decline is because more churches are exploring "non-traditional" ways to recruit and train their future pastors. There is a sense among some (mainly those who aren't "company men" but are outside of the traditional seminary model) that the existing model for pastors-to-be to move away from their homes and jobs for 3–4 years, then flounder about looking for a call, is going to die (or all but die) in the next couple of decades, in favor of more localized, organic training in "on the job" arrangements. Probably bi-vocationally. I think this makes a lot of sense, and the institutional church (locally, denominationally, and otherwise) must begin to plan and prepare for accommodating this.
I don't have a lot of answers, but I think the questions this kind of discussion raises (and should raise) are important. What do YOU think?
Things NOT to do during transition: apply for every position
There's a lot of good stuff to mine from this article; while it is obviously written for those working in a more corporate work environment, much of what is said applies to pastoral transition too (if indirectly). The one I want to focus on today is #2 on Foss's list: "Applying for jobs (blindly) when you're not an obvious on-paper match."
I think this is one of the bigger problems that pastoral candidates (and, consequently, search committees) have to deal with. And I think that because, when I have interacted with search committees—and especially committee chairs—about this question, they often tell me so.
Here's a typical scenario of what I mean: during a season in which I am candidating (such as right now!), I usually try to find potential opportunities through my network of contacts; invariably, though, I will see some on the various lists that are out there that appear to be intriguing at first glance. In these cases, my next step is to get in contact with the search committee chairperson: I want to find out if the position would be a strong potential fit for me and for them.
Often, when explaining this reason for calling or e-mailing, the chairperson will first express gratitude, and then surprise. It seems that search committees receive a lot of resumes from candidates who, it seems to the chair, have never stopped to consider whether potential "fit" should influence the decision to submit their names for consideration!
What happens when a candidate doesn't bother to consider fit? Wasted time: it wastes the candidate's time— because they've spent time writing an e-mail and attaching files, at minimum. In some cases, the work that goes into taking the first steps of submitting one's name are much more involved. If a candidate has so much spare time on his hands that this waste is not a big deal, there are still many better ways to spend it fruitfully toward an effective transition.
And it wastes the committee's time— because now they have to consider this candidate's resume, discuss it, and take the time to respond (negatively). If it were once in a blue moon, that would be one thing; add three, four, a dozen, or more candidates who are poorly suited for position to the mix, and you have a recipe for a committee that is fatigued, discouraged, and disenchanted with the process on the front-end of it. (Oh, and by the way: if you think it's no big deal to discourage a search committee like this, you've just proven how poorly suited you are to be their pastor!)
This is not to mention the wasted energy, emotional investment, and so on that inevitably results from every time you chip your name into the hat. It costs a lot to NOT consider fit!
How should you go about determining "fit" and avoiding the blind mass-application? Here are few ideas...
- Don't worry about casting a wide net. Early on in my research on the topic of pastoral transition, I thought that guys who had not submitted their names to at least a dozen or more churches were either being lazy or settling too quickly. As I've studied this topic over the last decade, I've come to realize that this can also be the mark of a careful consideration of what a good "fit" looks like. (This doesn't mean that a candidate shouldn't think outside of the box in terms of what he really is fit to do; there's a difference.)
- Remember that fit-ness will ultimately determine the effectiveness of your future ministry. If this is so (and my research certainly has demonstrated that it absolutely is), then you need to be all about this from the start. I was just talking with a fellow pastor over the weekend who recounted how tempting it was at one point to simply accept any position, because he knew he needed a job; fortunately for him (and for his church!), his wife was a voice of reason, reminding him of the need to follow a sense of clear calling, not simply gaining a paycheck.
- Actually read all of the information you can find. I would hope this would be pretty self-evident from what I've already written on doing church research (see "What do you do first?"); just in case it isn't—or in case you haven't yet read that post—hear this: your first steps are to learn about this potential congregation. Try to figure out whether you are a good fit, and whether they are a good fit for you (see comments below on what to think about "fit"). If you've read up on a church thoroughly, and talked to others you know in that area or region about the congregation, and you still think you'd be a good fit for them, you are ready for the next step.
- Get in touch with them. I always do this, and I've never yet regretted the time spent. It usually starts with a simple e-mail to a key person (the search committee chair, the current or previous pastor, an elder or leader in the church, etc.) saying, "I'm interested in the position, and I'd like to talk with you briefly about it to determine whether it would be worth the search committee's time for me to apply." (If they are unresponsive or uninterested—which will be rare—that may be indicative of fit, as well...) Then just have a conversation with them. Ask them what you should know that the information you have can't tell you. Ask about the circumstances of the previous pastor (if relevant). Ask what kind of person they are seeking to fill the position. Ask about the leadership and what sort of leadership style they will expect from the new guy. Ask whatever you think you need to know to determine whether it's a congregation you could be content serving for the next season of your life and ministry.
- Now, you may apply. If you've made it this far and you still think a good fit could be there, by all means send your resume and other information along!
What are you thinking about to determine whether the "fit" is good or not? Just a few ideas...
What are their convictions and preferences?
Who are they? And are they folks you can pastor?
What is their stated "vision" and does it fit with you?
What challenges have they faced in the recent past that you will have to deal with?
Are there any keywords or key phrases that describe particular convictions that you have, that they also clearly share? (Conversely, are there particular convictions expressed that you know will be a struggle for you to go along with?)
These are just a few. There are definitely others (probably a couple of blog posts' worth of "fit-ness" questions could be developed).
In closing, here's a quote from the late William Still on waiting for the right fit (which I have posted before):
You must know or be seeking decisive assurance that you are called by Him to minister the Word; and you must eventually, before you begin, be so certain of this that you would die at the stake for your knowledge.
[Then] you must be willing to wait His will. Some of the most fruitful ministers I know in Scotland have had to wait years for their God-given appointments. And I might add that some have to wait for years in what I call a preparatory ministry, which is often more for their own personal good than for what an unwilling evangelistic people bargained for. You must be sure that you are in the right place. Only one thing kept me in my pulpit when all hell was let loose against me: it was the knowledge that God put me there, and there I had to stay until God took me out. I have hurled this more than once at my enemies with, I assure you, devastating effect!
How far in advance should a pastor give notice?
The commenter expressed concern about becoming a "lame duck" if he announced it too far in advance. I think this is a valid concern; we sometimes see this take place in a political office when an incumbent has been voted out: there is a season when he may feel he cannot act on his conscience and convictions, even though he still occupies that office for a time. A pastor is called to be a spiritual leader of his congregation, also in an office of authority and leadership. If his congregation, lay-leaders, or fellow staff have the impression that he does not have the "right" to function in that office, he cannot effectively function in that office.
The commenter also stated his desire to allow the congregation and leaders to begin moving toward finding a replacement. Again, I'm sensitive to this desire, but I think other factors may mitigate it a bit: first is the "lame duck" problem, and another is the realistic fact that a few weeks, a month, or even a couple of months will not likely represent a significant advantage to most congregations in this way.
Let me start with the shorter end of time-frames: I think a month is the absolute minimum that is appropriate; less than that, and a congregation doesn't have adequate time to make adjustments, say goodbyes, and begin preparing for a season of transition. It may also unintentionally communicate that the departing pastor "can't wait to get out of there"-- which will cause them to question their leadership and themselves in unfair ways. Even if he is leaving under difficult circumstances, a pastor should commit to staying for another month after his announcement.
On the far end, I think three months is probably the far-end of how long a pastor should typically stay. By the end of that time, he will almost certainly face a lot of "lame duck" tendencies. Still, there may be things that will take time to properly hand off and/or delegate to those who will handle them in the interim (especially in larger congregations).
In my view, somewhere around two months is ideal. This gives ample time, in most cases, to say goodbye and to make good preparations for the ministry hand-off. There will be time for the congregation to begin the process of searching for a new pastor in earnest, but not so much that the outgoing pastor will be around to make things awkward.
There are always exceptions. In the case of a pastor who will be retiring after many years of service, that announcement might be made six months ahead (or even more) without impropriety. And unfortunately there are sometimes circumstances that are so dire that the quickest departure that is possible is needed. But these are obviously not typical scenarios.
Let me also say that this is with regard to the public announcement before the whole congregation. The lay-leadership (like Elders and Deacons) might be told further in advance-- and probably should be in most cases. It is usually respectful courtesy to inform fellow staff members even before the transition is certain.
Lecturing on Pastoral Transition
Dr. Rod Culbertson, who is Associate Professor of Practical Theology and the Dean of Student Development for RTS, graciously invited me to lecture to a new class he is teaching on "preparing for pastoral ministry". The class meets at 2pm, and I would guess that neither Dr. Culbertson nor the other students would mind if anyone happened to drop by.
Incidentally, I'll also be giving a lunchtime lecture at RTS tomorrow, on the topic of "The Solo Pastor."
If you don't happen to be in Charlotte and available for my lectures (more likely), please pray that there would be some value and benefit to these students in something that I have to say.
Where? Or Who?
Here is what my friend said:
(1) Before we even said 'yes' to employment, we asked 'who' rather than 'where.' That is, rather than focusing on where are we moving to, we focussed on who we have existing relationships with. In this last instance, we had several employment opportunities but settled upon [our current city] primarily because of the relationships we had here. (I said 'yes' to being an Assistant Pastor over a solo and a senior pastor role; and I did this because I valued what these relationships would mean for me more than what a different title or role might mean). (2) Once we arrived, we immediately plugged back into active relationships -- even although the majority of them were not at the church we came to. Obviously we built new relationships with our new church family, but having some other prior relationships took a lot of pressure off and enabled us to function well as a family.
I think this is a fundamentally different approach to decision-making in pastoral candidacy and transition than most take. It certainly is different from the one I took. And that betrays a couple of things about my thinking:
The importance of Kingdom-relationships. I overestimated my (and my family's) capacity to adapt relationally to wherever we moved. In His grace, God has sustained us in west Tennessee in spite of my overestimation, and in spite of the distance to any of our family and/or existing friendships-- but that doesn't change the fact that existing relationships matter greatly. My friend's approach to his decision is a real challenge to me, because I've seen the struggles that I and my family have sometimes had relationally, yet I wonder whether my pride could forsake role or title in favor of meaningful relationships.
The unimportance of cultural or geographical boundaries. Let's return to basic New Testament redefinition of what it means to be a part of the Church-- the new Israel-- and see how flawed my thinking has been and is: I still think in terms of the cultural differences that I embody as someone who grew up in the American South, or the geographical issues that arise when I think of what it means to live in one part of the country (or the world) or another. But my friend, whose move to his current congregation was even further from his home country than he already was before, exposes the spiritual lie in my thinking.
As I've been mulling over my friend's response for a week or so, I wonder if this paradigm-shift in the starting-point question (who instead of where) doesn't have even broader implications than what his response suggests. I think the "who?" question should ALWAYS be asked--and answered-- long before the "where?" question comes into play.
What does this look like? Perhaps it means setting aside questions such as, "is the geographical/cultural context one in which I believe I can effectively minister?" or "how far away from my parents/siblings is this ministry context?" While vital questions, and worthy of asking, these might begin to lead a candidate in a direction that commits him to a certain opportunity (or rules one out) prematurely.
Instead, the candidate might ask "who?" in this way: "are the people in this congregation those to whom I can have a fruitful and effective ministry?" Or, "do my core values and ministry gifts serve and shepherd these people in the manner that they need to be served and led?" Or, "what kind of pastor does this congregation need to lead them to the good pastures and still waters of the next season of their congregational life-- and am I the pastor to shepherd them there?"
I consider this a major breakthrough in my thinking about pastoral transition, and urge candidates everywhere to ask and answer "who?" before you begin to ask "where?".
Pastors Search for Churches, Home Buyers
The article points out a reality that more and more churches may NEED to consider if they will be able to bring in a new pastor in the coming years: the return of the parsonage/manse. Says Hansen:
Churches might be in a different position today if more still housed their pastors in parsonages. Threatened with burnout, pastors have been counseled to separate their home and church life. Parsonages, often located near the church, make erecting such boundaries more difficult. Plus, financial planners advise pastors to take advantage of the tax benefits that come with a housing allowance and build equity.
But new economic realities may alter this thinking. The New York Times surveyed analysts in August and reported that home ownership is not expected to pay off in the foreseeable the future the way it did between 1950 and 2008. “More than likely,” David Sreitfeld wrote, “that era is gone for good.” Going forward, housing values may only keep pace with inflation. If this analysis is true, then the parsonage may return. Churches may even recruit younger pastors burned by the market in recent years with the incentive of free housing. Now would certainly be the time for such churches to buy low.
This is an excellent point, and something that more congregations (and perhaps ESPECIALLY the smaller ones) ought to consider more seriously.
I highly recommend this article posted at the Gospel Coalition website.
Considering a "revitalization" church
This is an excellent question, because a number of churches will recognize the need at some level, but will not be ready for it.
I asked him: do you think they really want to grow? Do they genuinely want to minister to others? Or is there a sense of urgency mostly out of fear of continuity— that is, they are afraid the money will run out, there won't be anyone around in 20 years, etc.?
If they really want to grow through the ministry of the Gospel, be interested. If it's motivation out of fear, not so much.
He responded that he agreed— he didn't need to move to minister to people motivated by fear; he had plenty of that where he was.
How do you discern whether a congregation is motivated by fear, or by Gospel urgency? Asking the following questions is a start:
- Health: What is a healthy church? Is your church a healthy church? What brings you to that conclusion?
- Good ministry: What does good ministry look like to them? What are the marks of success/effectiveness for good ministry?
- Workload: Who do they see as the "front lines" of ministry in a healthy congregation? Is it the pastor? Is it the church's officers? The members?
- Roles: What is the role of the pastor in a healthy church? What is the role of the officers/other leaders? How does Ephesians 4:11-16 apply to them?
- Goals: What are the two most important things that you hope the Lord will accomplish through your next pastor? Why are those more important than others? How will you know that your new pastor is effective in his work of ministry?
- Values: What are the things that must not change in any future ministry of this congregation? What is open to change, however great? What sets the boundary for what may or may not change?
Answering those questions will set you on the right track of evaluating motivation. A church that is ready for true revitalization will exhibit a biblical definition of church health, and they will recognize that their congregation is unhealthy in at least some ways (every church is!). They will define "good ministry" as "Gospel ministry"— that is, the faithful preaching and teaching of Christ with the result of transforming work through His grace. They will recognize that the workload is to be shared among all of the leaders (and all of the congregation in general), and that the primary work of the pastor is to teach and equip them for Gospel ministry (as Ephesians 4 states). Their goals will reflect that, and they will understand that the only things not open to change are the faithful preaching of the Gospel and the right worship of Christ.
Thoughts on keeping your eyes open
Ed, I hope the following reflections on my transition are helpful for some of your readers.
First, a bit of background... My wife and I took our first job out of seminary in a very expensive metro area. It was great experience, but the cost of living was very high. My dream of providing for my family faded as my wife had to begin working full time and as we were dependent on her for providing health insurance. I began to compartmentalize—I served the church with as much emotional energy as I could afford, but also began looking for a way out (that is, a different job).
The Lord apparently had lessons for us to learn because another job didn’t open up for quite a while. We were left feeling the crunch for a couple years. However, another opportunity eventually arose; and when it did, God’s guidance was clear and unmistakable.
This is not an unfamiliar story, I know. What I’d like to share below are some of the lessons I learned, or at least hope that I’ve learned. After years of feeling like victims of an unfair salary and (what felt like) uncaring leadership, we realize that most of the problems concerned our attitude.
Here are some reflections:
God's timing. What struck me most of all, in retrospect, was that when it's God's time...things happen. Nothing opened up for us as we were trying to “settle down,” but when it was time to move on (and there were more objective indicators by that point) it was as if the red carpet was rolled out. While I don't understand God's timing, it seems He was pretty rigid concerning His plan for us: he simply would not yield to our desire to escape our uncomfortable situation. I see this now as a token of his love, like a father who refuses to give their child something that is not in their ultimate best interests. I do not regret searching for other ministry positions, out of a desire to be proactive concerning my wife's/family's (real or perceived) needs--but I wish I would have done so with less anxiety and more trust in God's ultimate best for us.
God's release. One time, a fellow pastor spoke to me about sensing God's "release" from a ministry position. He told me not to look for another position until you know in your heart God has released you from your present one—until you know your work there is complete. For me, this sense of release came eventually…but not until after I’d spun my wheels trying to get hired at numerous churches (where I always ended up being their “second choice”). Had I waited for this sense of release before sending out my resumes, I could have saved myself a lot of time and a lot of postage.
Heart issues, heart issues, heart issues. I am so embarrassed to say that I allowed myself to feel like a victim during my time in this ministry position. Now that the smoke has cleared my wife and I have had discussions about "idols" in our life that were the real problem. We had idols concerning the American dream and others too. I can look back in retrospect and see how we could have served the Lord so much more effectively had we trusted God more (as I've already stated) and been less anxious...less frustrated...less idolatrous. Had we limited the emotional energy spent on fixing our situation, I could see myself taking even greater advantages of the discipling/evangelizing opportunities that were present for me in this metro area. Another way of putting this same point is, “Don’t panic.” Or, if you do feel panicked, explore whether it may be because an idol is being removed from your hands.
Money: Another heart Issue. God provided for us wonderfully once we made our move, but financial issues still plagued us. This is because issues such as being gospel-centered, planning well for the future, etc, are present no matter how much or how little you make. This is not to say that churches shouldn’t pay their pastors better; they should. But we have to be careful about feeling entitled.
As you can see, most of these lessons involve attitude. I can see now, as we face another transition, that having a much more patient, trusting attitude--and trying to discern what God desires for us to learn right here, right now--is a much better way to go. It doesn't mean I'm not praying about, and investigating opportunities for, the future. But I feel more trust than panic.
At the same time, I'd like to note a few things on the "other side"...
Pastoral/session care. I would have benefited from greater pastoral and sessional care, even though the responsibility was ultimately mine. This hit home to me when, near the very end, I asked the senior pastor to speak to the session about a serious concern we had--only to find out down the road that the request had been utterly forgotten. I personally believe that better communication concerning financial struggles would make many pastor’s situations 90% better. Trying to serve while feeling that no one knows or cares—that’s where bitterness and hard feelings develop.
Tourists don't make the best missionaries. While I wish we had been less concerned about our finances and getting “settled down, it was a simple fact that our church was located in an area where the cost of living was far higher than our income. We always felt like tourists because we could not really live like the people we were trying to serve--meaning, we could not own a home or even rent one near the church. I realize now how pastoral ministry is greatly aided by being part of the everyday, "normal" culture. I'm not saying that you cannot do ministry otherwise, but I would think twice before taking a position where you’d be an immediate outsider to the typical rhythms of life.
I don’t know if these lessons will resonate with any of your readers. But if it leads someone to greater self-examination and even a sense of hope, that would be great.
When the search lingers... part 2
How should someone whose candidacy process has stretched well past his expectations, who is discouraged and heavy-hearted, who has begun to despair of finding placement and has even questioned whether God is truly calling him into ministry-- how should such a man continue to pursue placement into ministry?
To begin with, he ought to continue to serve whenever possible. Are there Sunday School classes to be taught at his church? He should make it clear that he is available to teach them. Are there other volunteer opportunities? Again, he should avail the church of his gifts and service if possible. Can he continue to serve in pulpit supply for area churches that need a preacher? The more the better.
There are a few reasons why. For one thing, ongoing service like this will keep him from getting "rusty"-- his skills and abilities will grow sharper, not more dull, with continued use. He'll actually continue to grow in the calling God has given him, not become stagnant. The discouragement he has from the absence of placement will be tempered somewhat by the opportunity to fulfill, at least in a small measure, the calling that he longs to have made complete.
It will help his candidacy, as well: churches aren't looking for someone who was seminary-trained a while back but shelved his education until he was paid to use it; they are looking for men whose sense of service to the church and Kingdom compel them to find any opportunity to use their gifts for God. They are seeking churchmen-- and a churchman will use all of the resources available to him to serve in all of the capacities available to him.
Such a candidate might also continue to advance his training and education. A "joke" at the seminary I finished was that, if you weren't placed by graduation, you could always start a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree. While this was offered tongue-in-cheek, there's certainly no harm in continuing to learn and grow as a candidate awaits God's timing for placement. Whether it is a Th.M., a counseling program, a doctoral degree, or some other pursuit, he might seriously consider further academic work.
It doesn't have to be an either-or proposition, either. In most cases, degree programs like this can be completed, at least in part, by distance education-- so if he were to place before finishing the degree, he could continue to make progress (though he would certainly want to slow down!). He shouldn't see this option as "giving up" on placement; instead, he ought to continue to pursue placement while working on his ongoing training.
He also shouldn't feel like he must start another degree, either. There are plenty of seminars and workshops that he could attend; for example, I've mentioned the "From Embers to a Flame" conference on church vitality and revitalization that is a great four-day learning opportunity. There are probably short classes (week-long, or weekends) at the seminary he graduated from, which he could enroll in (perhaps at a discounted rate-- my alma mater offers such classes for free to alumni). Continuing to advance his learning doesn't have to be a long-term commitment.
Long-term or not, what it will be is an opportunity to gain more than what he was offered in his existing seminary degree. I know of no one who is in ministry who can report that seminary prepared them for everything. Every class, workshop, conference, or degree that a graduate accrues is an advantage to him and to his future ministry in this way. (And don't think that search committees won't recognize this, either-- they know as well as anyone that more training and education almost always means "better-equipped.")
Another thing he might begin (or continue) to do: cast an ever-widening net in his candidacy efforts. If he has been searching for an Assistant Pastor role, then he might open up his options to Solo Pastoral positions as well. If he has been looking only in a single denomination, he might also look in like-minded sister denominations. If he's been looking only in presbyterian circles, he might consider a more broadly Reformed circle. There are many avenues where he could expand your search without compromising crucial convictions.
I've blogged about this before, too-- and the longer I'm in ministry, the more I appreciate (and agree with) the advice that my friend Joe Novenson offered concerning that circumstance: there is more agreement, generally, than there is disagreement among brothers and sisters in Christ. Joe said, "I have more in common with my fellow pastors, even in congregations of very different theological convictions, than I do with an unbeliever who shares my political and social agenda."
This isn't to say that we should quickly abandon our theological distinctives for the sake of a pastoral call. But it does emphasize how much room there is to cast a wider net in our search.
When the search lingers... part 1
I imagine that this man is not alone; there are many guys who graduate without a call, and many go on to linger in their candidacy process for a while-- months, even years pass before they reach a point of resolution. For some, the eventual resolution is placement; for others, it is a decision to abandon the search for pastoral placement (for good or for now) and move on to other things. Regardless, this young man is in a difficult position.
What advice would I have for him? First let me say that I am certain that his level of discouragement is quite high. I know that it must be so difficult to persevere! I know men who have given up; some of them, I am convinced, should not have given up-- I am as sure as I could be that God had called them into ministry. And I know others who persevered, some for longer than you have, and they are now well-placed and thriving in the ministry God had been preparing for them.
Thus, I'll offer two responses: first, some thoughts about how to continue to discern a calling to pastoral ministry; second (in another post), a few things to "do" to continue and press on.
I know that many seminarians sense an inward call to ministry; I trust that, and consider that to be a foundational aspect of a call to ministry-- but it is one aspect of a few. I would say, with confidence, that there are two other aspects.
First, is there a "scriptural" call to ministry? We must ask ourselves, what does the Bible teach about those who are called to ministry? One way to proceed with considering whether you should continue to pursue a pastoral call might be to dig deeply into a study of the Word. Do a survey of those who served as leaders throughout the Scriptures, and consider whether there are normative factors in their calling. Dig into Paul's teachings on gifts, and look at what gifts he teaches are crucial for leadership and servanthood in the pastoral office. Do some serious exegetical work in the pastoral epistles and construct a biblical portrait of the Elder/Overseer. Study the writings of Peter, James, and John on those who lead the church.
There is more study to do here than most have time to complete between now and when the Lord places them! I would strongly suggest spending devotional time in this sort of study-- so that daily, in their time in the Word, a candidate is more deeply affirmed from Scripture of their call to ministry. (Incidentally, if God is NOT calling them into ministry, such a study should reveal that to their hearts, as well.)
Also, is there an external call to ministry? At a point where the search for placement has gone well-beyond what we would think of as a "normal" length of time, the fact that someone hasn't yet received a ministerial call might suggest that there is not an external call. A candidate shouldn't let this be the final decision-factor, however. Instead, they should ask, "Who first encouraged me to attend seminary, and why? How was I affirmed in my call to ministry by seminary professors and classmates? What do those who I served-- and those whom I served under-- during field education and/or internships have to say about affirming my call to ministry? Am I involved in leadership in the church now-- and if so, what do those whom I serve under say about a call into ministry?"
Between now and when they first were led to begin seminary study, there should be many people-- dozens? more than that?-- who have first-hand experience with their ministry, and who can speak honestly and informedly to whether they see God calling them into ministry. The candidate must find them, and ask them. He must invite them to be frank, even blunt with him. If they have any love for the church and for the candidate, they will tell him whether they see God calling him to ministry.
Special circumstances: The unintentional interim
Here's the lay of the land: the pastor that served this congregation before my friend was their pastor for several decades. He was beloved by his people, and served them faithfully. This isn't to say that there were not surely more difficult times, but over their many years together they learned how to weather those difficult seasons more easily. By the end of his tenure as their pastor, his ministry was marked more by how well he knew his flock-- and how instinctively he could attend to their needs-- than by anything else.
Because of health difficulties with this long-tenured, outgoing pastor, it wasn't possible to execute a well-planned, thoughtful hand-off from him to his successor. It may be the case that such a hand-off was not in view at all, or that circumstances didn't allow one to take place. Regardless, there was only so much that was done to ensure that the new pastor would be empowered for a long, effective ministry.
In comes my friend: new to pastoral ministry and fresh out of seminary, hopeful for a fruitful and long ministry among his new congregation. Over the course of his first two years of ministry there, however, it became clear to him that a portion of the congregation wasn't ready for a new pastor; consciously or not, they still wanted their beloved former pastor instead of this new fellow. Before long, it was apparent that my friend's only true choice was to resign and move on.
Why it didn't work
There are a small handful of factors at play that are unique to that particular pastor and congregation, and I won't address those. However, there are several factors that are true of nearly all churches with a long- (or longer) tenured pastor that, in this case, led to the failure of his successor. We can recognize and avoid these.
- They needed to grieve the loss of their beloved pastor. When a pastor leaves, the congregation needs to deal with the sense of loss they experience. This is true regardless of the circumstances of the pastor's departure, but particularly in cases where the pastor was loved and isn't leaving under duress or troublesome conditions. In some cases, the outgoing pastor retires in the area, stays on as an emeritus pastor, or in some way remains present-- and in many ways, this can be even worse. There is still a substantial sense of loss ("he is no longer my pastor") that a congregant can be made to feel like he/she shouldn't have ("at least he's still in the area"). There must be a good, healthy grieving by the whole congregation, especially the leadership and others who were personally close to the outgoing pastor.
- They needed to actively plan the hand-off. Churches-- and especially the leadership, be it a Session, a Board, or what have you-- must address confidently and realistically the need for a succession plan. Many avoid this because they fear it will stir up concern among the members, or make a pastor feel like he is being pushed out. But the truth is that there is going to be a hand-off whether you plan for it or not. So you may as well plan for it, to ensure that it is done as well as possible. This should take place well before the pastor plans or needs to leave. I recommend highly the book on this subject called The Elephant in the Boardroom by Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree (Jossey-Bass, 2004) for guidance on how to do this well.
- They needed to seek someone similar, but not identical, to the outgoing pastor. This was one of the factors that, in some ways, created the biggest problems for my classmate: his style of relating to the congregation was fairly different from his predecessor, if for no other reason than my friend didn't have 20+ years of history with them. Their preaching styles were quite different as well. This is common in pastoral transition for a church; consciously or unconsciously, they think, "this is our chance to fill in the gaps that we realize were missing with our previous/outgoing pastor." What they need, though, is someone who will expand the pastor's ministry to meet some of the most important needs that the previous pastor wasn't able to touch on, while not sacrificing the most important needs that the previous pastor DID meet. This can be difficult, but it almost always means finding someone who is like the outgoing pastor in many ways.
- They needed to be patient and forgiving. In many ways, they tried their best to do this-- and that is to their credit. Anytime a church gets a new pastor, there must be a season where everyone extends an extra measure of grace and forgiveness to each other, and especially to the new pastor. Most pastors are given this grace period, at least to a degree; in some ways, it happens whether the congregation is intentional about it or not. For someone following a long-tenured pastor, it ought to be consciously and intentionally offered, and it ought to be for a longer time period than "normal" (which is usually between 6 months and a year, at most). I'd like to see such a grace-period last at least 18 months to two years for such a church.
- They needed to work with him in his ministry. One of the big differences between a long-term pastor and a newcomer-- especially when the new pastor is recently out of seminary-- is that the seasoned, long-tenured pastor has a clear understanding of both role and expectations. The new pastor needs to be counseled in both in a helpful, godly manner by the leadership of the church. For a very new pastor, this may be as basic as helping him learn what it means to be an Elder in the church! He simply may not have enough experience to know how to do things like visitation, counseling, etc. Even an experienced pastor might be helped by some frank discussions about how the pastor has fulfilled his role in this congregation's past. There must also be clear, upfront discussion about expectations. It is too easy for a congregation to assume that the incoming pastor knows and shares their expectations-- but they should assume nothing of the sort. Instead, they should assume that the most helpful thing they could do-- for themselves and for the incoming pastor-- would be to spell out their expectations in as concrete a manner as possible.
- They should have seriously considered an interim pastor. An interim pastor is a vital help in a time like this. One of the things we in my denomination (the PCA) could learn from our brothers in another related denomination (the PC-USA) is how they handle long-tenured pastorates: they actually require that an interim pastor be brought in for a season of time, and that season's length corresponds to how long the outgoing pastor had been there. This affords everyone-- the officers, the lay-leadership, the congregation, the community around the church-- an opportunity to proactively think and plan for how the church's ministry and community will be inherently different, and how to maintain continuity as well.
In the end, my friend didn't have a strong hope of lasting long at this church. As I said, he unintentionally became the interim pastor that they needed. Thankfully, he maintains his commitment to his call to ministry and intends to pursue another opportunity; sadly, I fear that too many men, otherwise well-qualified for pastoral ministry, would leave the ministry after an experience like this one.
The bottom line: churches and pastors alike would do quite well to be cautious in such situations and recognize the dangers of an unintentional interim.
Two new resources
- Covenant Discipleship Communicant's Curriculum. My good friend and colleague, Richard Burguet, and I have been working on this together for years, and have finally seen it come to the point we've been hoping for. You can learn about about it, and order it, through Doulos Resources (which is a new ministry I'm involved with, and this blog is now co-hosted by Doulos Resources).
- PCA Housing Allowance Form. If you're a pastor in the PCA, this is the time of year to declare your housing allowance for tax and legal purposes. Here's a form I created to make this a neat and clean endeavor-- and I've even built a form into the PDF so you can enter the data before printing it out. (While you're there, check out the other Transition tools we've been posting-- and there are more coming soon!)
Stuart Briscoe on choosing candidates
One added benefit of the [Elmbrook Church] Study Center became evident over the years as more and more people who would never have gone to seminary completed the training we offered (all the time supporting themselves in their secular jobs and pursuing their ministries in the church. This meant that when we had a vacancy on the staff or an opportunity to develop a new ministry, we didn't have to look very far for a suitable person to give leadership. "Look under your nose first" became a rule of thumb as we built our pastoral team. Added to this, we had a system of internships in which young college students who had shown gifts and aptitudes compatible with ministry were invited to spend a summer working with us at the church. Over the years a number of them found their way into pastoral ministry or missionary activity. Little tributaries were flowing in many directions.
I am not at all enthusiastic about modern methods of "recruiting and hiring" in which resumes of hundreds of people are gathered, endless procedures of vetting and interviewing ensue, various "candidates" are displayed, and eventually one person survives the process. While one church is satisfied and one pastor is happy, many ministries are disrupted, dozens of ministers are distracted, and most of them are disappointed. This issue came to a head early in my ministry when I presented someone as a suitable member of the pastoral staff to the church leaders. One of them asked me, "How many people have you interviewed for this position?"
"One," I replied.
"One?" he questioned, startled. Then he added, "How can you possibly know he's the best person for the job?"
"I don't," I freely admitted. "But I know him, I know his heart, I know what he can do and what he can't do, and I think I know where he can grow. In addition he knows us and he has no illusions about what he's getting into. So why look any further? He may not be the 'best,' but he's one of ours and certainly good enough. And why should we have the best anyway?" I happen to believe good enough is good enough-- and in a fallen world, there's no such thing as perfection.
[From Flowing Streams: Journeys of a Life Well-Lived by Stuart Briscoe. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008, p. 133.]
Approaching the final year, part 5: Tag Your Mentors
The last thing you must do to prepare well for the transition while in seminary is to make a list: who will your mentors be in ministry?
You will inevitably face circumstances that you won't know how to handle, or will need some basic orientation for. Your first wedding or funeral; the first time you do a hospital visitation; the first Session meeting you moderate or Board meeting you oversee. You may not know how to lead worship effectively, or how to lead another through basic discipleship. There will be a thousand blind spots, things you didn't know that you didn't know-- until you were in the midst of needing to know!
You will have questions. How do you start to counsel one of your parishioners? How do you stop counseling without leaving them feeling abandoned? Are you spending too much time (or too little) preparing your sermon or lessons, or too little time (or too much) meeting with your congregants? Which issues are worth fighting for? How do you repent well when you've sinned against one of your members? What do you do about the strange situation that you never saw coming? Are you pushing for change too fast?
Where will you turn for answers to your questions? Where will you go for advice about your blind spots? You will serve yourself well if you've thought through who you will call or meet with in these times of need.
There will inevitably be some that you can't list at this point. Perhaps you will work under a seasoned Senior Pastor, or there will be experienced Elders and/or Deacons in your congregation who can guide you in the moment. There will certainly be other pastors around-- perhaps in your presbytery, or other like gathering-- and some of these will present themselves as available for such advice. Maybe, as it was in my case, there will be willingness in the man who put you in contact with your new congregation, and he will offer his wisdom and experience when you need it.
But even these present gaps that need to be filled elsewhere. In the midst of a funeral, your Elders and Deacons won't be as available for guidance; they will assume that you know what to do-- not just preaching the sermon, but ordering the service, guiding the family through their grief, leading the church in serving the bereaved. When you have conflict with your Senior Pastor, you will probably want to avoid talking to anyone close to the situation. There will be times when you need your mentors to know you, not just ministry in general.
Seek out, therefore, a few trusted mentors-- men who know you, whose experience and wisdom in ministry is trustworthy, in whom you know you can safely place your confidence-- and approach them. Simply ask them if they would mind if you called them from time to time when you need advice on pastoral ministry. I would be astonished if they refused.
It will be a lot easier knowing now than waiting until the first incident presents itself. Go ahead: get out a sheet of paper and make a list (maybe five names?) and begin asking these friends for their willingness. When you call them on the way to the hospital or as you wait for your first counseling appointment, you'll be so glad you did this now.
Approaching the final year, part 4: Keep it humble
So you're getting a seminary degree... what does that mean to you?
For many (most?) of us, it was an accomplishment that we were/are pretty proud of. It means a lot of hard work: difficult study, learning new languages, writing papers, reading mountains of books. It also means building new friendships, getting to know some amazing professors and others, getting to study the Bible and other wonderful fields of study with intensity.
For some of us it also means working full-time or nearly so to support ourselves and our families as we accomplish all of the above.
Your seminary degree is a great achievement, and something you ought to take great pride in. But it is also something that you need to keep a healthy (read: humble) perspective about.
Frankly, many people in your future congregation won't care so much about your achievements in seminary-- or if they do, it will be because they are intimidated by what you know that they don't. They won't have a clear understanding of how hard you worked, or how difficult it was for you to learn all that you have. At best, they will appreciate the fact that you know the answers to tough questions, and that you have gathered the tools you will need to minister the Word of God effectively.
You need to begin to cultivate now the attitude that will allow you to minister to them in the future.
When you complete your degree, you'll be awarded a "Master of Divinity" (or perhaps a "Master of Arts etc.") degree-- which is to say, you may feel compelled to consider yourself a master of these materials! But be careful: as you have probably become all too aware, you haven't mastered very much through the seminary process. If anything, seminary may (and probably should) have served to reveal to you how little you have mastered, and how much you have yet to learn.
A case in point: I didn't know of anyone in my preaching classes who earned an "A" on their sermons. I certainly didn't-- and shouldn't have. Think of what such a message would communicate to a seminary student? For many of us (including me), these were among the first sermons we had ever preached. Yet preaching is an art-form that takes years of practice to master, and often hundreds of sermons to become adept at. One pastor I know suggested that it took a pastor his first 100 sermons or so just to find his own style and voice in preaching. Should a seminarian be given any inclination of mastery after having preached his third of fourth?
Another factor to consider is that, despite your best efforts, you will likely have very little real-world experience applying the many things you have learned. You know lots of facts, and you know many good methods. But you don't yet know people-- especially the people you will be called to serve and shepherd in the context of your first pastoral call.
Who will those people be? Some of them will be better-educated than you, academically. Others won't have anything approaching a graduate degree, yet they will have many years of life experience and knowledge in fields you may never have heard of. All (or nearly all) of them have some things you don't: they know who they are, who the people in their congregation are, what the dynamics of that congregation are, and what the community and culture that they live in are like.
A few years ago, the TV show Ed centered around the lives of a few old classmates in their home town. One of these, Mike, had completed medical school and returned home to work with the old, well-established Dr. Jerome, who had served that community as the only doctor for decades. Dr. Jerome was a real curmudgeon, and showed Mike almost no respect as a doctor-- frustrating Mike almost to the point of quitting-- until finally Mike learns that Dr. Jerome has been waiting for Mike to begin to respect and care about the people he cares for as much as he cares about the medicine itself. At that point (not until the third season, by the way) Dr. Jerome finally begins to treat Mike with the respect and authority that Mike deserves.
Ministry is very much like that: until we respect the people we serve (or will serve) in ministry as much as we respect the knowledge and office of ministry itself, we won't have their ear and our efforts will be like spinning our wheels in the snow-- no traction.
You've done good work in your seminary degree; don't undervalue it. But don't assume that because you've earned a "Master of Divinity" that you're fully prepared for the humbling work of ministry.
A more reasonable title would be, not Master of Divinity, but Apprentice of Divinity. You've (almost) completed a huge step along the way toward gaining the knowledge and tools you will need for good ministry. Now it's time to begin shaping the heart of a pastor by seeking an appropriate level of humility.
Bits and tidbits
A few articles, posts, and other such have come to my attention recently that those in transition (or considering it) may find interesting.
- How a Presbyterian Minister Should Resign. Good thoughts here on the way that a resignation is approached-- not in a strictly businesslike manner, but with care and consideration for one's responsibilities as a Pastor and Presbyter.
- PCA Ministerial Glut. Back in January, the "Warfield List" had a brief discussion (now fizzled out, alas) on how there are "too many" candidates for ministry and what to do about it. FWIW, I don't agree with most of the conclusions drawn, but my 3 or 4 readers will recognize a couple of themes that are burdens of my heart. (HT: Heidelblog)
- Finding a new job, when you're on the road. A good (brief) article from the NY Times "Shifting Careers" column. There are meta-themes here that working Pastors (and even seminary students) will be able to apply.
- The Unclutterer blog has been doing a good series on moving lately-- good advice. Catch their posts here, here, and here.
- The secret to success in ministry. A good little reflection from PastorHacks on why devotional life is important for Pastors (also has good application in seminary, BTW).
- Speed mentoring. Interesting concept-- wouldn't this be fascinating to see done at a General Assembly? (HT: 43Folders)
- The Business. Rands in Repose does it again-- this time discussing salary negotiations. As with all of his posts, this one is focused on the process in the context of the world of IT-- but there's a lot of application to be gleaned for the pastoral candidate. (I especially appreciate his advice on gauging your worth.)
Revisiting Transition Principle #2
My second key piece of advice for those in transition was to take time to get to know the people and businesses near the church.
I'll stick with this advice, and think it is valuable part of a good transition. l will say, though, that the ways that these opportunities may manifest themselves are more than I initially suggested.
For example: one of the best opportunities I've had to get to know the people of Hickory Withe is through attending the Hickory Withe Community Association meetings. These monthly meetings are very well-attended and have presented me with some new relationships with key members of the community.
Another qualification I'll mention: I haven't taken advantage of as many of these opportunities as I could have, so far. Not nearly as many. And that's just fine-- because my primary focus isn't on the community at large, or on the town of Hickory Withe. It's the members and regular attenders of Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church. The goal of getting to know the "neighbors" of the church is important, but it is a fairly distant second place to the first goal of knowing my flock.
My friend Bob Burns gave me advice unto that end before I left St. Louis, and he's right. Focus on your people first...
Week in the life...
[This post was originally written on Oct. 14, 2007]
It's been a crazy week. As I mentioned a few days ago, we got to Tennessee very late. On Wednesday, we met our realtor for the walk-through of our house, then went to set up utilities. After lunch, we met our realtor again and drove to closing. We closed on the house and then went back to the hotel, where I bumped into a member of our new church! (He saw me pulling into the parking lot.) It is a pretty small town...
Thursday, the movers came and we were unloaded. Man, we're so grateful for a full-service move (at least the loading and unloading part). Special thanks to Larry Robbins of Cord North American, who gave us a gracious discount because we were seminary/ministry people. If you're in St. Louis, send Larry your business if you can. That evening, one of the sweet ladies in our church brought us dinner, and helped us unpack.
Friday was a lot of unpacking, and I took some stuff up to my office at the church. I also took a little time to work on my sermon for Sunday! And a trip to Lowe's emphasized the fact that we're home-owners again.
Saturday was more of the same, unpacking, trying to settle in, and preparing for Sunday. There's a pot-luck carry-in (the local term) on Sunday, and we're taking a delicious dessert that Marcie makes. My sister also came to town, so that she could worship with us on my first Sunday.
All in all, a very full week.
Long time, no blog...
Sorry about the shortage of content-- actually, since late spring. I have a lot of blog posts in mind, and I will get them here eventually, I promise. There is a little bit going on right now: packing, studying for licensure, trying to finalize a contract on a house, and seeing everyone we want to see in St. Louis before we move is keeping us busy.
Some of you have e-mailed to ask if I would close down this blog now that I've placed. The short answer is, NO. The slightly longer answer is, my heart for seminarians and pastors in transition is still a big part of my sense of ministry and calling, and I will continue to write about my thoughts and, such as they may be, insights into the process of transition.
Over the coming weeks, I'll try to post at least once a week, starting tomorrow. Thanks for sticking with me.
That trip was the ticket-- the Spirit was strongly at work that weekend. In the following days, that congregation voted to call me as their pastor, and as of early October I will "take the field" in Hickory Withe, Tennessee at Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church (PCA).
Meanwhile, I still covet your prayers: I am studying hard for my examinations for licensure, which is effectively the first part of ordination in the PCA. I'll be examined in a handful of ways over the next couple of weeks.
We're thrilled, and couldn't be more excited. From all reports, the people of Hickory Withe are, too.
Thank you for your prayers, if you have or will pray. I'll reflect on preparing for ordination soon!
Effective Search Committee Rejections, part one
One of my oddities related to my overactive interest in pastoral transitions is my collection of "rejection" letters. (I have a whole file full; if you have a good one you'd like to share with me, please send me a copy! It will go to good use.)
Here's a letter that I acquired recently that is about as good as it gets. I've removed any identifying marks, though I seriously considered giving public kudos to this search team for their great work. I've also added my comments about what makes this a great letter.
I've written before about so-called rejection-- I don't think is is such a bad thing in the big picture sense. Nevertheless, a lot of search teams botch this part up big-time, and can do damage to even the more thick-skinned candidates that they communicate with. Whether they fail to get some details right or tip their hand that they didn't really give serious consideration to the candidate, I consider this part of the process-- closing up with candidates that are no longer in the running-- a key index of whether a search team is doing things well overall.
This team (from the fictitious High Mountain Presbyterian Church) did not botch it up. They showed in their letter that they cared about the candidate, even though he wasn't the man for them. They gave real and useful reasons for why they went a different direction. And they showed a true submission to God's leading in the way they discussed it. All of these are marks of a good, healthy search process.
For those who have never received such a letter, you should know that this is a really prime example of what to do RIGHT in this situation. In the future I'll post some counter-examples to demonstrate.
More like it
What strikes me about this church is that their focus is on people. They are interested in me, my family, and who we are; they show clear evidence of caring for one another in significant, if subtle, ways. And this comes through in the way they are handling/pursuing candidates: they are more concerned about who the candidates are as people and how they fit (or don't fit) into their church.
One of the search team members commented that he couldn't keep up with more than one candidate at a time! And there is something to be said for that, as well: search teams already contribute a substantial amount of time and energy, and asking them to juggle a handful (or dozens) of candidates in their mind, keeping them straight and maintaining opinions about each may be asking too much. Again, this is about people-- not about processes or paperwork. And to protect their team from having to focus on multiple candidates is consistent with their value of people, too.
I understand why most churches employ a system that considers many candidates at any given point-- even down to the final few. Most of the rationale, however, strikes me as pragmatic rather than intentional accomplishment of a specific goal.
While this church might not be intentional about their process, the end result is much better.
When does the interview end?
Rands, the Silicon Valley manager I've mentioned before, suggests that the interview really lasts for 90 days past your first day on the job. And I think he's right.
Look folks can't evaluate you accurately by just your information packet-- and neither can they really assess your value during an interview weekend. While you probably won't get fired for not handling the first ninety days (or the first six months) well, it will definitely set the tone for how your ministry will go. And since the goal is always effective ministry for the full-term of service God has called you to, starting well may be the key to finishing well (or at all).
In addition to the eight principles I've already laid out, Rands has some good ideas, including showing up early and staying late, accepting every lunch invitation you get, and saying something stupid. Rands says it well:
It's not just that you forgot to ask key questions during your initial interview process; it's that the person that you were walking into that interview isn't who you are. You're a resume, you're a referral, and you're a reputation.
Your job interview isn't over until you've asked all the questions and heard all of the stories.
Fatigue sets in
"How is the search going?" my friend asked. "I mean, I know you can't tell me any details-- but how are YOU doing with the search?"
The team leader told him candidly: "I'm really tired. In the past two weeks I've listened to 120 sermons."
Make no mistake-- Search Committees have a long, hard road in this process.
Technorati Tags: Transition
Place and time
"Remember that place is more important than timing."This is good advice, and important to keep in focus. When you're in the midst of transition (as I am), it is natural to want to place as quickly as possible-- and when you have an opportunity near at-hand, the temptation to be ready to jump at accepting an offer is great.
I've known men whose desire for the "right timing" caused them to accept a call that they were not sure of; I've also known those who have chosen to wait (even turning down offers) until the right "place" came available. Invariably, those who have waited for the right place have had a better, longer, more fulfilling ministry than those who were in a hurry.
This may be the most difficult part of placement. But it is also one of the key factors to effective placement.
Follow-up on moving
He was actually calling to let me know that a new schedule of discounts had been published, and he took the liberty of running a new quote for me-- this one at 69% instead of 68%. That quote represented a further discount of $400 (and those of you especially skilled with math will now know what the total amount of the quote was!).
He also reminded me that there was a scheduled tariff increase in early May, and that if my move would be after then he would be glad to run a new quote back-dated before that increase that would be good for 60 days. He asked about other quotes I had received, and told me that he would be willing to match or beat any quote for the same estimated weight. (Based on this guy's hard work to help me out, I'm growing more inclined to go with him-- the fact that his quote is the lowest doesn't hurt, either!)
Two lessons learned here:
- Before you commit to a mover (e.g., after you've gathered a few quotes and landed on a final destination), ask if he is able to offer you any further discount or rate reduction. Don't assume that every sales rep is as eager as mine has been.
- When following up, ask if they will offer a rate that is competitive with another mover's quote. Before you do this, make sure you have the Cube Sheet that demonstrates that the quotes are based on the same estimated information-- otherwise, they will likely balk and say that the quotes are not for the same weight amount.
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Two things deserve follow-up about ULINE. First, they regularly have special offers, monthly specials, and overstock sales. If you're buying, you should check the Specials section of their website to find what you can get an even better deal on.
Second, however, is even better. I called ULINE today to find out if I could negotiate a discounted rate for my readers and the folks in Covenant Seminary's "Candidating and Transition into Ministry" class (I have served as a guest lecturer in that class for the past two years, and have been invited back this year). While I was unable to get a commitment for a regular, standing discount, the Advertising and Sales Associate I spoke to advised me instead to urge folks to ask for a discount when placing a telephone order. She told me that ULINE sales reps were authorized to grant discounts, and that it wouldn't hurt to simply say, "hey, could you give me a 20% discount on my order?" She couldn't guarantee that every rep would be agreeable, but the way she presented it sounded very favorable.
Ask and you might receive.
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When it's time to move...
- Find help on changing addresses, forwarding mail, etc. at the Postal Service's Moving page.
- An alternative to the traditional two options for moving (full-service and rental trucks that you drive) has become a very popular option; they call it "self-service" moving. The idea is that you pack your stuff onto a 60-ft trailer (as in, 18-wheel tractor-trailers), paying by the linear-foot of floor space you consume. They load the rest with standard freight, so you share the cost with the freight shippers, and your trailer arrives at your new home in 2-3 days. You don't have to drive a huge truck, but you save by not paying movers to load and unload. The most popular and well-known company that does this is ABF; a number of my seminary friends used them with satisfaction. One alternative is Help U Move; I'm sure there are a few others.
- ULine Shipping Supply sells high-quality, affordable moving kits and supplies that are a great deal if you are packing yourself.
- Check in with MoversWeb, Moving.com, Movers.com, JustMovers, 123Movers, My Moving Quote, and/or Movers Directory to get quotes about your move. Some of them will contact you by phone or e-mail; depending on the type of move you're considering, some will do a free in-home examination and quote.
- If you want to rent a truck and drive it yourself (or you can't afford to do more than this), the major rental companies are U-Haul, Budget, Penske, and Ryder. If you're not moving very much stuff-- or if your move is local-- you might consider looking at Enterprise's truck rental for a cargo van or pickup truck. (You may find ABF U-Pack's comparison/sales pitch about U-Pack vs. rental a helpful read.) Mover Max has a helpful checklist about renting a truck. I like U-Haul's low truck beds, which make loading and unloading a lot easier on the back; but there are lots of folks who would urge against U-Haul.
• You may find it helpful to check up on consumer complaints, scams, and protection about moving and movers. Some helpful pages to read are Moving Scam.com, Consumer Affairs.com's Good Guys, Epinions.com: Moving Companies, and the American Moving and Storage Association to find out about the service you are considering.
• You can check with the Better Business Bureau to get a reliability report on companies, including moving companies.
- You should check with your city or town hall to discover whether you will need a permit to park a truck, trailer, or pod in front of your house. (Oddly enough, some cities won't let you park a 75-foot trailer just anywhere.) If you cannot get a permit, it can cost you thousands of dollars to arrange a shuttle service through your moving company. Be sure to ask about this when you are getting quotes; movers are supposed to disclose "hidden fees" like this, but if they don't you can be subject to full-price (as opposed to a discounted price at the time of the quote).
- You should also ask about fee rates and when they are changing. Movers' fees are based on tariffs, and these can change by several percentage points. Ask when the next change will be, and how much-- and be sure to verify whether your quote will be good after that change.
- If you are getting a quote from a moving company (such as North American or Allied), be sure to ask for a copy of the "Cube Sheet." This is the document used to calculate the quote, and lists all of the estimated weights and quantities that the quote is based upon. If you have a copy of this, you can compare it to other quotes' Cube Sheets. You should ask about any significant variance in weight estimation-- they should all show about the same weight (give or take 300-500 pounds).
- Quotes from moving companies or for self-service moving are based on two variables: how much stuff do you have, and how far do you need to take it. Thus, you can begin gathering quotes before you have a firm ministry call, by using the location you might be that is furthest from where you are now. If you are in Chicago and you're considering a church in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, just list the town in New Mexico as your destination. Once the final location is known, they can run a new quote based on that location-- and since they will already have the estimated weight of your stuff, this will be a fast process (probably nothing more than entering a Zip Code into a field and clicking a button).
- Ask your moving company for a discount. Be sure to mention that you are in the ministry, and will be moving to serve a church or ministry. They will be able to discount your fees significantly. (One quoter told me that they had a discount for everyone, but he gave the highest discounts to the seminary families he worked with. He gave me a 68% discount on our quote!)
- Make sure that quotes you receive are "Not To Exceed" quotes. This means that the amount quoted is the most you will spend, assuming the distance listed. Once your stuff is loaded, the actual weight will be determined and the cost re-calculated (or in the case of a self-service move, the recalculation will be based on the actual number of feet or units required). There are other quotes available, but they won't be as helpful in estimating the final costs of moving.
- Inquire about the cost difference for packing yourself vs. having a moving service pack for you. This can sometimes be several thousand dollars in difference, which is a compelling case for packing yourself. (Most people would rather pack their own stuff, anyway; packing is a vulnerable thing to allow someone else to do.)
- If you are packing yourself AND you are using a moving company, ask about whether you can get boxes through them. Some will offer heavily discounted or even free boxes (although they may be used ones) to those using their services. Marcie and I used the same boxes to move us four different times, then we gave them to someone else-- so used boxes can be a good deal. (We're not talking about grocery and liquor store boxes either, but good-quality moving boxes.)
- Clark Howard always has a lot of helpful things to say, and his advice about moving is helpful and valuable.
- Finally, if you have a lot of books (and what pastor or seminary student doesn't?), you might consider shipping these bulk or media rate through UPS or the postal service. In one of our quotes, I asked him to calculate what part of the total quote (which was just under $7000) was books. Can you believe that $1000 of it was? It would surely be less expensive to ship them than pack them in our moving truck-- unless, of course, we rent a truck or a U-Pack and have fixed rate, not based on weight. Check into this and figure out if you could save a lot of money shipping your books.
Negotiating terms of call: retirement savings (part one)
That's good, because most of them have done a terrible job at building up any retirement savings. I actually know men in their 50s who have little or no retirement funds set aside.
The problem is, there may come a day when they do want to retire-- or when they need to do so. Like it or not, our fallen bodies fail us, and the time comes when we have to slow down. This may mean changes to our ministries: moving to a smaller church in a slower-paced community, accepting a role with less ministry responsibility, or moving into a part-time ministry position. Or it may require stopping ministry altogether, at least as a vocation-- and if that is the case, we must begin as soon as possible to prepare financially for that season.
In most cases, when a man is coming directly out of seminary into ministry he doesn't have his mind on how he will retire from that ministry. But unless you are in a circumstance where your financial future is already cared for (such as a classmate of mine who came to seminary after a 30-year military career, and his Army pension will cover his retirement), the negotiation of terms of call is the time to begin thinking about this.
I want to split this topic up between two posts. In this post I'll discuss the "what and why" of retirement savings, and in the next post I'll cover the "how"-- looking at some strategies for getting it done.
I shouldn't have to define "retirement savings" as a concept, but I will say this in terms of preliminary remarks: it would be naive or foolish, or both, for anyone to assume that their earning ability will only increase throughout life. Thus, think of retirement savings as preparation for the time when you are less willing or less able to maintain maximum workload. (Frankly, that day may come a lot sooner than what is typically considered "retirement" age.)
Many people have a lot to say about how to think about planning for retirement, and almost every one of these people is more knowledgeable than I am. Thus, I'll keep my remarks to a minimum, and instead refer you to better sources of information.
- For starters, be aware that Social Security is itself a retirement plan of sorts; I have already offered my comments (here and here) about whether an ordained pastor should exercise his legal right to apply for exemption from the Social Security system, and I'll simply follow those comments with this remark: it seems to me that opting out is far too individualistic for a Christian to be comfortable with.
- Rick Warren's Pastors.com has a great article on planning for retirement, written by a veteran pastor who is himself retired.
- Crown Financial Ministries offers good advice on planning for the future (including retirement) in their Pastor's Corner. They also have this article on retirement planning on their regular site. (Note: there is a lot of other helpful information in both areas.)
- The Wesleyan church's General Board of Higher Education and Ministry has a very thorough handbook for their Board of Ordained Ministry, which includes this chapter, "Retirement Planning and Relationships," which offers good food for thought on how a denomination is responsible for caring for its pastors.
- This article from Your Church magazine has some very helpful data on retirement planning based on good research.
- Naturally, Pastors in the Presbyterian Church in America will want to be in contact with the PCA's Retirement and Benefits office.
- Finally, you may want to see this NY Times piece on saving less for retirement!
Transitions as free-agency?
Their post raises some very good questions quickly in my mind:
- How should we view transitions like those they mention (all semi-known names moving to work with other semi-known names)-- as the work of good, thoughtful ministry team-building or as unhelpful consolidation of skills and leadership?
- Should these "celebrities" of ministry be treated in a tabloid fashion, with news about transition reported in the same manner as sports trades?
- Are pastors EVER "free agents" in any sense of that colloquial term?
- Where does a sense of God's calling fit into transitions like these-- and how is that articulated by those involved?
Thoughts on leaving a job
Hyatt's thoughts are more relevant in a corporate/secular job setting than within the church, but still there are some good take-aways. Maybe the best thing he offers is a reality check about your current job:
"Count the cost of leaving your present job. Someone once said, "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. But sometimes we forget: it still has to be mowed!” How true. Every job has it’s pluses and minuses. Even for me, there are days that I would give anything to go back to being an acquisitions editor. And then I remember what it was like. I had bad days there, too. The key is to be realistic. To me, it’s more important to be going toward something rather than moving away from something. "Read Hyatt's thoughts here.
Technorati Tags: Transition
What a Pastor does
The title this time was, "What will YOUR pastor do?" It was a reflection on portions of Ephesians 4:11-16.
What is clear from this passage is that the goals of church life (and of ministry) are:
- Unity among the brethren
- Knowledge of the Son of God
- Maturity of faith
- Greater Christlikeness among God's people
In an interesting (that is, interesting to those who studied Greek in seminary) dig into the text, I found that there are differences in how the text is translated. Older translations tend to prefer a translation of v.12 as "to equip the saints, for the works of service, for building up the body of Christ". In other words, the gift to the Church of pastors, teachers, and other leaders is to fulfill three purposes: equipping, serving, and building up. On the other hand, more contemporary translators (think NIV, ESV) prefer to translate it this way: "to equip the saints for the works of service, for building up the body of Christ."
As I see it, the implications are these: if we go with the older translation, equipping the saints is simply one part of the pastor's job. He becomes a lot more "hands-on" than he might have envisioned. If, however, the more recent translations are correct (and I believe there is compelling evidence that they are), the pastor's job is fairly straightforward:
Equipping the saints.
Equipping turns out to be the manner in which all of the above goals are achieved. The pastor equips in the following ways:
- In the works of service: he trains the flock how they can share in this work. If a pastor is doing works of service apart from equipping, he is not really serving.
- Knowledge of truth: the pastor should be one who understands the truth and its application. Truth here, by the way, refers to the specific truth of the Gospel and its resulting theology, not truth in general.
- Practice of love: "speaking truth in love" requires a balance that is too easy to miss. But the pastor must be the foremost example of how this balance looks-- not just in the pulpit, but in his study, the hospital room, and the parish living rooms.
- Example of Christlikeness. No pastor will flawlessly follow the model of Christ. But is he more like Jesus than most? In short, if he is fulfilling the first three means of equipping the saints, he probably is.
As I've implied before, the work I've done for Wildwood Christian School this year-- originally intended to be a one-year interim position-- has opened up an opportunity for me to remain in a permanent position there. I'll continue to teach, but I will also have some great administrative duties that I'm excited about.
As the details solidify, I'll post more on what I'll be doing and why it appears to be such a good fit for me.
Transition no. 8 (last): Floor exams for ordination
Notice: I didn't say, “test your knowledge” or “test your theological acuity.” This is a test of how ready you are for the day-to-day, hour-by-hour work of ministry.
A little background-- when a Candidate for Gospel Ministry pursues ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), he will be examined orally at least twice: once by a committee of presbytery, and once on the floor of presbytery. The committee exam will be private and closed, generally speaking. No one else will be there but the committee and possibly a few other ordinands. This exam will also take longer than the other; the committee exams sometimes go for several hours.
The floor examination, in contrast, will be an open exam. Everyone in attendance who is a member of presbytery will be there, and any other visitors are welcome to attend. It is not uncommon, for example, for an ordinand's wife or parents to come and watch. In fact, visitors may even stay after the ordinand has been asked to leave so that the vote may be taken (although the presbyters do have the right to call for visitors to be excused as well).
The committee exam is essentially all about what you learned in seminary and in other preparation for ministry. They will grill you on church history, fine points of theology, your knowledge of the English Bible, your understanding of the sacraments, and so on. These questions can be as particular as, “what was the point of difference between Ratramnus and Radbertus?” or “explain the rationale for a supra-lapsarian position,” or “give a detailed outline of the books of 2 Chronicles, Nahum, and 2 Thessalonians.” They want to be sure that you have learned as much as you can learn.
The floor exam, on the other hand, is quite different. There will be a few obligatory questions from each major area, because the Book of Church Order of the PCA requires that the floor exam include them, but when the questioning is opened up to anyone at presbytery, most of the questions will not be so particular with regard to “book learnin'.”
Instead, most will be directly related to the kind of issue or question that your ministry will put you in the line of fire for. A recent floor exam I sat in on included a question about how the ordinand (who had a call to an upper-middle class suburban church) would encourage racial and ethnic diversity in his congregation, and another about how he would support and advance that church's already active pro-life ministry.
Many of the questions in a floor examination will touch on things that the ordinand may never have considered before, and he will be forced to articulate an answer on the spot. A friend of mine told me about a question he received at his floor exam: must a person believe that the Bible is the Word of God in order to be a Christian? His answer: “No, one need not believe that the Bible is the Word of God to be a Christian, but I believe that if you are a Christian, you will believe that the Bible is the Word of God.”
The best thing about this kind of examination is that it requires an ordinand to understand his Bible, his theology, his confession of faith, and even his church history in practical, tangible ways. How else should a man be examined, after all?
Recent graduates: I offer you my prayers and hopes that every letter of the Bible, every word of theology, and every moment of history that you were exposed to in seminary may become so real and useful, so life-changing and ministry-shaping, so Gospel-driven and Christ-centered that you will find your floor exams, and all of the ministry that follows, a delight and a welcome challenge. May God bless your transition and your new ministry.
Transition no. 7: Keeping up with your fellows
In whatever way that it has materialized, these men (and often their families alongside them) have maintained friendships with a few very close friends from their seminary years. Those friendships have been a central factor in keeping them in ministry, stable, and focused on serving God. I know few men who have been in ministry for more than ten years for whom this is not the case, and everyone I know who has been in ministry more than 20 years has done this.
It doesn't always look the same, but some common factors arise among all of the people I've talked to about this:
- All of them are in contact regularly-- usually by phone at least once a quarter, and visiting face-to-face at least once a year.
- All of the relationships have a component of basic accountability to them-- checking in on the health of marriage and family life, personal spiritual growth, avoiding temptations, etc.
- All serve as a “dumping ground” for ministry problems and frustrations-- allowing an outlet for all of the things that these men want and need to talk about, but feel they can't with anyone in their congregation (or even in their town).
- All eventually become a “true North-pointing compass” for the individuals-- giving them a safe and trustworthy place to explore where the Lord may be leading them in the future.
One man I know has a week-long “vacation” with two other families, and they've been doing this for over 25 years. Another man meets twice a year for 48 hours with his two closest friends from seminary, and they call each other periodically. One friend gathers with a dozen others for three days, and they close up on a family farmhouse to play, talk, sing, pray, and laugh together. Another takes turns with a best friend, each visiting the other's house every six months-- whoever is the visitor “dumps” everything while the other listens.
However it turns out, the constant among variables is this: having one or several close friends who can-- over the years, through the moves and transitions, in spite of geographic differences-- be the kind of peer and brother that every Christian needs has become one of the very few keys to long-term, Godly ministry for the men I know.
On the other hand, among any of the men I know who have been in ministry for 20 years or more and don't do this in some form, none of them has the kind of ministry that I want to be a model for my future. I simply don't have a lot of admiration for their ministries. I can't say for certain that this has been the deciding factor, but it certainly seems to have been a contributing one. (And I should mention that I don't really know very many of these-- which is probably also related to the absence of this factor; without this kind of support, you are almost certainly more likely to leave the ministry earlier.)
The lesson here for new graduates and/or new transitioners: get in touch with those few closest friends from seminary and work out how you will keep in touch. Then do it. Don't put this off.
Seasons of transition
I regularly (read: daily) check the vacant pulpit listings for my denomination, and I noticed an odd affirmation of this seasonal dependence recently. Over the past month, only four new listings have been added to the main listing, yet the “last updated” date changed at least twice a week, usually more. In other words, the last month saw probably 15 different updates of the list, but only four additions; all of the rest were positions being removed from the list.
Now I would love to see that kind of ratio remain constant-- eventually, there would be almost NO churches looking for a pastor! But this is not the way it is; rather, there is an ebb and flow to this list that I haven't quite figured out.
I would think, for example, that more pastors would leave churches during the summer; it is a natural time for transition (e.g., it doesn't disrupt the school schedule for the pastor's children, etc.). But what I described above actually shows the opposite: more churches filled pulpits than emptied them, if you will. (It could very well be that some, or even most, of those pastors that filled pulpits left empty ones behind, and those will show up on the list in due time.)
This seasonal effect applies at other times of the year, too. The “holiday season”, typically from mid-November until the end of the calendar year, is historically an awful time to be seeking placement. It just doesn't happen much: committees stop meeting, no one brings in a candidate-preacher during that time, and everyone is so busy that even minimal communication is a stretch. As I've talked with December graduates from my seminary, they have all indicated that this is a major obstacle. (There is more to it, which I'll address in another post.)
This seasonal thing is something worth watching, I think. You'll probably see more about it over time.
Transition no. 6: joining the Y
Don't get me wrong-- I do know a good handful of guys that find time to exercise. Even I have found streaks of a few weeks where I've been on the treadmill regularly. But my pitfall is, I would guess, the same as many of my fellow seminarians': some point in the semester (exam time, a major paper due, a break to travel home for a few weeks, etc.) interrupts our exercise patterns and the continuity is lost. Regaining it proves very difficult.
Which is why the transition from seminary into a pastoral position-- or from one position to another, as the case may be-- is a great time to re-prioritize exercise for a pastor.
Once again, this can be difficult to rationalize; after all, when is it easy to find an hour (or more) to haul yourself over to the gym, get a full work out, then shower and change in order to get back to work? And doing this three to five times a week? Surely I'm kidding, right?
No... exercise has got to fit in somewhere. If it means you have to rise early to get to it, then rise early. If it means you have to sacrifice your lunch break (though not your lunch) two or three times a week, so be it. If there is truly no time to exercise, then you're too busy. (This goes for seminarians, too-- and consider this my public confession!)
Studies have shown that the lack of regular exercise affects levels of stress, fatigue, energy, attention-- all negatively. This is not to mention the increased strain your heart, lungs, and structural system endure when you gain weight, which is the result that most of us experience when we fail to exercise regularly. One doctor told a friend of mine that every pound of weight gained amounted to five additional pounds of pressure on the joints when walking or running. No wonder my knees hurt.
On the other hand, regular exercise is just short of magic in its effects on your body. As you exercise (over an extended period of time), your muscles grow and require more energy for even mundane tasks like getting out of a chair, walking across the room, or even typing; thus, your body loses weight more efficiently as your muscular system expands. Meanwhile, your metabolism increases due to the efficiency for burning carbs, proteins, and fats, so that you digest food more efficiently (leading to more weight loss). If you maintain a regular diet-- even the same diet you've always had-- your body will eventually balance out at a healthy weight. You rest more efficiently, you have more energy and endurance, and your overall health improves.
Amazingly, other things also seem to be “magically” handled through exercise: cholesterol issues, high triglycerides, and even diabetes and asthma can be managed, if not overcome, through exercise. Even smokers and heavy drinkers who also exercise seem to fair far better than their inactive counterparts. It is almost as if you can do just about anything you want-- eat what you want, drink what you want-- and, as long as you also exercise regularly, you'll be fine. (Almost... but not really.)
So you don't have to join the YMCA, or any other gym for that matter. If you'd rather jog around the neighborhood or swim laps in your next-door neighbor's pool, that's fine. Ride your bike to work on days when you'll be in the office all day anyway. Or get a treadmill and walk or run regardless of the weather. (If you read World magazine regularly, you know that Editor-in-Chief Marvin Olasky reads on his treadmill every day, finishing dozens of books a year.) Joining an athletic club does have this draw: by shelling out money regularly to a gym, not exercising will weigh that much more heavily on your conscience.
President Bush exercises 6 days a week; he says that it never enters his mind that he won't work out. If he can find the time, why can't you? Start tomorrow-- or re-start tomorrow; exercise is similar to your devotional life: re-starting regularly is better than the alternative.
[Note to self: I'm re-starting my treadmill plan tomorrow...]
Transition no. 5: Making new friends
My guess is that most pastors put this at the bottom of their priorities. After all, one group that every pastor can be certain will never join their church are other pastors in the area! And there are already so many things to do-- and so many relationships to build-- that getting to know other pastors seems like an unnecessary distraction.
In fact, it is necessary. And it is not a distraction, but a key part of your new ministry.
Let me insert a few disclaimers here. First, I am not a broad ecumenist who would insist that churches should be united and working to erase all denominational boundaries; as much as I value unity in the Kingdom, I recognize the importance of denominational distinctions and what the inherent variety offers the Church. And I am not suggesting that buddying up with other pastors is more important than shepherding the flock God has called you to serve.
But I do believe that many pastors set themselves up for burnout, in part, because they fail to prioritize the fellowship, support, and accountability that can come from other local pastors.
“But,” you counter, “I made some great friends in seminary who will be that for me!” Great, I say. (And I'll address that more fully in a later blog post.) I happen to believe, however, that there are benefits to deep friendships with local pastors that your friends from seminary can rarely fulfill. Some of them include:
- They know the area. Ministry occurs in a context; your fellow local pastors will know and understand that context in a way that your seminary friends won't (unless they happen to also be local)-- and you won't either, at first. Early on, these friends can become a part of the process of integrating unto your community, learning how to minister within it.
- They are easy (or easier) to meet with. How will you keep up with those friends from seminary? However you do it, it won't be as simple as a lunch appointment across town. Your new friends are just around the corner compared to anyone else.
- They are hard to avoid. When I need accountability the most, I often also want to avoid it the most. Maybe you struggle in the same way. If so, local friends can get in your face, showing up at your office or home if necessary.
- They present new ministry opportunities. Whether it be a pulpit exchange, a regular joint worship service (holidays like Thanksgiving offer good opportunities here), or a collaborative effort at a regular ministry, having another pastor (and therefore his church) to try out these ideas is easier if you are already friends. Ending them if they don't work out is easier, too.
Befriending other pastors is the kind of thing that is easily put off indefinitely; then, when you really need that friend, you're all alone. Start now, and make it an essential part of your transition. You might even communicate this need/desire to your Elders or Deacons, so that they can support you in it-- maybe they'll even hold you accountable for getting started.
Transition no. 4: It's a family affair
Any transition is difficult-- not just for a pastor, but for his wife, children, parents, siblings, former friends... no one is left unscathed. Some friends of mine recently felt the force of this as they moved to seminary: they were doing pretty well with it, until it finally caught up to them. Like the rest of us, they were hit with the troubles that transition brings.
I can remember how it was. Coming to seminary was difficult enough: moving all of our stuff, settling into a new home, meeting new people, looking for/starting new jobs, finding a new church, and undertaking a new degree program. While we didn't have any children at the time, I can only imagine that those who do find the difficulty to be increased exponentially. The seminary transition, as most of my readers will understand (I presume), is beastly.
Yet, it was also wonderful in its own way. The anticipation helps a lot; I can remember just as well all that I hoped for: learning new things, meeting those who will become life-long friends, interacting with professors, getting training and experience for the fulfillment of our callings...
No, wait. That's just me who would be doing all of that. Marcie would be working to put me through that. (Or working at home to raise our children.) She wouldn't really get to experience very much of that at all, would she?
Yes and no. Marcie has had a great seminary experience too.
But if you're married and in seminary (or if you were in seminary at some point), hopefully your wife has communicated to you some of the differences between what you are experiencing and what she is. Sometimes it is like night and day.
Don't forget this.
Keen awareness of this point will be essential information during the transition into pastoral ministry.
Because often, in ministry, the situation is surprisingly the same: you, the pastor, come in with great anticipation of all that will happen. You'll meet many wonderful new people who you'll call your flock and co-laborers. You'll be able to jump right into the hands-on work of ministry. You'll become familiar with the community, the town, and the places that will become your regular haunts. You'll begin to catch a vision for what the Lord may do with you there, and the excitement will be nearly overwhelming.
Meanwhile, your wife will be at home with the kids. Or starting a new job. Or looking for work. She'll be lonely, stressed-out, and tired. She'll feel the pressure to get the boxes unpacked while you're writing a sermon or visiting the home-bound. She'll be the one worrying about the family budget-- after all, she still hasn't found a job and you've already been there four weeks!-- while you're going out to lunch with an Elder.
Sunday will come, and you'll go in early, teach Sunday School, chat with the members you met earlier in the week, lead worship, preach your sermon, and accept an invitation to lunch with your new friends. What a wonderful Sabbath!
She'll wander into church uncertain of what class to attend, stand to the side and talk politely with folks she doesn't know, sit alone with the children during worship, and quietly eat her lunch while you talk and laugh, all the while worrying about getting the kids down for a nap. Was that even a Sabbath?
Brothers, as you're settling in to your new position, making new friends, and getting a vision for the ministry God has brought you to do, don't forget the co-laborer that He gave to you for life-- the one who knows you the best. Share her concerns and burdens. Pay attention to what she is struggling with. Help with the boxes. Watch the kids so that she can get coffee with an Elder's wife. Open your heart and mind to her by telling her about the vision God is giving you.
And take her out on a date very soon after the move. And regularly thereafter.
Transition no. 3: The pastor's study
You can learn a lot about a person from what is on the shelves in their office. In fact, you can learn a lot about them from the whole office.
Now, in spite of Tychicus' (valid and true) comments that motivated this post, I'm not going to post on “feng shui for the pastor.” But there is a psychology to the arrangement of a pastor's study that those in transition ought to pay attention to.
Take, for example, the shelves of books. Nearly every pastor or seminarian I know is a bibliophile, and most of us are somewhat proud of our book collections. Will my study be the best place to store all of my books? Inevitably, there will be those in a congregation who are intimidated by the scholarly nature of their pastor, and the fact that his study is entirely lined with books will not help the intimidation. Perhaps the avenues of ministry would be less congested if some of the books were housed elsewhere.
Obviously, there will be some books that are essential, or nearly so, to a pastor's ministry and therefore have a proper place in his study. But many will not: in my office at the last church I served, I had an entire shelf unit filled with my philosophy books, though-- oddly-- I never used them for youth ministry. They were a nice testimony to the degree I completed in that field, but probably hindered my ministry (and certainly didn't help it). At present, I would guess that 1/4 to 1/3 of my 2000+ books have no direct value to ministry whatsoever, and could be shelved at home when I transition into ministry.
Another aspect to consider is the desk and work space. It may take a while for a working system to emerge as the most efficient way of using the space you have, but let me make a few recommendations based on experience and/or reflection:
- Don't bother with the “In-box/Out-box” sort of arrangement unless you will actually use it. Since I never did, mine were always overflowing, which gave the impression that I was either overworked or never did anything!
- Keep file storage close-at-hand. If you have ready access to your filing cabinets, you are more likely to actually file things regularly. Filing is usually tedious anyway, so any excuse (e.g., “I don't want to bother getting out of the chair to walk across the room”) will be enough to prevent regular filing. [N.B.: for a good system to get this under control, I recommend “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” (David Allen).]
- If possible, place your desk so that it is visible from the doorway. When others walk by and see you working, it will affirm their sense of your work-ethic. Stated negatively, some congregants already suspect that a pastor loafs and slacks all week (“Pretty good pay for two hours a week...”), so if they can't see you working (or see the evidence of your work from the stuff on your desk), they may assume the worst. Obviously this only applies if you actually do work.
- An ancillary point to the last one: set up your computer so that the monitor can be seen from the doorway. Hopefully you're not tempted by pornography on the Internet, but if you are (or is anyone suspects that you are), this setup will provide accountability and dispel suspicion.
The size, shape, and kind of furnishings in a pastor's study vary so greatly from one church to another that it is difficult to offer any concrete suggestions about how a study might be arranged. Here are a few thoughts. Make the space as inviting as possible. Have comfortable seating available apart from your desk chair (one pastor I visited kept metal folding chairs behind the door for guests-- no wonder he seldom had them!). Light it well, but not harshly; indirect, incandescent light has been shown to be both soothing and restful, while fluorescent lights can make the eyes tired. The perfectly arranged study is one that is comfortable and functional for long periods of time, both when you are alone and when others are with you.
As Tychicus suggests, the desk can become an unintended divider between the pastor and his people. I've seen a variety of arrangements that accommodate this, with one thing in common: all of them had a part of the study that was structured for sitting with others-- almost an ante-room of sorts in some cases, while others were just chairs or a loveseat placed behind the desk, so that the pastor could turn around and face his visitors.
Finally, acknowledge the impact of nomenclature. What is the difference between a “pastor's office” and a “pastor's study?” Psychologically and semantically, there is a world of difference. An office is used mainly for administration, meetings, and business. A study, on the other hand, is a place for reading, reflection, contemplation (in other words, for studying). Which of those two best describes your calling?
Transition no. 2: Who are the people in your neighborhood?
The Sr. Pastor I worked with in Roanoke had an interesting experiment going on when I started: he would stop for gas at the station less than two blocks from the church property and would routinely ask the attendant for directions to our church!
When he first started this practice, the response was usually something vague, at best. “I've never heard of that place,” “Isn't that on ___ street [on the other side of town]?” and, “Sure-- it's a half-mile south of here [exactly the opposite direction]” were some of the answers he received. In time, it became a joke-- and not a very funny one.
Our church was fairly active in local issues, and though it would have been easy for my pastor just to explain who he was to the attendants, he wanted to see if they knew about the church by its reputation. I appreciate this desire, but I think that a new pastor can do great things for his ministry if he is attentive to intentionally building relationships with his neighbors, as well.
One of the aspects of transition that is probably overlooked more than any other is this sort of relationship-building outside of the congregation. Getting to know the physical neighbors around the church property (and around the pastor's home, as well) is definitely a ministry-builder, and an invaluable part of settling into ministry.
Here are a few things that such relationship-building accomplishes:
- It allows genuine fulfillment of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- It heals past hurts-- particularly those inflicted by other Christians-- by showing true care and concern.
- It is itself an exercise in hospitality, and it opens up further opportunities for hospitality.
- It creates a venue for the Gospel to be shown and told.
- It helps in future circumstances when civil and political difficulty may arise.
Who are the people in your neighborhood? You don't have to try to meet them all in the first week or even the first months, but set some goals-- maybe you can get to know every merchant, businessperson, or resident on your block by name by the end of the first year of ministry. One new introduction a week would be fairly ambitious. Do you know your regular mail carrier's name, or the folks that make deliveries to your offices? How about the pastors of other nearby churches (more on this in a future post)?
Eventually, those station attendants did get to know us, and where we were. Not long before I left, my pastor can in from lunch beaming. “I stopped at the station like always,” he reported, “but when I asked if they knew where the church was, the guy said, 'You're there! It's just in the middle of the next block on the left!'”
They're the people that you meet each day...
Transition no. 1: Relationships
It should be no surprise that, if I am convinced that the key to placement is relationships, I am also sure that relationships are the key to good transition. If one of the key questions for placement is, “Who do you love?” then surely one of the key questions for transition is, “How do you love?”
Forget the boxes of books, the adjustment to the new places, and the sermon you have to preach next Sunday. (No, not completely; but don't you have a few sermons you could re-work and save some prep time?) Begin your new ministry strong with a heavy focus on relationship-building. Let the logistics of the new position take care of themselves-- or at least wait a while.
In one of the positions I served, I went the other way: I jumped into the logistical details during the first weeks of ministry. I spent time setting up my office, unpacking books, organizing my schedule, and establishing mobile phone service. Looking back, it was a big mistake that hurt my ministry for the long-term.
After all, ministry is not about those things. Not about cell phones, bookshelves, or offices. Not about the contents of the books on the shelves or the appointments on the schedule. Not even about the sermons you preach-- not essentially. If no one is listening, it won't matter how good you preach, how many appointments you make, or how many books you read. And once they decide that you're interested in things other than relationships with them (whether that is the truth or not), they stop listening.
Jump into your new ministry with both feet by building relationships. That doesn't mean you can't do anything else; obviously you must have something to preach on Sunday, and you should take some time to prepare for that. But let the bulk of your time be spent with people. And make sure they can see that this is your priority; if you can, see to it that everyone in the church knows that they'll get time with you soon. Maybe not this week, but based on how much time you're spending with others...
A commitment to those who have placed
- I am assuming (presuming?) that I have a readership-- and what is more, that at least some of those readers are actually seminary students who have been in the candidacy process recently.
- I'm assuming that some of those readers have graduated from seminary and have placed into ministry.
- I'm assuming that recent seminary graduates who are placed (and others who have recently placed) will appreciate some thoughts and reflections on the transition into ministry, now that the candidacy is over.
And by the way-- if you have recently placed, may God bless you in your new ministry!
Preparing for a new pastor, concluded
First, let's look for help in understanding our calling as congregants. To begin with, it is the call of the Gospel; specifically, the call to be ingrafted into Christ's body, to become a member of God's family, to be a citizen of the Kingdom. When Scripture teaches about the results of our conversion, it is never strictly individualistic: there are many aspects that are personal, individual, and even private in a way, but there are as many that have to do with our community and world, our affiliation with the church (both local and universal), and our belonging in a corporate organism. Thus, the first aspect of our calling means that we care about the life of the church-- not just about our own benefit and satisfaction from being a part of it.
Beyond that, how are we called to be a part of the church? No church that I know of lacks some kind of membership process; whatever this may look like, it implies that there is a level of commitment for members that is absent, or at least less prominent, for non-members. And most every church I have witnessed receiving new members asks them to take some sort of vow, or (usually) a set of vows. In my denomination, three vows stand out relating to our calling as members:
- To support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability. Do you, and do others in your church, recognize your participation in the work of the church? Or do you leave the work for the staff, or the Elders or Deacons? If you have made any sort of a vow like this, you need to remember your participation as a part of the calling given to you as a member.
- To submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the church. Decisions are going to be made and, believe it or not, they won't consult you. How will you react? Your new pastor may teach or preach something that is challenging and convicting to you-- or he may even articulate it personally to you. What will be your response? Defensiveness, frustration, or discord in reaction to the ordinary functioning of the government and discipline of the church belies how well you truly understand this vow, and this calling.
- To promise to study its purity and peace. In the circles I move in, it is far too easy to focus on the purity part and forget the peace. But my calling as a congregant-- and yours as well-- is to study both the purity of the church, and her peace. And sometimes making peace requires the kind of humility and self-denial that is hard to muster. But it is what we are called to do.
Considering our work as church members is much easier; if we are heeding our calling, our work is fairly straightforward. There are just a few additional ideas I would like to put before you:
- Be prepared for change. God is at work in your transition. Therefore, the fact that He has moved one pastor on to another ministry, and is preparing another for his work here, means that God intends for there to be some change in the ministry here. Don't feel like you have to sell out your core convictions as a church-- your search committee should have been careful enough to protect against that. But do be ready for the changes that will inevitably come, and study the peace when they do.
- Trust in God’s calling. When God leads a man, through both internal call (his personal conviction that he is called somewhere) and external call (the conviction of those that extend to him that call), He does so with a purpose and plan that we cannot always understand or see. Nevertheless, we must trust in His work to execute His plan, and trust that His plan is the best plan for His people (Jer. 29:11-13).
- Exercise hospitality. Use creative ways to welcome them to your community and church. Show them at least the same kind of love and acceptance you would show to visitors and newer attenders. I heard about one church that handed out 3x5“ index cards to every family, then asked each family to write down two or three businesses or individuals they would recommend to the new pastor and his family. They presented these to the pastor, and then he knew what auto mechanic, realtor, dentist, or plumber to call based on the experiences of his flock. Another church created a three-ring binder ”atlas“ for their pastor, with directions and maps from the church office to all of the places he might want to go-- the nursing home where many retirees in the church live, the main hospital in town, the other sister churches, etc. These are just a couple of creative ideas; you can think of other good ones, too.
An aside: technology and preaching
As I discussed the importance of protecting a pastor's sermon preparation time, one of the folks in the Sunday School class (one of the Ruling Elders, no less!) asked the following question: aren't there computer programs for Bible study that make the work a lot easier? In other words, with the tools of computer software available, shouldn't we expect our pastor's preparation time to be reduced?
There is merit to what this man pointed out; the introduction of software into the equation does make the work of good, careful exegetical study easier and faster. Most of the programs available (and there are several excellent options: Logos, Bibleworks, and Quickverse for Microsoft Windows users; Accordance and, recently, Logos and Quickverse for Apple Macintosh users) truly expedite the work of careful Bible study, particularly with regard to using Greek and Hebrew and developing an accurate understanding of translation and the nuances of the text. Particularly for those (like me) who were never completely confident in their knowledge of the languages, these programs restore access to the essential aspects of the study of Scripture.
But make no mistake-- this does not shorten to, say, seven hours what otherwise would take 10. Instead, understand the hierarchy of priorities in sermon preparation: when time gets short, the Greek and Hebrew are the first to go. Next is personal reflection and meditation on the text; it is easier, when you're pushed for time, to go straight to the commentaries. After that will be application-- the commentaries will usually give something pretty general there too, and when you can't take the time to apply the text specifically and personally to your congregation, the general stuff from the commentaries will do just fine. Basically, for the pastor with only 4-5 hours of preparation, the only non-negotiable aspects of sermon preparation are: bare explanation, quick illustrations (again, probably from another resource-- there are dozens of books and websites that offer ready-made illustrations), and general applications.
Sounds great, right? After all, why should we be concerned if our pastor doesn't bother with the Greek and Hebrew? Should it matter if he rarely, if ever, considers the text himself, but instead relies almost entirely on commentaries? Can we live with applications of Scripture that are seldom practical or relevant to our current circumstances? And why worry over “good enough” illustrations that barely fit the sermon?
In fact, these aspects are the very things that make sermons significant for our learning and understanding of the Bible. No pastor can teach what they themselves do not understand, and what they have not thought through; thus, pastors must spend the time required studying the Word thoroughly, including considering the original-language texts. No congregant should (and few will) do most or all of the work in applying a text to their circumstances, recognizing its importance to their lives; thus, pastors must develop applications from the Scriptures that are accurate and appropriate from the text (thus, again, requiring careful study) as well as specific and personal to the congregation. And although illustrations are technically optional in this train of thought, anyone who has heard the Bible's truth well-illustrated will acknowledge its value for understanding the Word of God-- therefore pastors should take the time to find good, helpful illustrations that bring the truth to life.
Technology often saves us time, but in the preparation of sermons, that becomes time that can be spent completing the work of good preparation, rather than cutting short what needs to be done.
Preparing for a new pastor, part three
Pastors, the Scripture tells us, are “Elders” and “Overseers” of the church. As such, they have duties distinct from other roles of leadership. For example, in Acts 6 we read of the apostles-- the original Teaching Elders-- appointing seven others (who we have come to call Deacons) to fulfill the role of ministering to the physical needs of the flock. This is because no one person, or even a group of people, can do all of the ministry of the church.
In my denomination, we further distinguish pastors as “Teaching Elders” which is an extension of the idea of Elder; we have other Elders (that we call Ruling Elders) in the church who share many of the functional duties that the pastor has, yet who are not called and trained to be pastors. Teaching Elders are full Elders, however, and therefore have all of the duties of the Ruling Elder, plus the additional roles they are charged with as Teaching Elders.
The duties of any Elder are:
- The oversight of the flock
- To give prudent example of godly living to the flock
- To govern the house and Kingdom of Christ
- The visitation of the flock
- To instruct, comfort, encourage, and nurture the children of God
- Prayer for and with the people of God
- To seek the fruit of the Word among the flock
- Feed the flock by reading, expounding, and teaching Scripture
- Serve as an ambassador for Christ
- Function as an evangelist of the Gospel
- Steward the mysteries of God by dispensing grace and the ordinances
Reflecting further on Acts 6, it is important to recognize that some of the most significant pastoral duties are the teaching of the Word and prayer. Among other things, then, in preparing for a new pastor we should realize that these are important priorities, and help the pastor to protect the time and focus he needs to devote to them. Some will ask, why is preaching so significant? Why do pastors need to take so much time to prepare their sermons? The Westminster Larger Catechism identifies the preaching of the Word of God as, somehow, actually being the Word of God; given this, we must regard preaching as a high calling, indeed. To presume to fulfill this calling with only cursory attention given to the study and consideration of the content of Scripture is a severe mistake. Preparing a sermon takes time; give your pastor the time he needs.
[To that I might add this: any church that hires a new seminary graduate ought to give especially careful attention to this. I mentioned before that presbyteries will require a certain number of sermons to be preached for the fulfillment of the Internship requirements-- for example, 12 sermons in the presbytery where I am an Intern. It is quite possible (in fact, regularly the case) that these 12 sermons are the only sermons that graduate has prepared and preached-- ever. Though opportunities exist for preaching while in seminary, I have found that most of my classmates do not take advantage of these opportunities. While I plan to reflect on this more in another post, I will say this here, as it relates to preparing for a new pastor: reducing the amount of time required for preparation of sermons demands a depth of knowledge of the Word and experience in developing Word-knowledge into a sermon. It would be quite difficult for the average new graduate to prepare a sermon adequately in less than 10-15 hours. But too often, expectations, either directly or indirectly, are placed on them to get it done in much less time. These expectations may be one of the big reasons that plagiarism of sermons is so common in our day.]
Preparing for a new pastor, continued...
The first step in preparing for a new pastor is that we must understand his calling. This means that we recognize the significance of all that has happened in the process of the new pastor getting to where he is, if he is about to begin a ministry as the pastor of your church.
For example, to be a pastor in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a man goes through quite a process before he may be ordained for ministry. The PCA's Book of Church Order outlines this process in detail. The steps are essentially three, though they are not completely exclusive of one another.
First, a man must submit himself to the oversight of the church, both locally and regionally, to be overseen as a “candidate for Gospel ministry.” He is then said to be “under care” of a presbytery. To be under care means:
- He is called on to demonstrate his faithfulness to God and His church before others (others being first the Elders of his local church, then the presbytery of which his church is a member)
- He gives testimony of his faith and Christ and both his inward and outward call to ministry
- He is then to be shepherded by presbyters (and presbytery as a whole) for the duration of his training for Gospel ministry
- Held accountable for faithfulness and diligent pursuit of training
- Called on to demonstrate extensively his abilities and the usefulness of his training; this is done across the spectrum of pastoral ministry, including the areas of:
- Teaching and teaching
- Counseling and care
- Theological soundness and application
- Understanding and exercise of church government
- Discernment and wisdom
The final step is that the candidate/intern is examined as an ordinand-- that is, they are being considered for ordination. This examination includes some very basic aspects, but also some complex and, frankly, grueling. The examination includes:
- That he has fulfilled his training— including both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master of Divinity
- That he express a continued affirmation of his testimony of faith
- That he undergo a continued examination of his call to ministry
- That he is tested extensively on his knowledge, both in theory and practice, both written and orally, in all of the following areas:
- Use of original Bible languages
- Intimate familiarity with the English Bible
- Historical, biblical, systematic, and practical theology
- Meaning and mode of sacraments
- General church history
- Specific history of the PCA
- Rules and application of church government
- Ability to preach and teach
- That he be interviewed by an examining committee and by the whole presbytery
- That he be approved for ordination by no less than a ¾ vote of the entire presbytery
Why is this important for preparing for a new pastor? Because too often we reserve our trust for those whom we know; we won't serve alongside those we feel are strangers. But when a new pastor comes to our church, we must trust him-- even before we know him; we must serve alongside him-- even though we've never even seen him serve. We can do so, because we know that his abilities, his trustworthiness, and his commitment to service in the Kingdom-- in other words, his calling-- have been tested and verified by representatives of the collective leadership of the Church.
Preparing for a new pastor-- fundamental principles
Fundamentally, it is important to understand just how much God is in the process. When a church is in transition, it is not by mistake; God has called their former pastor away, and God is in the process of calling a new pastor to them. This seems obvious, but it can be easy to miss. Churches often think that things have gone awry because their pastor has left, but God is in the transition.
That is not to say that every pastor stays through the “completion,” as it were, of their calling. Thom Rainer's research revealed at one point that the average stay of a pastor in the evangelical church is 2.4 years. Many of those pastors, certainly, have served the full term of their calling in those ministries. But I am convinced that many of those leave before they have fulfilled their calling-- sometimes long before. I think one of the big reasons for this is pastoral burn-out (and the research by Rainer and others confirms this).
Churches shouldn't expect their current pastor to stay forever, of course. And when he leaves and they are looking for a new pastor, they shouldn't go looking for one who will stay forever, either. But they should hope that he will be able to serve out the full term of his calling to their church. If they hold this as their aim, they may benefit from reflecting on how they might prepare for their new pastor. Doing so will protect him from pastoral burn-out, incline their hearts toward his ministry, and set a course for successful and healthy ministry throughout the term of his ministry among them.
There are four things that a church must understand to prepare for a new pastor:
- The pastor's calling
- The pastor's work
- Their calling
- Their work
On waiting for transition...
With the extension of our graduation to December, I began to explore what my work options were for the summer and fall. I have been teaching full-time at a small Christian school to pay the bills, and they are, understandably, unexcited about me leaving mid-year. While this makes sense, it also would leave me without work-- that is, without the “counter-offer” I received from the school.
The current Head of School, who actually started it, is quite a visionary, and is ready to move on to new projects (within the school), as well as return his focus to working directly with students and teachers (rather than focusing on administrative responsibilities). The school board has asked me to step into an interim administrative role, with (among other things) an evaluative role for what they will need in administrative staff to supplement and/or replace the “head of school” role. I will also continue to teach two of the classes I now teach.
As we've thought about this and sought counsel from a few folks, a key idea has emerged that strikes me as significant in considering a transition: is there some sort of unfinished business? If so, perhaps that is an important reason to delay the transition.
[As I reflect on this now, I must give credit to those wise men who affirmed, strengthened, and expanded on these ideas-- thanks to those of you who were my counselors through this decision.]
In my case, the school where I've taught for these four years has worked very hard on my behalf, at times even finding work for me, so that I could earn the pay I needed to pay the bills. They have taken such great care of me, and thus my family, that I have a keen sense of gratitude to the school, especially the board. I'm looking forward to this work for them, but even if I were not especially interested in the job I would be doing, I would probably still do it as a debt of gratitude to them.
A sense of gratitude toward the organization you are working with, or a similar consideration (such as the amount they have invested in training you), may be a good reason for you to delay, too. Some other “unfinished business” that comes to mind, which may delay a transition, is:
- financial debt-- transition can be costly; if you have a significant financial debt that you could alleviate in a reasonable amount of time, it may be prudent to wait.
- family concerns-- is your wife pregnant, your child about to graduate to the next level of school, your mother sick? A transition during these times can have a big impact on family matters, and often can make circumstances worse.
- unfinished ministry-- I'm a big believer that God gives us duties, projects, and obligations that we can, and should, see to completion. If you're not convinced that God has finished His work through you in your current circumstances, you should definitely re-consider a transition.
Remembering what is what
“Pray expectantly that God will lead you-- even if it means that you will take 'the lower seat' in terms of your own ego and agenda...”
What a great quote. This one came from one of my surveys, and was part of the impetus behind one of the big ideas I mentioned earlier: humility and submission about the placement process. This process is simultaneously humbling and self-aggrandizing, and the reminder that we are not “all that” but for the honor God gives us is an important thing to reflect on throughout the process (and, for that matter, throughout life and ministry).
This was not a major focus of the survey on the front-end, but it emerged as a theme nevertheless. I'm glad it did.
History, round three
After the trip to Florida, my next trip was a whirlwind out to Texas. I went by myself, because they indicated this was just an exploring visit, not so much an advanced interview (they would bring me back for that, if need be). I left my house very early (around 5am) on a Tuesday, flew to Texas, went full-throttle for about 40 hours, and flew back the next evening (touchdown right at midnight). This trip, in addition to being the single-most exhausting candidacy experience I've ever had, was a big lesson for me in humility: it seemed like everything I said was followed by the insertion of my foot into my mouth. In retrospect, I am not surprised in the least that I never heard from them again.
But for a few more phone interviews (which developed into nothing), the opportunities dried up as we moved into the fall. This was, however, providential, as it forced us into the best decision we could have made: focus on finishing my undergraduate degree. I had been sputtering along, at this point barely into my “Junior year,” and at that pace I would not have finished until late 2003! Instead of changing ministries, the best transition to make was to change focus and return to school full-time. I quit work altogether, took 53 credit-hours in one calendar year, and graduated from the University of South Carolina in December 1999.
Of course, while I was finishing school we began to consider what opportunities awaited us after my graduation. This actually began as early as April of '99, because some possibilities landed in our laps.
One of the churches, being in a fairly nearby city, brought me up for a Sunday morning worship time, followed by lunch and then an extensive interview. I wasn't sure that they were for me, but was open to continued discussion; the pastor of that church assured me that he would call me later that week. I still wonder if I will get a phone call from him, as I did not hear from him that week or at all.
I spotted another church's ad in the back of World magazine. It turned out that I knew the pastor of this one, although briefly-- I had shuttled him to and from the airport when he had spoken for a conference put on by our Presbytery. We exchanged philosophies of ministry, and both he (the pastor) and I were astonished at how similar they were. For a while, it looked like this was going to be a lock-- in April, 8 months before I was available-- but it fell through near the end, because of some concerns on the part of their Session that related to past staffing issues.
After that, we didn't really resume a search until mid-summer, but at that point it took off. Around July, we suddenly had three churches we were talking to at once, and two scheduled trips with the invitation for a third. We had a trip to Roanoke, Virginia scheduled for one weekend, a trip to Michigan scheduled for two weeks later, and tentative plans to travel to another town in Virginia after the Michigan trip.
Honestly, as we were driving to Roanoke, we were more inclined toward the Michigan church than any other. However, once we got to Roanoke, we began to get more interested in what was happening there, so that on the way home we were asking, “are we missing something here? It seems too good...”
We took the job in Roanoke only days before our plane was to leave for Michigan; the folks in Michigan wanted it that way, and we were thankful they were willing to wait for the Lord as we sought His will. We quickly called things off with the third church as well.
[In time, I'll give more of the details about these different churches, how God led us with regard to them, and what lessons about candidacy I've learned from them.]
We only stayed in Roanoke for 18 months; from there we came to St. Louis to begin seminary. We toyed with the idea of candidating again as we were preparing to leave Roanoke, but decided that God was clearly taking us to seminary, so nothing really developed from that.
History part two...
As I look back now, I have to say that this was when I was truly introduced to the candidacy process. Everything before then was of no significance in terms of candidating experience.
My options were, admittedly, limited. I was fairly young-- 25 at the time-- without even a college degree, let alone a seminary degree. My experience was only in youth ministry. This was fine, however, because I planned to remain in youth ministry. I completed the PCA's Youth Ministry Data Form (which is sort of a specialized and shorter form of the Ministerial Data Form) and submitted it to the PCA's Christian Education office, which handles that sort of thing. I also called a friend of mine who had gone to work for the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) as their coordinator of Christian Education and Youth Ministry. Both offices were more than happy to circulate my information.
We began to hear from a few churches here and there, mostly basic inquiries for more information-- sometimes with an list of questions, sometimes with a form to fill out, sometimes just asking for some occasion to speak by phone. The first church we heard from was an ARP church in Florida. After an hour-long phone interview, they invited us to visit for a weekend. We went, and found that these visits were non-stop 48-hour interviews. We were picked up from the airport by the Sr. Pastor, who asked us questions for the entire 45-minute drive to where we were staying. Our hosts were an Elder and his wife, so we were welcomed by another 15 or 20 minutes of introductions and questions before being allowed to get to bed. Breakfast the next morning was the same, with questions left and right, before the Elder drove us to the church for an official interview with the search committee (that lasted nearly two hours). That was followed by lunch, after which the Associate Pastor and his wife took us to a Sunday School class picnic at the lake, which lasted most of the afternoon. After supper with the Assoc. Pastor, we got back to the Elder's house in time to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I had been asked to teach Sunday School the next morning, followed by attending worship, then lunch with two parents who drove us around and gave a tour of the town for the rest of the afternoon. We had just enough time to pack before returning to the church for the evening youth group meeting, which we were just observers of. Then off to the airport.
We heard from that church late the next week... it wasn't going to work out. More packets mailed out, more phone calls, phone interviews, e-mails, etc. produced some interest, little clarity, and a few serious queries for further information. I figured out that I knew what I wanted to do-- what I felt called to do-- more than most of the other guys out there; at least, I articulated it more completely. The result was that the documents I presented simultaneously drew more interested and did a lot of the “weeding” for me-- I got a fair amount of response simply because I had a lot to say, but most of the churches I sent information to were able to determine I wasn't for them strictly based on what I sent.
The next opportunity took me out to southern Texas in the middle of the week, about a month later. I'll give some details about that in the next history post.
A little history
While I was in college, I volunteered with Young Life; this was a great experience, and at times I was greatly encouraged at how God used that ministry, and me through it. A year into my ministry with Young Life, I got to know a student (Iain) whose father was/is a PCA Pastor. Over time, I got close with Iain and with his family, and his father (Richard) and I began to go hunting together. One day we were making plans by phone for another duck hunt, and Richard asked me to give Iain some extra time over the coming few months. It seems that the man who was serving their small church as Youth Minister was leaving, and he and Iain had become quite close. Of course I would, and I was sorry that he was losing his youth guy. Richard mentioned that, if I knew anyone who might be interested in a part-time youth ministry position, he would appreciate a recommendation. We finished our plans and hung up.
A few minutes later, Richard called back-- would I be interested in that position? Apparently, he and his wife had been praying about this for a while, and both had come up with my name as a possible candidate. I was astounded, and flattered; I had longed for such a position for what seemed like several years, but when Richard first mentioned it the thought that I might take it never crossed my mind. I said I would pray about it, and we agreed to meet for lunch the following week to discuss it.
Lunch went well; Richard gave me a brief history of the church, another brief history of the youth ministry, and told me exactly what he wanted. He was looking for a man who was sound in his reformed theology, who was relational but with a vision for teaching and training others, and who was a self-starter. He was pretty sure that I fit the description nicely. That we got along so well was an added bonus-- he knew already that we could work (and play) well together. Was I interested? Yes-- but wasn't there more to it than that? Didn't I need to be interviewed by someone-- the Elders, the parents, the youth ministry committee? There was no youth ministry committee; Richard was as representative of the parents as anyone, as he had two kids in the group (and one about to enter it); and the Elders would pretty much agree with Richard's decision, but I would meet with them the following Sunday.
Sunday came, and I met the Elders-- both of them-- along with Richard in his study at the church property. They heard my testimony, my account of my sense of calling to the ministry, and asked about my experience (which was all volunteer experience at that point). I left the room, and a few minutes later they came out and welcomed me to the staff! I later found out that they were in agreement almost as soon as I had left the room, and the remaining minutes were passed in prayer.
So there I was, a 22-year-old college student (actually, a college drop-out at that point) with no substantial youth ministry experience and no training at all, and I was about to start a youth ministry-- from scratch, as far as I knew. The candidacy process, in this case, was the easiest part of the whole experience.
In one form or another (which I'll detail later), I remained on that staff for four years-- way beyond the national average for a Youth Minister. When I left, it was not to move on to another ministry role... but I'll cover that in the next “history” post.