Is God Calling Me To Serve Here?

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When a pastor receives a call to a congregation, the deliberation process begins. It is an exciting, yet stressful time for the pastor, his family, his current congregation, and the calling group. I have been asked many times as the person who serves as a go-between with the pastor and the calling congregation.  “What is taking so long?” or, “What will be the determining factors in him accepting a call or not?” or, “Since he agreed to be on the call list and do an interview he is ready to leave his current ministry and come here, right?” I have to remind the congregation that just because a pastor has let his name remain for consideration for a call and even agreed to do an interview does not mean that once the call comes.  The pastor will pray while his wife is packing up the house for a move. There is numerous factor that goes into the decision-making process for a pastor and his family.

Every congregation believes they are the greatest place on earth to serve, so why would any pastor not want to leave his current group to be their new shepherd? So when the answer is no, I am usually there trying to encourage the deflated congregation reminding them that there is nothing wrong with them. Rejection is hard to stomach; it dings the psyche of the calling congregation. The returned call documents send call committee members into a period of hand wringing, internal questioning, and self-reflection on questions like, “What is wrong with us?” “What did we do wrong?” “Did we not offer enough money?” Or “Why would the pastor lead us on?” Thus, when the pastoral care part of my work takes effect, I assure call committees that they did nothing wrong.

So this post is designed to give some insight into what goes into a pastor’s decision to accept God’s call to a new congregation, or to say “I believe my current congregation still needs the gifts I possess, and God is not done with my ministry to these saints here yet.” What the churches are calling need to hear in this post is that it is hard for the pastor to say no as well. A lot of prayer goes into that decision. There are a lot of factors a pastor struggles with during this time of prayer and discernment. I pray this will serve to answer some the questions pastors wrestle through. Some of the issues pastors have to discern through prayer are:

  • Is this call a place where the gifts and abilities God as entrusted to me going to use in a way that gives glory to God, His Church and this new community?
  • Is this environment that my family will grow and flourish in?
  • Can we economically afford this call? (This one is tough I will deal with this in a separate post. Because I believe God provides, but some situations are just not healthy.)
  • Is my ministry complete where God has placed me?
  • What are the opportunities and what challenges that lay ahead?

Often, a call is a time for pastors to see clearly things they may have taken for granted or just were not observing before that call was received. During this process, you are forced to evaluate the ministry you currently are serving. And during that observation period, God often has us view things through a different lens. God works through men of God to carry out His ministry to His people, but the question pastors ultimately ask is, “Am I the right person to for this church at this stage in their ministry life?” If the Holy Spirit clearly gives us a “yes,” usually we accept that challenge, if not or the answer is uncertain, pastors take the call of God seriously to not move if they feel God is calling them to stay. One note to pastors, if you decline a call, and there are clear reasons for concern, please share that information in a “speaking the truth in love” way to the congregation.  It will serve them well moving forward.

A pastor once told me, “It would take an act of God for me to accept a call!” Every decision to agree on a call is “an act of God.” He moves as he wills, and he drives pastors to say yes or no.

May God bless you and may God bless his church and its shepherds.

 

What Are Appropriate Pastoral Interview Questions?

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Interviewing potential pastors is a never an easy task. I’ve been on both sides of the interview process. Lately, I have been the one asking the questions, but I have also been on the receiving end of interview questions too. There are times when I have asked, both good and bad questions.  There are times during the congregational search process that I get asked very inappropriate questions.  Matters that caused me to say, “You want to know what?  Then respond back with, “What does that have to do with being a pastor?”

Paul said to Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)

When deciding whether or not interviews are what is best in your process, every congregation and pastor need to approach the process with this in mind.  “Churches need pastors who have hearts that have been touched by God’s grace, heads that are growing in the knowledge of God, and hands that are ready to serve the church.” Darryl Dash

When trying to discover what type of interview gets at this kind of man of God, I gently attempt to guide congregations to a behavior-based interview technique vs a traditional interview method.  A traditional interview process focuses mainly on education, qualifications and the interviewer’s perceived experiences of the candidate.  This tends to result in the congregation projecting their identity on the candidate, clouds their vision and prevents them from seeing what the candidate can offer.   Traditional interview questions often are asked this way:

  • If you were our pastor how would you help us reach our community?
  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
  • “What is your greatest strength?”
  • “What is your biggest weakness?”

Questions such as these do not allow you to assess the actual abilities of the candidates but instead enable the prospective pastor to provide vague, idealistic answers to fit your expectations. It also allows the call committee to interject their hopes and dreams on the pastoral candidate as well, which is not fair to him or the congregation.

Behavior-based interviewing, on the other hand, involves aligning real skills, talents and abilities of the pastoral candidates with the needs of the calling congregation. Using behavior-based questions can help the interviewer reduce the tendency of calling a pastor who is in their image.  This style also allows the pastoral candidates to reveal how God has uniquely gifted them and show their God-given capabilities rather than trying to project directly an image which they think the interviewing congregation wants to see.

Below are some sample Behavior-based interview questions:

  • Tell me how you went about learning how your current congregation works.
  • No matter how hard we try, we eventually end up frustrating a congregational member from time to time.  Please tell about the time when one of your members became upset with you.  How did you discover the member was unhappy with you?  What steps did you take to rebuild the member’s confidence in you? How did it turn out?

This gives you some insight into some of the work I do with calling congregations.  It is such a joy to see how God works through human means to find the man of God for His church to assist it in carrying out its ministry in the world. May God bless you and may God continue to find men of God to serve His church.

The Promise of Paradise

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42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”43 Jesus said to him, “I can guarantee this truth: Today you will be with me in paradise.” (GWN)

There is in Paris a famous picture by Zwiller called “The First Night Outside Paradise.” Our first parents have been driven out of the Garden of Eden and are preparing to spend the first night in the desert beyond. In the distance can be discerned the figure of the angel with the flaming sword, but the eyes of the exiles are not fixed on him. They are gazing far above his head, and there, outlined in light—faint, but unmistakable—the artist has painted a cross. In wondering awe, their gaze is fastened on it.—Leslie Weatherhead

What an awesome reminder of the promise Jesus made to the thief on the cross and to us as well.  That at the end of life’s journey we can look up and find strength in the power of the cross.  It may seem to some as an instrument of torture, but the Christian it is a symbol of how deep the Father’s love for mankind extends.  It extends all the way to the grave and victory is celebrated in the empty tomb.

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died

My richest gain I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride

See from his head, his hands, his feet

Sorrow and love flow mingled down

Did ever such love and sorrow meet

Or thorns compose so rich a crown

The Word Breaks Through

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41 Demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus ordered them not to speak. After all, they knew he was the Messiah. (GWN)

In the Gospel lesson for Sunday, Jesus heads to Capernaum after being rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. As he heads to Capernaum he encounters a very open minded group seeking and eager to discover more about the Rabbi. Three key observations about this section of the Gospel of Luke.

The Word Condemns the Comfortable.

28 Everyone in the synagogue became furious when they heard this. 29 Their city was built on a hill with a cliff. So they got up, forced Jesus out of the city, and led him to the cliff. They intended to throw him off of it.

Jesus knew the people’s hearts and thoughts. He understood the culture and could quote from their proverbs. However, when Jesus confronted their limited view of God’s grace thinking that Gentiles were not included, the religious leaders felt slighted. They wanted to turn Jesus’ ministry into a side show. “Come see the faith healer, we have heard of the miracles he performed in Capernaum, why not do the same at home for his friends and neighbors?” The Word made flesh, confronts the comfortable with this reminder,“Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) In other words, those who are so comfortable and confident in their salvation based usually on their own sense of goodness, don’t see a need for a savior. Jesus says until that heart turns from that way of thinking and is broken there is nothing he can do for you. The comfortable must come to realizes a need to depend on someone outside of themselves.

The Word Cures the Afflicted

Jesus left Nazareth for Capernaum and there He set up His new base of operations. On the Sabbath Day, He taught in the synagogue and His teachings astonished the people. In Matthew 7 you hear this coming through loud and clear: “When Jesus finished this speech, the crowds were amazed at his teachings.” (GWN)

Jesus healed this man possessed by demons on the Sabbath which created quite a stir with the religious leaders. It was a violation of rabbinical traditions. Surely Jesus could have waited a day. However, he wanted to demonstrate to the people that man’s traditions should not come before or become more important than God’s will. Jesus came to show the afflicted that the Word made flesh (Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed) has the power to cure those afflicted by the effects of sin. No matter what the affliction is, demon possession or physical illness.

The Word Comforts the redeemed.

Jesus went where the Father was working. The Word came to people who wanted to be comforted by the Savior, not where the people were clamoring for a side show. He wanted all people to hear, not just a privileged few. What does it look like when the Word made flesh comes into contact with the redeemed? I love the way the Apostle Paul describes the impact Jesus has on the redeemed in Philippians 2, “If you find any comfort from being in the Anointed, if His love brings you some encouragement, if you experience true companionship with the Spirit, if His tenderness and mercy fill your heart; then, brothers and sisters, 2 here is one thing that would complete my joy—come together as one in mind and spirit and purpose, sharing in the same love.” (The Voice) Paul describes in great details what the comfort and encourage look like, the Word made flesh brings encouragement, true companionship, tenderness, and mercy. And then the calls goes out the redeemed, now make Jesus’ joy complete, you go out together as one people, united through one baptism, wth one common confession, sent with one common mission, to love as the Word made flesh has loved you. You have been redeemed and blessed to become a blessing to others.

 

Ease Their Pain

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28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 1 Kings 8:28

There was a line in the movie Field of Dreams; “They will come. They won’t even know why they are coming, but they will come, by the millions.” The stranger, the foreigner, the broken hearted, the oppressed, and the lost are searching for something. They used to come to church seeking it. They did not always know why they were coming. Not sure what they even hoped to find. Many were seeking a clear conscience and the proclamation of forgiveness; forgiveness for the bad decisions they made on their earthly journey. The broken relationships, the broken promises, the effects, and consequences of their sins. They are seeking someone to, as the movie points out, “ease their pain.” They are seeking something only God can give, forgiveness of their sins and a conscience free from blame, free from guilt, free from pain. They come seeking unconditional love and acceptance and they find that in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us of his unconditional love for all, “Yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

People are turning to God in their spiritual need. A clear conscience is hard to find these days. There is more than enough guilt to go around. While many groups claim to have answers: doctors, politicians and the like, their so-called solutions never work the pain remains. We have to put aside these social theories of causation for societal breakdown, and consider the load of sin and guilt which human hearts carry! Eventually, guilt has its way with people. Alienation from others, and self, and eventually from God.

The conscience speaks and the word of judgment against sin are heard. Even those far from God know that something is wrong!

As Paul writes in Romans, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”

People will come because the same law that torments our conscience when we sin, also torments the non-believer. The difference is we know about Christ’s forgiveness and they don’t. Our consciences are clear through the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. For the non-believer, the promise of forgiveness of their sins continues to torment them day and night. So they will come to find relief, the relief that comes only through God’s forgiveness connected to Christ’s death and resurrection.

So what is special about God’s forgiveness?

First, of all it has been won through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus for sin. It was verified by the empty tomb and the risen Lord. The beauty of the life of Christ is that he had a specific purpose to be the one that carried God’s forgiveness to a sin-soaked world. Human forgiveness may restore relationships. But only God’s forgiveness restores life!

Secondly, God offers this forgiveness to a guilt-ridden world. This is the Gospel proclaimed in our churches and received with thanksgiving. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (1 Cor. 5:19)
Who is this forgiveness for? Jews only? Members of the church only? Outwardly righteous and pious people only? So many people think so. The Gospel is for anyone hurting from sin and calling on God through the power of the Holy Spirit. God heals the alienation, he binds up the broken hearted, he eases the pain, and through Jesus Christ no one turning to Him is denied. As the Scripture says, “He is a light to the Gentiles, and for the glory to your people Israel”, we, like Solomon, pray, “O Lord, forgive.” And you know the neat thing is for Jesus’ sake, God does just that. Amen

When No One Notices, He Does!

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Tuesday’s staff devotion examined the section of Scripture from Matthew 25.    Jesus is having a dialogue about service.

The discussion that follows can be found in the Common English Translation:

37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

What is noticeable in this exchange is the reaction of the righteous when Jesus points out their good deeds.   They appear completely unaware of their behavior. Christians, motivated by the love of God, do things every day that goes unnoticed.  It is the nature of the righteous.  It is the nature of God’s workers to serve in relative obscurity with little thanks or recognition, not giving much thought to the sacrifices they make.  Would it be nice to have an end of the year celebration for volunteers, staff and other tireless workers? By all means! However, they will serve not for the promise of a party or the recognition, but because they love their God and they love His people.  Service flows naturally out of the love of God that is welling up inside us.   Servants are surprised and thankful when it gets attention. In the end it is about the privilege, Christians have been given to serve an amazing and awesome God.

I shared with the staff today, even though you probably do not hear this often, thank you for your service. We also discussed the reality that whether or not anybody in the church ever notices all the hard work and effort they put into their area of ministry, receive this acclamation, God knows. He notices.

The righteous are taken aback when Jesus acknowledges their service? “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’”

It happens during those times we care for the person in need God has placed our midst and without thinking, serve. The response of our Lord in Matthew 25 screams this point, “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”

Jesus has a word of thanks and encouragement for you today from Matthew 25:21,  “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’”  May God bless you and may God bless those who serve!
Pat on the Back

Remembering A Strong-willed Woman

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My mother, Elma Haney was a proud and very strong will woman. Strong-willed is a kind nice way of saying whatever was on her mind, she would share with you. Now if you asked for that option that was your own fault. There were plenty of times she would give you the advice you did not solicit. On a side note for those who know me, that is where I get it from. I would love to say that is something I am working on but that would be untrue. Therefore, I will own that flaw and blame it on my mother.

As the day arrives each year that we have set aside to remember and give thanks to the unique way God used the spirit and heart of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr I thought now is a fitting time to share some unsolicited thoughts, a few of the lessons my mother shared with me.

Now keep the opening description in mind, she was a strong-willed woman. Unfortunately, she grew up at a time in our society where being a strong-willed at that time colored woman, was not a trait that was encouraged by society in the deep south where she grew up. As a matter of fact, her outspoken nature could have gotten her in really deep trouble. We would often ask her, “How in the world did you survive in that context?” I just figured she like Mary kept those thoughts close to her heart. Unlike Mary when she got the chance never stop letting those bottled up thoughts out on any and everyone who would listen.

As I reflect back on her life and witness, though, I understand with greater clarity why the things she valued in life were so much a part of her character. 1) She valued that fact that as a known African American woman she accomplished a lot of firsts. The first president of the Telephone Company’s employee union, first African American Trustee of Trinity Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge just to name a few. It was her way of letting the world know that you may limit what you think I can do, but God does not. She would often say nothing is too big for God. 2) She demanded high achievements from her children and grandchildren. I never appreciated why until later in life. However, she knew how hard her road had been and did not want us to let any opportunity get away instead she would encourage us to take advantage of what God placed before us. Her motto was never settled for what was given to us, but strive to be the very best. And 3) She celebrated every accomplishment. Whether is was me making the Marching Band at Southern Lab, home of the Mighty Kittens (yea I know not the toughest mascot name) or finishing third in a reading contest. We celebrated every accomplishment and every achievement. And when her grandkids started college, got their first job, finished confirmation or just got a base hit in a little league baseball game, grandma was on the phone with a big way to go.  She knew what Dr. King and others had worked so hard to achieve through the working of the Holy Spirit moving in the course of human history. God used this southern preacher to secure her freedom to be strong-will and opinionated. That now is passed down to her kids and grandkids so watch out the world.

Thank you, mom, for instilling your spirit, your heart for hurting people and your desire to cheer us to achieve great things. Your spirit lives on in us. To God be the Glory!

Bittersweet Memories

Who Is My Neighbor?

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I ran across a fantastic quote by Dr. King. “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”― Martin Luther King Jr.

We are dealing with a lot of very emotionally charged issues in our country these days: police shootings in urban neighborhoods, Syrian Refugees relocating to the United States, and Hispanic and Latino undocumented works and immigrants. All of these issues challenge us to deal with the same exchange Jesus had with the young Jewish expert in the law.

The conversation went like this:

25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”

27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 (CEB)

At the heart of this famous exchange is a call to change. That change is still needed today.

Jesus goes on to tell this young expert in the law a story.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. Then as the account goes, a Priest sees him and leaves him for dead. Then a Levite sees him and is too busy to get involved and leaves him for dead.

At this point, things are looking rather grim. Then along comes a Samaritan. Now if you are a Jewish person hearing this story. You are thinking to yourself well this guy is toast. There is now way in the world this enemy will stop and help. If anything he might come along and put him out of his misery. Samaritans in that day were viewed with the same level of hatred as Blacks were during the civil rights movements of Dr. King’s day.

So here we have a Jew and a Samaritan and the unthinkable happens.

33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

What is amazing about all of this is if the man had know who was helping him he probably would have rejected the help. And the Samaritan took a chance walking into town with this injured Jewish man on his donkey. The town’s people probably assumed he did it. It was like an Indian walking into town with an injured cowboy. But I love what the text says. The Samaritan man looks on him and had pity on Him.

In the next section, we get the purpose of this parable.

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The challenge of our times how do we model the example of our Lord and Savior Jesu Christ? How do we show mercy on those whom God has placed around us as our neighbors?  It is a sad reality that Dr. King’s dream has come to fruition. Jesus’ desire to bring back all the lost sheep of the house of Israel is not complete. The kingdom’s work is not done. As long as there are people who are persecuted and disenfranchised the Church of Jesus Christ has work to do to see the dream become a reality. As long as there are groups of people who face hatred and oppressed the dream is not complete. As long as there are people that we walk by in need, and we think we are too busy to stop and give aid the dream is not complete.

We are called by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to be a neighbor to the ones who need mercy. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who is our neighbor? Anyone, we come into contact with,  not just the people who look like us and think like us, but everyone God places in our lives is a neighbor.

Like the Good Samaritan our mission in the world is to “Go and show mercy.” In doing so, you model for those who are far from God the love of the Savior and the mercy and grace of God. So go and do likewise.
Good Fences?

The Power of Vision

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“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.”Joel Barker 
What a powerful quote. As we approach the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr holiday I am reminded that if Dr. King had stopped with just having a dream about a better America but did not move that dream to action none of the changes that I am benefiting from today would have been possible. As Churches seek to discern God’s will for their ministry it may begin with a dream or a vision of what could be.  However in order to see fruits from that dream or  vision  it requires hard work, action and a moving of the Holy Spirit to become a reality.  What a privilege I have in my current vocation to come alongside dreamers and visionaries to see the amazing work of our Awesome God come to fruition. If God has placed on your heart a dream or a vision for ministry don’t just stop with the dream.  Don’t let fear of failure or success derail you.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will move you to act on the dream God has placed on your heart because it can have a kingdom impact.

Carmela Snelbaker

Author of "Thank You For Your Service, Sheep!"

"But there is a God in Heaven who reveals secrets . . ."

"For God can speak in one way, or in another, Yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night when deep sleep falls upon men, while slumbering on their beds."

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