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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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
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
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!
“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.
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