Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The building that had once housed the Lakeshore Baptist Church in Mississippi, where Don was pastor, was no more. But this storm brought added dread to the temporal losses of real property. When a tornado lifts a roof off a building, you put it back. When a building burns to the ground, you rebuild. But when a hurricane wipes out entire cities, taking not only homes and churches, but entire industries, you don't just lose the church building. In a very real sense, you also lose your church.
"That was one reason that, even though we were insured, we chose not to immediately rebuild," he said. Eventually, the people who remained at Lakeshore built a temporary edifice where seven years later they still hold worship services. But once the worst was over and the church members once again gathered in the Lakeshore community, Pastor Don says they found another, more important reason not to rebuild. "We just couldn't fathom giving all of our attention to putting up a church building when our entire community was virtually homeless."
The result? This small church, which just after Katrina had around 35 members, didn't rebuild their church. Instead, they rebuilt the community of Lakeshore!
Since 2005, Lakeshore Baptist Church has worked with multiple partners, including our Association, to put more than 100 families in the area back into their homes. More than 60 of those were total rebuilds.
It was a good day!
Did you read that? A church of 50 people has rebuilt an entire community of homes! What's your excuse for not doing more with the resources you have? What's my excuse?
In my denomination alone there are more than 40,000 churches. What effect would it have on our country if all those churches served and tangibly loved their communities as Lakeshore does? Would there be a need for Social Security? Nationalized healthcare? Wellfare? Is it conceivable that we could literally change the world by simply loving our neighbors?
Check out everything this great church continues to do here: http://www.rebuildlakeshore.com/
Saturday, June 23, 2012
"Lots and Lots of candles!" That is how a colleague (tongue in cheek, of course) responded to me when I asked the question: "If the conversations about young SBC leaders result in their taking the reigns of leadership, what will our convention look like in 30 years?"
Regretably, many who know of the recent conversations between SBC and emerging leaders would reply in the same manner, without trying to be funny! Others would balk at the thoughts of where our denomination is headed should these "young bucks" get hold of the largest Protestant group in North America. But I have noticed very few, substantive conversations that seek to conjecture the question; "Where would young leaders take us?"
Below is my own feeble analysis of this question. Based on conversations I have had with young SBC pastors and church planters, as well as books and other resources I have read on the emerrging church, I believe the things below are avery real possibility! But before you explore my personal attempt at "futuring," let me throw up a two-fold preface:
1. I have listed things here which I believe, given the current trajectory of emerging leaders, WILL happen in our denomination should they be given the reigns of leadership. But although I am in favor of many of my predictions, the reader should not mistake my predictions for an endorsement of everything they read.
2. At the start, let me admit to my own ultimate ignorance of the future, and offer an open invitation for anyone to respond with critique of my predictions. My goal here is not to be an "autonomous knower," but rather, to foster discussion, which means of course, that I have failed if no discussion is generated from this post. You are encouraged to leave your own views on this post as a response.
And now; fast-forward with me about 30 years into the future:
-"Southern Baptist Convention" will no longer be used, as the multi-national and multi-cultural nature of our denomination is reflected in a new title. (anyone want to suggest what it should be?)
-Although the national convention will still convene, attendance will plummit, not because of any lack of interest, but due to the regionalization of annual meetings to different parts of the United States and other nations. The national convention will then be simulcast to these regional meetings.
-State Conventions by and large will continue to decline, as their influence continues to wane, and as newer churches opt to be resourced either by non-denominational entities outside the SBC, or by professional educational staff in their own churches. Eventually, state conventions will be 'streamlined' so that many both state and associational staff will include those who also work bi-vocationally as pastors and staff members in the local churches which support these entities. Continuing education and leadership training will move closer to the local level, as larger churches provide their own professional staffs to be at the disposal of the smaller congregations.
-Local associations; well, their fate depends solely on how relevant they are perceived to be by the churches they serve, which means that many will die, and die soon! Others however, will assume a place of prominence that was once held by the state convention, as localized equipping and training will be seen as more appropriate for their context. The "Director of Missions" job description will radically change, eliminating the idea of the DOM as a "bishop without power," and replacing it with the view of the DOM as a "missions facillitator." As these more traditional understandings pass, the DOM will be expected to fulfill a job more closely associated with a Church Planting/Church Growth Strategist, thereby resulting in the elimination of those positions at the associational level.
-Local churches will, by and large, adopt governmental systems that, while still "congregational" at their base, are much less "democratic." The use of "elders," church councils, etc. as administrative advisory arms to the Senior Pastor and staff will grow exponentially. The "team" approach to leadership (i.e. co-pastors, or plurality of elders) will also see a sharp rise. "Robert's Rules of Order" will be an unfamiliar term to the vasy majority of new churches. In addition, the title "Reverend" will go the way of the dinosoaur, as younger leaders eliminate theessential distinctions that have been made by the modern church between clergyand laity. Ordination will still exist, but only for legal and tax purposes. Those who lead God's church will prefer the Biblical term "Pastor" to "Reverend," "Preacher," or even "Doctor."
-The role of women in church leadership will rise. Many will serve as deacons, and a few will begin serving as elders. We will see a surge of single women volunteer as missionaries, and be sent out by their local churches to the ends of the earth.
-As the lines between methodologies in North America continue to blur with those in other parts of the world, eventually the International and North American Mission Boards will merge. In addition, those who are funded through this new missions organization will not be "missions administrators" but rather, practicioners who are "on the field" among the people he or she is attempting to reach. Many administrative positions will be eliminated, as local church pastors and volunteers from the business sectors assume these roles, thereby giving local churches more control over the decisions made concerning doctrine, qualifications for appointment, etc.
-Deputation will again enter Southern Baptist life for the first time since the inception of the Cooperative Program in 1925! Mission Boards will still underwrite much of the financial support for keeping a missionary on the field, but the missionaries will be required to raise additional support from the local churches that reccomend them for service to the field. In addition, the local church will have much greater control over who is and who is not appointed. The result of this will be a closer, more personal connection between the missionaries and the churches that support them.
-While the Baptist Faith and Message will remain the de facto confession for our churches, less rigid statements (Such as that used by the Evangelical Theological Society) will be employed as guidelines for working across denominational lines with other evangelicals in the field of mission. The result of this will be cooperative, joint efforts with Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and others whom our missionaries are now told to limit their cooperation with because of diferences on secondary issues (such as speaking in tongues, etc.).
-The SBC (under its new title, whatever that may be), will appoint missionaries from other nations of the world to come to the United States for ministry, as well as other countries. As multiculturalism eventually engulfs the planet, there will be an increased amount of "crossover" as Americans go to other nations as missionaries, and vice versa. The single, mission board will be charged with the oversight of all of these missionaries.
-Giving to the Cooperative Program will plateau, if not decline, but special mission offerings. (Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and World Hunger) will skyrocket, as the churches participate wholeheartedly in direct missions giving and involvement.
-Seminary education will undergo major changes, as online and distance education becomes the norm rather than the exception. While the classical base curriculum for the basic degree programs (such as the M.Div.) will remain, many of the practical ministry courses will be re-written and contextualized to the world as it will be 30 years from now. Some of the courses that will undergo major overhauls include pastoral care and counseling, homiletics, leadership, and the practice of ministry.
-The sharp rise in bi-vocational and "tentmaker" pastorates will neccesitate that for many, the local association's training events become the primary locus for theological education. This of course, will mean "beefing up" the leadership curriculum.
-The whole basis of Theological Education is likely to be turned on its head, as the theological foundations of classical seminary education is replaced by a missiological emphasis. In effect, "Theology of Missions" will be come "Missional Theology."
-Retired Gen-Xers (sounds strange, doesn't it?) will return to the academy to learn theology and be equipped to start lay-led churches and house churches.
-Local churches will again assume the role of primary theological educator, as the seminaries once again simply act to augment this role.
-"Boycotts" will be history, as young leaders perceive these sorts of tactics to be unneccesarily alienating to those the church should be trying to reach. Instead, relational engagement will undergird the philosophy of how the church interfaces with culture. For example, instead of "boycotting Disney," Southern Baptists would purchase a showcase at Epcot Center and utilize it to speak to all who vacation there concerning the Gospel and how it relates to family values in the larger Christian worldview.
-The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission will continue to be a strong and conservative "prophetic" voice to our government. But while moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and embryonic stem cell research will continue to receive attention by this agency, other issues like taxes, gun control, the ten commandments on public property, and school prayer will largely be ignored, in lieu of subjects like the poor, and human rights throughout the world. (For example, many seem to ignore the fact that our "conservative" administration continues to advocate continued trade relations with China, which has an atrocious human rights record. Expect these issues to be addressed with much more strength.)
Obviously, this is a very incomplete list, and that is intentionally so! Where do you think we are headed, provided young leaders take the reigns of leadership. What I have left out? Where am I wrong?
The SBC is just a few weeks away, and I anticipate with excitement the conversations that I know will take place. But instead of simply complaining about the SBC as it is, why not begin discussion now of what it could be? Why not begin to speak now of how to honor its legacy? When we approach our esteemed present leaders, wouldn't it be great if, instead of a list of complaints, we brought our ideas of what could be to the table? I look foward to hearing your views. So let's get started building a vision together, shall we?
Friday, June 22, 2012
But within their stack of resumes, there is another man with a higher-earned degree, or more "ministry experience," or the endorsement of a denominational executive or famous pastor! So they hire him because, after all, he is the "best, most qualified" candidate.
And in doing so, the committee usually makes a huge mistake!
My friend Eric Geiger says it best in this post, when he says "the "best" leaders when not in sync with the values of the ministry/organization unintentionally lead her in a plethora of directions. . .A pastor or search team commit they are going to "hire the best and let them run." They search diligently for the best staff members, driven by a faulty assumption that putting the best people in a room around the same table will be best for the church. The leaders run, as they were told they would be able to do, and they run in a multitude of directions. And they take the church with them"
In the end, even the "best" candidate will not serve the church well if he does not fit the context. As a church consultant friend of mine loves to say; "The church must fit the pastor, and the pastor must fit the church."
So how can you determine whether a candidate meets the qualification of contextual fit? Here are a few areas to examine:
1. Doctrine. I serve 60 Baptist churches, all of whom draw the lines in different places when it comes to theology. To be sure, our network of congregations is thoroughly evangelical, with a high view of Scripture, and exclusive view of Jesus, and an aggressive view of our common mission, and the willingness for our churches to work together around these emphases is what makes our missionary work so potent. But once you get inside those churches, you discover some very different beliefs when it comes to issues of secondary priority. I've often chuckled at the fact that, though I direct missions for this entire network, there are individual churches in that network that would have never ordained me to ministry!
With all this in view, it is important that a search team understand the unique theological identity of their church. For example, when it comes to eschatology, I personally hold loosely to Covenant theology, and find Dispensationalism to be problematic. I have dear friends who are Dispensationalist, and I have no axe to grind when it comes to this issue. Nevertheless, if I were to be invited to interview at a church, and saw "Left Behind" in the church library and prophecy charts all over the walls outlining multiple "comings" of Jesus, I'd need to be honest with that church about who I am and what I believe. Conversely, it probably wouldn't be wise for that committee to pursue a guy like me.
Other churches might not care where a candidate is on these issue, but may care deeply about others. The job of the search team is not to find someone doctrinally identical to the congregation, but anyone they recommend as pastor should at least be doctrinally compatible.
2. Vision. Often when serving as an interim pastor, I will do "vision casting" exercises with the congregation. Ultimately, I believe that God grants His vision for each local church, and places that vision in the hearts of His people, and my role as an interim pastor is to draw that vision out of them, get it in writing in a way that builds consensus, and then give that document to the search committee with the following simple instruction: "Go find a man who says what is on this document!"
This doesn't mean that the pastor cannot himself be a visionary. One of the reasons congregations need pastoral leadership is to help them refine and process their identity and future direction. But if there is a mismatch between the vision of the pastor and that of the congregation, such is a recipe for disaster! I'm not sure where the idea came from that a pastor's job is to "instill vision" into the people, but its pure nonsense! The church is a priesthood, and God has given His vision for their future to ALL of them! Sometimes it may be difficult to get them to see it, and that is where pastors come in. But pastors are not the "dispensers" of vision. They are the executors and guardians of it!
In light of all this, search teams need to search for a man who, with integrity, communicates a personal calling that resonates with them. Ask a candidate what God has called him to do. Ask him what that looks like in a congregational context. If his answer excites you to the point that you find yourself saying "God is calling US to that too," then this may be a candidate you want to pursue further.
3. Environment. Simply put, is this candidate accustomed to doing ministry in the environment where your church is found? This is not a hard rule. I've seen God use quite a few "southern boys" here in the northeast to build His Kingdom effectively. In a very real sense, I'm also an exception to this rule. I grew up in a rural, blue-collar, lower, middle-class household, and I now do missionary work in the third most affluent county in North America! Still, it is legitimate to ask whether a candidate has the capacity to "make it" in your environment. So if you are in a transitioning part of the inner city, think twice before hiring someone who has only done ministry in suburban mega-churches, even if he has a Ph.D. and the endorsement of Billy Graham! Conversely, if a high percentage of your mission field are white collar professionals with graduate degrees, a guy who has spent all his life ministering to rural folk may not be the best fit.
Again, this should be seen as a guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule. But a pastor will not serve you well if he cannot thrive in your environment.
4. Culture. Every organization, including the church, has an organizational culture. How is the church governed? How are decisions "really" reached? What are appropriate and inappropriate ways to get something done? Where are the "third rail" issues that can't be addressed? Every search committee should know the answers to these questions, and be able to communicate the culture of their church clearly to pastoral candidates. Additionally, search teams should know whether the church needs a culture-preserver, or a culture-maker. Those are two completely different kinds of leaders! If you bring a culture-maker into a stable environment where there is aversion to great change, he will likely destroy the church, even though he may be a good man. Prayerfully make up your mind as to what kind of man is appropriate relative to the culture of your church.
A few final guidelines may also be helpful here as you continue to search for a pastor:
1. Develop a profile. Search Team members should be able to clearly communicate who they are as a church, and what kind of man they are searching for. The most successful search teams I've witnessed developed a profile of the kind of pastor they felt the church needed. BUT, they did not develop that profile around the more common measurements (education level, years in ministry, etc.). Instead, they identified particular spiritual gifts, skills, and passions that would be necessary to lead their church.
2. Stick to the plan. Along the way, emotions will run high. Some candidates by virtue of winsome personalities will tempt search teams to speed up the process, or to "skip" steps they have agreed on. Usually that's a big mistake. If the Holy Spirit is indeed leading you toward a particular man, patient commitment to the process will confirm His leading. He is not the author of confusion.
Additionally, if emotions overcome discipline in a search process, the same scenario tends to happen once the first controversial decision has to be made. I've often warned candidates who told me "this committee is REALLY after me!" by saying "careful! They tend to get rid of you the same way they call you!" And its true. Conversely, if a church is deliberate, thoughtful, and prayerful in calling a man, they will most likely take the same approach to conflict later on when that same man has to make a hard decision.
Stick to the plan. Its the right thing for your church, and for its next pastor!
3. Spend more time on your knees than around a boardroom table. Spend time in prayer alone. Spend hours in prayer together. And spend time in quiet so you can listen to God....together! The Holy Spirit WILL guide you, and He WILL guide the next pastor of your church to you, if you will be obedient to Him, and consistently seek His guidance.
I hope this series will prove helpful to those who are charged with seeking a pastor. If you are one of those churches, I pray God blesses you for your faithful adherence to His will, and that He will send you a pastor who truly emulates Paul's picture in Ephesians 4 when he says "and He gave . . . .pastors and teachers." Ask Him for what you seek, and then seek for what you ask. And in His time, He will send you His gift; a man who will lead your church into the future God has for it.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Palm Beach First Baptist is a large church, and so this situation attracted lots of attention from the media. But FBC Palm Beach is not the only church that has faced a difficult situation like this. And almost every time these sorts of situations occur, they do so for one reason: The Search Team assumed things that they shouldn't have!
We are in a series of posts here that deal with the common mistakes made by Pastor Search Teams, and the fourth biggest mistake I've seen them make is that they simply assume too much about the candidates they interview. Sometimes these assumptions are due to a fear of asking hard questions. Other times they are simply due to naivete on the part of the committee. Nevertheless, Search Teams do a disservice to their churches if they assume any of the following:
1. The Accuracy of the Resume. When you get serious about a candidate, check the educational credentials on his resume with reality. The best way to do this is to ask the candidate to contact the institutions where he studied and have official transcripts sent to you. If a candidate is unwilling to do this, it should make you wonder why.
Unfortunately, "padding the resume" is as much of a practice among the clergy as it is among other professions. If a man claims to have a doctorate degree, then it is incumbent on the search team to determine if he actually does. Too many churches have secured a pastor with no degree, or with a degree from a "degree mill" or unaccredited institution. Am I suggesting that formal education is necessary to be a pastor? Not at all! Some of the most capable pastoral leaders I've met have served their churches with only a high school diploma. This isn't about how educated he is. Its about his integrity! If he doesn't have a formal education, is he comfortable enough in his own skin to be OK with that, and to be honest with a committee?
Resumes can also be inaccurate when it comes to the "track record" of a candidate. If he claims his former church tripled in size, there is an easy way to substantiate that claim. Someone on the search team should get in touch with leadership at his former church to make that determination.
The point is that just because a resume looks good doesn't mean the candidate is any good! Charlatans abound, even in the Southern Baptist Convention! If you want to find a good man who is God's man in the midst of that, you can never assume the resume is an accurate picture of the man.
2. That "Reverend" Means "Righteous." The chair of the search team was shocked at my advice, to the point that he sat back in his chair with his mouth open wide. One of our churches was getting really serious about a man they were looking at as pastor. The references had checked out. Nothing negative could be found. "That's great," I said. "Now, the next time you all get together with this man, have the women take the wife out for a nice lunch. When they leave the room, look your candidate in the eye and immediately ask him when he last intentionally looked at pornography."
30% of pastors polled admitted they have had an extramarital affair since the beginning of their ministry. 47% struggle with pornography. A large percentage struggle with consumer debt, to the point that bill collectors are constantly calling. It is an unfortunate truth that some pastors have horrible credit ratings that are the result of poor, undisciplined choices. Just because a man is an ordained minister does not mean that his life is blameless, or that he is qualified to be your pastor. Secure his permission for credit and criminal history background checks. When you call his references, ask them for three other people, and then do that two more times! Once you get "three deep" into references you will then get an accurate glimpse of who you are talking to. Ask hard questions of the man you are considering entrusting with the pulpit of your church, and do it before he assumes control of that pulpit!
3. That Perfection is a Requirement. Performing a thorough background check and asking hard questions doesn't mean that past sins can't be forgiven, and it doesn't mean that you should automatically disqualify someone who has a blemish on their record somewhere. All of us have a past. As I once told a search committee years ago as an interviewee, "If you look long enough and dig deep enough, you will discover something about me that you don't like." The point here is that you want honest answers from pastoral candidates. A past doesn't knock them out of the running, but lying about their past should! Get honest answers in the beginning.
4. That All Expectations will be Met. Statistically, the first people to be disappointed in a new pastor are the people who served on the committee that called him. Usually, this is because there are unspoken, and even subconscious expectations placed on a candidate during the interview process. These subconscious expectations--"mini-visions" of what this pastorate will look like from the perspective of search team members--form a sort of spiritual mine field of which the new pastor is sometimes totally unaware....until he steps on one!
This doesn't happen because the pastor is a bad man, or because he is less than what the committee as a whole thinks. It happens because, regardless of how careful you are during the search process, there WILL be miscommunication, and as a result some incredibly high and often impossible, and unspoken, expectations will not be met.
The big idea is this: If you are part of a search team that is getting ready to invite a pastor to come to lead your church, prepare yourself for disappointment, and learn before it happens how to deal with it yourself rather than dumping it on your new pastor!
When you narrow it down to a single candidate, your actions and investigations should be as serious as your intent to know him better. Don't assume anything! You and your church will be well-served by your thoroughness.
In a few days, I'll post the final installment of this series, which will commend the following principle: Once you have found a "good" man, you need next to determine if he is the "right" man for your church. Contextual fit is paramount to a long-lasting and healthy relationship between congregation and pastor, and that subject is coming up in just a few days!
Friday, June 15, 2012
Thursday, June 14, 2012
I didn't say that to burst a students' bubble, but to encourage them to ask the right questions. Regardless of the context, questions that don't reveal needed information are useless! Unfortunately, lots of useless questions usually get asked during an interview process. And Pastor search teams made up of volunteers don't have time to waste by asking questions that reveal nothing.
Once you have narrowed your search to a single candidate, you should have a very good profile built of this individual. Before they sit in front of you, you should already know their education and experience, their criminal and credit history, and the gifts and skills they bring to the table. Additionally, you should already know--at least to a large degree--their doctrinal commitments, and whether those commitments are compatible with the theological identity of your church.
In short, by the time you get to a face to face interview with a candidate, the only things you don't know can only be revealed in one way: by asking the right questions. And the number one way to ask the WRONG questions is to make them hypothetical.
Anyone sitting in front of you with average intelligence can knock a hypothetical question out of the park! Ask them what they would do in the event of a church conflict, and their answer will make them appear to embody the term "peacemaker." Ask them what they believe about the balance between ministry and family, and you will get an answer that came directly from the lectures they received in their seminary "Formations" class! Instead, ask them about the last time they had to deal with conflict at a church, and then ask them to get specific with you about what THEY did. And don't ask them what they believe about balancing ministry and family. Ask them what they DO currently to strike that balance.
In other words, don't ask hypothetical questions. Ask behavioral questions!
Why? Because the best predictor of what a man will do tomorrow is what he did yesterday! Generic positional questions about hypothetical situations rarely if ever allow you a genuine, "inside" look into a candidate. But when you seek to discover past behaviors, you are uncovering things that reveal what a man truly believes, and observing how he is likely to conduct himself as pastor of your church.
And how do you ask such questions? Are there examples of such questions available? Absolutely! Our Association has a guide for conducting a behavioral interview with a prospective pastor in which the questions were designed around the Biblical qualifications for the role in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. For example, Paul tells Timothy that pastors must exhibit self control. In light of this, you may ask a potential pastor about the last time he had an argument or disagreement with someone, such as a church member, or even the cashier at Wal-Mart. Get him to describe for you how he approached the situation, what he said, and how he sought to bring reconciliation. Conversations like this will tell you a lot more than simply asking a man if he is a "peacemaker."
For more information on this approach to interviewing potential pastors, and sample questions, check out our behavioral interview guide here.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Having a search process to find a pastor is important. That it is clearly understood is vital. That it is designed for maximum efficiency is also necessary. But at the end of the day, a process is like duct tape or WD-40. Its a tool, and not the end product!
Unfortunately, many teams searching for a pastor become slaves to the process, or make candidates slaves to the process, or both! In the end, it matters far more than you have God's man being introduced to the congregation than that you have "checked all the boxes." But if a search team is mastered by the process rather than mastering the process themselves, they may very well check every box on their way to calling the wrong man!
In light of all this, I suggest two guiding principles for search teams in this area:
1. Understand that the purpose of the process is to find a person. It doesn't matter if you followed the process if the end result isn't the right person. Therefore, any process should include, on the front end of the search, a profile of the kind of individual you are looking for. I know of one church that received over 650 resumes at the beginning of their process. It took months before they were able to crawl out from under all of that information because they had not first developed a clear profile of the kind of man who would be the most suitable candidate. In most cases, a clearly-defined profile will narrow your search to 10 resumes--or less--by the time of the second "cut." Bottom line: You may not know WHO God is calling to your church, but you should, before beginning any process, know WHAT KIND of leader God intends to bring to you.
If search teams understand that the process is ultimately about people, they will not be so consumed with the process that they are never allowed to get to know people.
2. Spend the lion's share of attention on the person, not the process. I've often consulted with churches and recommended that they "fast-track" the parts of the process that lead them to the right people, not so their work will be done sooner, but so they can spend most of their time getting to know a candidate.
In fact, I'd say that for most churches, it is possible to be interviewing your #1 candidate 90 days from the start of your process! But once that individual is in front of you, you probably need to slam on the brakes and take at least 120 days to get to know him. Two benefits arise from this approach. First, the team gets all the time they need to get deep into the "underwear drawer" of a candidate. I'll talk about asking hard questions in a later post, but for now I'll say that credit and criminal background checks, while necessary, are hardly sufficient to determine if you have a morally upstanding person in front of you. Those judgement calls take time, and lots of conversation!
The second benefit of this approach is that candidates who are not being considered are told so much more quickly, and the #1 candidate doesn't feel like he is in a popularity contest, and is thus more free to be open and honest about who he is, and what God has called him to do. More time is given to prayer and thoughtful discussion, and less to informing candidates and congregants about where you are "in the process."
Too many good search team members get burned out quickly because the entire team becomes enslaved to the process. Conversely, too many good pastoral candidates have been burned because they also unwittingly became victims of a process. Use the process to get to the right person. And then, make sure you get to know that person by asking them the right questions! We will take up that subject in our next post!
Thursday, June 07, 2012
We are in a series of posts here that deal with the five primary areas where Pastor Search Teams blow it big time, and talking about how to avoid those common mistakes. In the introductory post I said that the line between communication and confidentiality is not often well-sensed by search teams, and as a result teams sometimes say things they should keep to themselves, and keep secret things that should be shared. This happens when the team is communicating with pastoral candidates, as well as when they are communicating with the congregation.
As is the case with any search process, appropriate confidentiality is very important. At the same time, leaving considered candidates or the congregation totally in the dark is also unacceptable. Often, in the attempt to keep everyone "in the loop," search teams send out too much information, or worse, information that is conflicting and/or confusing.
Conversely, pastoral candidates that have made it into the "top tier" category can sometimes feel like they are left totally in the dark. At the same time, search team members struggle to balance the extremes of never communicating with a candidate and getting a candidate's hopes up (or putting them down) unintentionally. Three basic principles are involved when it comes to striking the right balance in this area:
1. One--and ONLY one person speaks for the entire team. It doesn't matter if a search team is made up of 3 or 10 people. They are all different, they all perceive differently, and even if in agreement, they will often communicate differently. Therefore, a spokesman should be chosen from the first meeting, and that person should be the only person who speaks on behalf of the entire search team.
This is especially important when we are talking about communicating to the entire congregation. Too often, rumors get started and false information spreads because three different team members communicated four different perspectives to five different people in the church! The message of the team is much more clear, and much more consistent, when the congregation knows who the spokesperson is for the team, and thus looks to that person to speak for the team.
When I'm consulting with search teams, I often exhort them to "refer, refer, refer." When someone comes with a question about the search, the default answer of every person on the team should be "talk to our spokesperson. He/She will best communicate where we are and represent us all. I can only represent myself."
2. Keep communication open with pastoral candidates. This principle has two sides to it. On the one hand, just because someone sends the team a resume doesn't obligate the team to communicate with that person in any way. However, once the team has initiated communication IN ANY FORM with anyone wanting to be considered, you are obligated to regularly update them on where you are unless and until the point that they are no longer being considered for the role. I know of too many stories where good men and their wives and families were brought to the church for an interview and made to think that an invitation to preach "in view of a call" was imminent, only to have the search team cut off all communication with them afterwards.
For some of these men, they were kept clueless until they learned through some other channel that someone else had been called as pastor of the church. In a few instances, they have called my office because a church in my Association did not follow-through, and I had to be the one to tell them "the position has been filled." This is unprofessional and unChristian behavior!
Once you make contact with a candidate, keep them updated--regularly--on where you are in the process. When you prayerfully decide that you will no longer pursue someone as pastor, let them know this as clearly and as soon as possible! If you can't stomach a hard phone call, don't be part of a search team!
3. When it comes to communicating with the church, tell them nothing about candidates, but everything about the process. On a few occasions, I've seen pastor search teams reverse this order. The less clear the process, the less patience a congregation will have with the search team, so be clear on this. Give them a thorough outline of the process, and follow-up with regular updates regarding where you are in that process. This approach lets the congregation see that progress is being made.
At the same time, there is only one name that should be heard by the congregation throughout the entire process, and that is the name of the man the search team intends to present as the pastor! Search teams that have loose lips are violating a confidentiality that could cause problems for candidates at their current church. Even worse, "name-dropping" as a way of determining the congregation's attitude toward a number of candidates isn't a search process. That's a beauty contest!
So in general, communicate as much as possible about the process you are employing to find a pastor, and as little as possible about the candidates who will be involved in that process.
And speaking of process, too many search teams become slaves to the search, rather than utilizing the search to find God's man. I will speak about how to avoid this mistake in the next post!
Monday, June 04, 2012
That's a dangerous combination!
During my eight years working with churches in central Maryland, I've had the opportunity to consult with numerous Search Committees who were seeking a shepherd for their church. All--and I do mean all--of these people meant well. But most were ill-prepared to do the job their congregations deserved.
This is not to say that the people serving on these teams were incompetent, or weren't sincere in their desire to serve. But most admitted that they had no idea how to effectively fulfill their responsibilities. Regrettably, most denominational material related to training Search Teams is also woefully inadequate, because to a large extent it doesn't deal with many of the crucial issues that are important for any Search Team to understand when seeking a pastor. Additionally, I've witnessed quite a few unprofessional and inept approaches to conducting searches at the denominational level as well, so that in some ways, asking for help on this issue from the denomination can sometimes be an exercise in the blind leading the blind!
That said, over the years, I've seen 5 common mistakes that Teams seeking a Pastor usually make. These are things a Search Team should never do, but almost always do. I'll list them here, and over the next couple of weeks deal with each one of them in more detail:
1. There is a fine line between communication and confidentiality, and Search Teams cross that line repeatedly. Most Search Teams understand that confidentiality is important, and they also get that the congregation needs to be kept "in the loop" on the search process. Unfortunately, clear guidelines are often missing on how to strike this balance, and the result is that many Search Teams say things they shouldn't, and keep to themselves things that need to be said! We will talk more about how to strike this balance more effectively.
2. They use people with their process rather than using the process to find the right people. In other words, too many Search Teams become slaves to a process, rather than using that process as the tool. The process becomes the end rather than the means, and this causes too many Team members to burn out, and too many good candidates to get burned! We will talk about how to master the search process, rather than be mastered by it.
3. They ask hypothetical questions when they interview. Any idiot with the IQ of an eggplant can answer a hypothetical question in a way that makes you think he is an expert on every subject! On this issue, many Search Team "handbooks" are no help either, as many of them are filled with questions that are philosophical and hypothetical, but never allow the Team to see for themselves what kind of man they have sitting in front of them. We will talk about how to ask the right kinds of questions, and how to translate a candidates' answers into an accurate picture of reality.
4. They assume the important stuff, and as a result, fail to ask the hard questions. Nearly 40% of pastors have had an extra-marital affair since the beginning of their ministry. 37% regularly struggle with pornography. More than 50% admitted that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way to make a living (Translation: They are in it for the money!) The most important questions are aimed right at issues like these, and they come right from the texts of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Unfortunately, many times these questions are never asked because a committee assumes that the title "Reverend" means they have a morally straight guy in front of them. We will talk about when, and how, to ask the hard questions of a candidate.
5. They don't consider contextual fit, and often hire the "best" candidate instead of the "right" candidate. The guy with the highest earned degree, the longest run of experience, or the best "track record" in ministry might be the "best" candidate in a stack of resumes, but that doesn't mean he is right for your church. We will talk about principles for calling the "right" man, not just the "best" man.
More elaboration is coming on each of these in the coming weeks!
Friday, June 01, 2012
By God's grace, I am not addicted to porn, have been faithful to my wonderful wife, and repented in early adulthood of my sin in this area. But my experiences with porn as a young man are but one testimony to how powerfully attractive it is.
I'm currently in a sermon series at the church where I'm interim pastor covering the Sermon on the Mount, and this Sunday, we cover the topic of lust and sexual sin. I'm covering this topic, first of all, because the Bible does. Every word of Scripture is God-breathed and "profitable," and there are probably no more profitable words in Scripture at this time in our culture than those dealing with lust and sexual sin. The depth of it in our churches in both overwhelming and unbelievable! But what may shock most is that this epidemic is also present among pastors!
So I want to take a moment here to plead with my fellow pastors on this subject. Our people should be able to follow us--to emulate our lifestyle. Yet for many pastors, the subject of sexuality is off limits in their pulpits because they don't have their own sex lives in order. Too many times in my years as a denominational servant, I've had to deal with the "after-effects" of a pastor whose secret life was discovered. Its no fun at all working with a church that has lost all trust in its leadership because of this issue. And its heartbreaking to see the family of a pastor devastated, and many times broken up, because of his sin. But this issue is frighteningly pervasive!
-37% of pastors anonymously interviewed admitted that they constantly and regularly struggle with pornography.
-nearly 40% of pastors anonymously interviewed admitted to having an extramarital affair since the beginning of their ministry.
Satan is wreaking havoc among those who call themselves God's men. This must stop! Yes porn is powerful, but Jesus, whom you preach each and every Sunday, is more powerful! So if you are a pastor who is reading this and struggling with sexual sin, take the steps necessary to crucify that sin.
1. Expose it. By this I don't necessarily mean to get up in the pulpit this Sunday and admit it to your entire congregation. As their pastor your role is to look out for their best interests, and such action might prove to be so bold as to shock them in an unhealthy way. HOWEVER, you need others to overcome this. James tells us to confess our sins to one another. This may start with a fellow pastor that you trust. It might start with your local Associational missionary. I have resources available to help.
And when you tell them, tell them EVERYTHING, get good counsel from them regarding what you should do next, and FOLLOW THAT COUNSEL. If we are talking about an internet porn problem, it may be that you simply need to join a support group and get the help necessary to overcome this sin. If you have committed adultery, you will need to confess such action to those in your church who have authority over you, such as fellow-elders, and submit to their loving discipline. But those you seek counsel from first can help you discern the best way to do this.
If you don't expose your struggle and/or sin, eventually it will expose you. You WILL get caught. Your sin WILL find you out! Set yourself free from the secrecy and hypocrisy of a double-life, and expose your problem.
2. Crucify it. Jesus told us in Matthew 5:29-30 to cut off body parts that are offensive to us if necessary in order to avoid sexual sin. Obviously this is a metaphor (otherwise, all men following this command literally would be blind and crippled!), but the message is clear: When it comes to dealing with sexual sin, we have to get radical!
This may mean a change in behavior patterns. it may mean you disconnect the internet for a season. It most likely means installing tracking software so that at least one other person can see where you are going online. It might mean you cancel your cable subscription, or even cancel a certain sports magazine subscription that comes with the so-called "fringe benefit" of a swimsuit issue. You might think that's going overboard, but many over-the-counter magazines sold today--including swimsuit issues of sports magazines--contain the kind of material that would have only been sold behind the counter as porn just a few decades ago. The intent is to incite lust for the body of one who is not your wife.
Support groups can help you do this as well, and some of those are listed at the bottom of this post.
Whatever you have to do, do it in order to free yourself from this issue!
3. Let your wife help you fight it. One of the hardest things a man has to do is admit a lust problem to his wife. You may need wise counsel about how to reveal this struggle to your wife, but you must not keep this from her! She deserves to know the truth, and she deserves a husband who will fight to keep his marriage promises to her. Give your wife permission to ask you hard questions about your thoughts, your actions, and your desires. Give her your password information for all your social media. Include her as an accountability partner for your tracking software.
Oh, and while breaking free from the porn struggle, use the time you have been spending looking at other women to reconnect to your wife. It may be blunt but it is true gentlemen: If you took the time you spent imagining being in the bed of other women, and spent that time instead trying to get into your wife's bed, both you and your wife would live much happier lives!
I've talked with men before who blame their porn problem on the fact that their wife doesn't give them sex. Gentlemen, you are the head of your home, which means you are responsible for the atmosphere of your home! If there is a problem in the bedroom, it is most likely related to, and began in, other rooms of the house. Your job as the head is to discover what those issues are, repent to your wife of any part of it that is your fault, and lead your wife into a relationship of greater intimacy between you both. Pursue her the way you did before you were married!
Also, re-establish your wife as your standard of beauty. The Song of Songs is one of the most erotic books ever written, and its in the Bible! By the end of that book, there is one thing we know, and one thing we don't know. What we know is that to Solomon, his bride was the most beautiful woman in the world. What we don't know is what she looked like! Was she tall or short? Was she thin or athletic? We have no idea! And it doesn't matter! As a husband, I need to understand the false message porn promotes regarding beauty. Porn encourages men to crave different kinds of women. No wife, no matter how beautiful, can compete with that because no wife can be tall and short, blonde and brunette, or white and black at the same time. So if I have a wife, SHE alone needs to be my standard of beauty, as opposed to some borderline-anorexic supermodel on the cover of a rag at the supermarket.
The New Testament commends frequent sexual activity between spouses as a deterrent to sexual sin. One of the reasons we see such rampant sin in the church is because, frankly, there isn't nearly enough sex happening in the home. To be sure, if you are currently struggling with porn or any other sexual sin, your wife probably won't be eager to jump into bed with you, and you will probably need to spend a few weeks or months developing some discipline while you break free from the bondage you are in. But eventually, once forgiveness has taken place and reconciliation is complete, you will need to focus sexual energies on your own cistern.
Porn is wrecking homes all over our nation. Christian homes are not exempt, and too many pastors are unable to effectively deal with this problem in their churches because of their own struggles. Pastor, come clean! It may cost you. You may need to take a break from ministry for a while to get straightened out. But trust me when I say that you MUST deal with this, before it deals with you!
*For internet accountability, check out www.covenanteyes.com
*For online help with a pornography problem, visit www.xxxchurch.com
*For more intensive help with sexual addiction, visit www.faithfulandtrueministries.com