Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you…Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good successwherever you go.This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:5, 7-8
Leadership changes are scary…and not just the political ones. Leadership changes at church are just as troublesome. None are more scary than changing shepherds of a congregation. Having served on pastor search teams myself, and having trained dozens of other such teams and processes for various churches and organizations, I have lots of stories of the many “pitfalls” and traps which await us when it comes to prayerfully searching for a new shepherd. So, for those of you who find this topic relevant, here are three mistakes Pastor search teams often make:
1. Making it a secular process. As laymen, we all bring whatever experiences and expertise we may have from our industries to our ministry, and it would be easy to think of the pastor search process as primarily (or essentially) a human resources process. But it is not…not primarily. Rather, it is first and foremost a spiritual discernment process. And as with any spiritual discernment process, it should bubble up out of deep and humbling gathered prayer. Indeed, prayer should not only be foundational and central to the process, but it …
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7b
Most of the church conflicts into which I get called are swirling (at one level or another) around a pastor. And most of the opposition parties I meet eventually get to a point in the conflict where they are saying, “We never should have called him as our pastor…we made a terrible mistake.” And that conclusion is always based upon a (sometimes very long) list of flaws which, in their eyes, disqualify him/her as their shepherd.
It always reminds me of the life of Israel’s most effective King…King David, the “man after God’s own heart”. So much of God’s story in this world was written through David’s life…so much scripture…so much poetry…so much history…it is hard to imagine anyone being used more profoundly by God. His passion was extraordinary, his love for God immeasurable. His leadership was undeniable, and his lineage would produce the Savior of the world. Not a bad spiritual resume, if you ask me.
Did I mention his poligamy? His adultery? The murder? The “divorce” from his first wife (she apparently had a problem with his dancing in the streets in his underwear), the attempts by his father-in-law to kill him, and the subsequent re-marriage to her? Did I mention his eight other marriages (and that number is just the number of wives whose names we know…there were apparently many others whose names are not mentioned in scripture)? How about David’s first son’s rape of his half-sister…followed by her brother’s murder of that same son in retaliation? How about the attempt by that second son to overthrow David’s reign as king? Did I mention that David’s own men …
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4
I think I am a pretty good supporter of my pastor…I try to do the things he asks and I try not to do things I know he would frown upon…but he is going to HATE this post. And that makes me happy. I have learned a great deal about “shepherding” from watching my pastor. In fact, in my work with conflicted congregations, there have been many times when I wished young pastors could just sit with my pastor for a few days and learn the balance between humility and authority, between assertive and quiet, between empowering and disciplining. My pastor has shaped how I see many of the difficult issues pastors face today.
I am meditating this week on the 27th Psalm, and it made me consider what kind of leader David must have been in order to say these things. Amazing and gifted in so many ways, but at the end of the day, he just loved God and wanted to spend “all the days of his life…gazing upon the beauty of the Lord.” Those “mighty men” of his probably followed him for lots of reasons, but surely none more compelling than this. He was a mighty warrior, a passionate leader, a visionary King, a loyal friend, and the quintessential complicated, flawed hero…lovable for so many reasons. But all those qualities and characteristics of David boiled down to a shepherd boy who loved God above all else…”this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of …
I always preferred essay tests when I was in school (duh, I became a writer). I didn’t like the “objective” tests, because I felt like they weren’t as accurate in measuring how well I knew the material, at least for material that is thick in concepts and not-so-thick in memorizable facts. In law school, I became even more opposed to objective tests…we called them “multiple guess” tests…it seemed always about finding the “least wrong answer”. Give me an essay test, please!
I feel that same way when it comes to eliciting information from a person or a group of people. If learning what is on their minds is important to me, I would much rather sit down and have a conversation with them than give them an objective survey. And I especially feel that same way when it comes to discerning God’s will as a church…my concept of God’s will just does not lend itself to a series of multiple-choice questions.
And yet, the conventional wisdom (and literature) for Pastor Search efforts is to do just such a written survey to your church in order to develop a profile for your pastoral candidates. The problem with asking your church objective, demographic questions like “Place a check next to the age range you think our next pastor should be?” is that, invariably, once all the results are tabulated, what your church ends up telling you is that they want a 40-year-old pastor with 30 years of pastoral experience…and a big, red “S” on his chest would be nice as well! Good luck with that.
Objective surveys may be mildly effective (not greatly effective, but mildly so) at figuring out what the people want, but not so much at figuring out what God wants. For that, if you …
One of the early parenting skills I learned was how to appreciate the works of art my girls brought me. There were plenty of times I looked at their drawings with no clue at all what they were supposed to portray. I learned to say things like, “Wow, that is beautiful! Tell me about it, please!” That way, I could find out what it was supposed to be before I got myself in trouble. But no matter what, there would never be a time or circumstance where I would ever communicate to them, “I just don’t care.” That, for me, would be the exact opposite of love. Of course I cared! Any loving father would.
I believe this about God as well. I believe that, in every difficult decision we make, in every season of searching for answers, God cares enough to guide us and direct us to specific outcomes. I just cannot get my heart wrapped around a god who says, “I just don’t care…decide for yourself…it doesn’t matter to me.”
One of the privileges God has given our ministry is training Pastor Search teams. Training those teams to use a prayerful process for searching for a shepherd for their congregation is one of my favorite ways to help churches. It gives me an opportunity to draw from and reflect on my own experience serving on the pastor search committee of my home church…easily one of the spiritual highlights of my life. For me it was 18 months of weekly praying and meeting together with eight of the most spiritually mature Christians I have ever known. It was at times emotionally grueling and at times spiritually invigorating. It was an intensive season of discerning the hand of God as a group. In short, it was amazing.…
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:11-14
I suppose the age (i.e., level of maturity) varies from one person to the next on this issue, but all of us eventually grow up enough to learn how to respond to a dinner invitation with something other than, “It depends…what are we having?” I am right about that, am I not? I mean, what kind of insensitive, childish, self-centered adult would respond that way? Granted, we all might think it to ourselves, but we don’t say it out loud. After all, what would our dinner host think?
In short, there is a time when it is acceptable to play the role of the consumer and there is a time when it is not. There are moments in life when it really is all about me and my needs, and there are moments when that attitude is just childish.
As a church leader, I have a growing fear that the church in America (and surely in other parts of the world as well, but the American church is the one with whom I am most familiar) is irreparably consumer-minded and is becoming shameless in our response to God’s invitations. To call us childish or Spiritually immature would be an understatement. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I stopped asking whether