Jump Start # 2934
Acts 10:29 “That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. And so I ask for what reason you have sent for me.”
In the past few weeks I have been asked by several preachers about finding a church to move to. Moving is always a tough decision to make. When a preacher leaves a congregation, most times it involves also moving from one community to another. Selling a house. Finding a new house. Switching schools for the kids. When to move and when to stay, I don’t know if I or anyone knows the right answers for that. Some move too soon. Some hang on too late. Tough, tough decisions. Tons of prayers. Many tears. A lot of questions and uncertainties. I know, I have been there. One can’t run from problems, but there comes a time when the problems become so great that it tears the heart and soul out of the preacher and his family.
In this Jump Start, I want to address the process of hiring a preacher. I think many places need to take a serious look at the process. Many have never put much thought into this. And, as a result, the right fit isn’t found. And, much too soon, the search is on to find yet another preacher.
I love the question that Paul asks in this verse, “For what reason you have sent for me?” That’s a fair question to ask. Some want the preacher to come in and solve all the problems, which really isn’t his job. Others want a preacher, like getting the hired gun in the old Westerns, to drive all the trouble away. Again, that’s not the job of the preacher. Some just want someone to fill the pulpit and preach on Sundays. Not too much beyond that is expected.
Traditionally, what churches have done for a long time is to invite a preacher to come on a specific Sunday. Bring the whole family, they are told, so the church can meet them. The preacher brings his best sermons, which may not even be his own. He teaches a class and preaches on Sunday morning. A social meet and greet lunch takes place at the nearby community center. That evening the preacher presents his next best sermon. He meets with the elders for a few minutes. They ask him some hot topic questions. They find out how much money he currently makes. The preacher leaves with the promise that one of the elders would be calling him by the following weekend. During that time folks in the congregation tell the elders their impression. If all is favorable, the phone call is made and “when can you move here” is asked. If things are not favorable, then the phone call tells the preacher that the elders have decided to keep looking. The best is wished upon him and the conversation ends.
That was my story in more than one congregation. That’s the method most congregations follow. It’s a mess. Little thought is given into improving that process. There are many things missing in this process. Here are some thoughts:
First, bringing a preacher in to speak before the congregation is not the first step that ought to be taken. In this day, it is so easy to listen and even view sermons that are on the internet. Even before a preacher is reached to begin the process, the leadership can listen to sermon after sermon and get a feel if that is what they need.
Second, phone conversations need to take place about vision, future, plans, work ethic, goals, the history of the congregation, the make up of the congregation. And, among those phone conversations the preacher or the shepherds may have heard enough to pass on each other.
Third, a personal face to face meeting ought to be the next step. Get the preacher there to look things over and to expand the conversations and have some more intense discussions. Now, the shepherds and the preacher are seeing if they are on the same page and looking the same direction. Do they have the same goals. Do they have the same drive. The work ethic of the preacher is now being examined. The vision, involvement and expectations of the leaders are also on the table to be looked at. Ideas are traded. Concerns are expressed.
This face-to-face meeting will cover a few hours. It may be necessary to meet this way again. In one of these meetings, the shepherds need to talk with the preacher’s wife and get her feelings about things. This is important.
An on the ball eldership will not just look to see what preachers are also looking. They will have in their mind the type of preacher they want and they will go looking for such a person. The shepherds need to know merely waving a few more dollars at a preacher is not enough to get him to change zip codes to move there. Does the church have the equipment, personnel, and vision to help the preacher reach his maximum potential? Discussion needs to be made about a long term relationship. Thought about retirement packages ought to be included. Nothing vague, but real numbers and real specifics ought to be put on the table.
By this point it ought to be getting very clear whether or not this will work with this preacher. Others can be invited to listen to his sermons on the internet. Some of the shepherds may want to go and visit the preacher at his home congregation. There they can witness how he interacts with the congregation and how he is at his home pulpit. Now, the preacher can be invited to come and preach before the congregation. By now, there have been so many conversations and so many phone calls that a relationship has already been formed. There is a comfort level and an understanding between the shepherds and the preacher.
All of this takes time. If a congregation is wanting to fill the preacher slot in a weekend, go back to the traditional method. But, if a church is willing to be patient, thoughtful, and careful, the right man can be found who may stay for decades and do a marvelous work for the Lord.
One of the most stressful times for a congregation is the hiring of a new preacher. Rarely is everyone happy with the selection. But taking it carefully and thoughtfully may make the selection the right fit. In the process of shepherding, teaching others how to do this is important. I have talked to many elderships who have never gone through this process before. They are not sure what is the best way to go about this.
When a formal agreement is reached, it needs to be put on paper and names signed. Copies need to be shared between the preacher and the eldership. People forget. This is the business side that I do not particularly like but it keeps everything transparent, above board and honest. How many vacations? How many meetings? What is expected? Put it on paper and put your name to it. Then stick with it.
I hope this article helps. I hope that it is something that would be stored away to help others learn and know. Talk to other preachers and ask them about how they would improve upon the process.
We can do better…