I have candidated for congregations since I was in my 20s. I was a candidate for the pastorate of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Pasco, Washington followed by other opportunities throughout the years in Oregon, Texas, Washington, Illinois, California, Nevada, Tennessee, and of course, Kentucky.
The candidating or application process for churches is not uniform. Church XYZ may have a Pulpit Committee while Church ABC has no committee at all. The process can be as quick as a matter of weeks or in some case 2-4 years. When I was living in Nashville, I was candidating at a congregation that actually called me (I declined) after a two year process.
The process involves people. There is no way around it. I have discovered that for the most part, these men and women are just trying to do a task assigned to them by their congregation, often times with limited resources or time. They, for the most part, have their church at heart. They want to see their church go forward, they want to see a level of continuity and consistency, and they are looking at the long term picture. They are looking for that special person that they will call “Pastor.”
That’s the process. But this tome is not about the process, it’s about what happens when you receive that letter (nowadays the email or Facebook note or text message) that states that you (the candidating minister) have not been either called to the pulpit or even as a finalist for the church. I want to advise ministers who receive a “no thank you” from a church:
a. First, it’s not the end of the world. It simply means that not only did the people said no, God said no. It’s not personal. It’s not an attack on your education or background or ministry – it just means that God, in His infinite wisdom, decided that you were not the person for that congregation at this point in their history or He has another assignment in mind for you or He has decided that you’re not ready for the pastoral assignment at this time.
b. Secondly, respond accordingly. If a church says “no” than your response is to sit down and pen a short, effective thank you letter. Thank them for the consideration. Thank them for the opportunity to candidate. And then be gracious and let them know that you are praying that God will send them a leader after God’s own heart. It will show that you are spiritually mature and truly a leader – besides, you cannot take it for granted that the process is completely over. It’s not over until a new pastor is called.
c. Thirdly, don’t express your pain publicly. In this technological era, it’s easy to go on Facebook or your own blog and blast a church for not considering you. But that’s childish at worst and spiritually immature at best. I’ve personally candidated at churches, they didn’t call me, they did not prosper – but that’s not my job to then but them on blast on the internet. Shake it off. Leave it alone. And God will bless you by your maturity demonstrated. Dr. Melvin Von Wade, Sr. once told me, “they can’t misquote silence.”
d. Fourth, find somebody to talk to. When you’re hopes are up and you feel like “this could be the one” and it doesn’t happen – you’re a wounded soul. I’ve been there. You need somebody to explore your emotions with – I highly recommend another pastor and preferably an older one, who has been there, done that. Whatever you do, don’t call the church or send them a letter and say “why didn’t you pick me?” That’s not important. If you prayed for the process to be in the Lord’s hands, don’t ask the church, ask the Lord. But find somebody you can vent to and that will be honest with you and give you pointers for the next experience.
Let me share a couple of examples from my own files:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
I am in receipt of your letter dated (date).
As you know, I promised you that I would be in prayer and from the onset of this process, so that I may make sure of the leading of the Holy Spirit. I take the matter of leading God’s people very seriously. I am appreciative of the fact that you extended to me a call to be your pastor.
I have reached a decision that I should not accept your invitation at this time. This was not an easy decision. I hope that you can understand and will honor my decision.
While I do not feel I am the one to serve you at this time I have every confidence there is someone perfectly suited to lead your congregation, and to that end I will lift you up in prayer.
May your pastoral search be led and guided by the Holy Spirit.
Bless Your Spirit! I want to thank you and the Pulpit Committee for allowing me to come and preach at the Church several weeks ago. The response and words of encouragement from the membership will always be cherished by me.
The purpose of this letter is to withdraw my name as a candidate for the pastorate of (name). God has blessed me with an offer that I accepted, and will have begun serving by the time you receive this letter.
Again, I thank you. Please extend to the people of (name) my un-ending love and prayerful support for you in this season of transition.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
Bless Your Spirit! Please allow me to say thank you again for allowing me to share the (church name) experience with you on last month. I was notified by the Pulpit Committee by e-mail that you have selected Pastor (last name) as your new pastor, and it is my prayer that you have a productive, healing, fruitful, and loving experience. I am praying for Pastor and the (church name) family.
May the Lord’s choicest blessings be upon you as you minister to the people of the (city or area name).