by Robert Earl Houston
I have held the senior pastor position at four congregations – one in Portland, Oregon, the next in Fresno, California, the next in San Diego, California, and currently here in Frankfort, Kentucky. Each church had it’s own distinctive curriculum vitae. The first church was a split from another congregation and wasn’t ten years old; the second church was in rural California and was one of the mother churches of the area; the third church was in a large metropolitan area; and this church is a very historical congregation (176 years of age when I came here).
I’m baptist so my ascension to all four churches was not at the hand of a bishop or prelate – it was through a process of screening by a select group of members within the church, normally called a Pulpit Committee. I empathize heavily with anyone who takes on that task because they not only have to deal with the desires of a congregation, but they have to deal with pressures from outside and inside factions. It’s not a paid position in 99.9% of churches that I am aware of and the risks and rewards are great.
I want to share a few suggestions with those who are led to apply for churches, things that I’ve learned down through the years:
# 1 – IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Even though the process can get cumbersome, the process is not about you – it’s about who the Lord will install into the church as the next shepherd. Just because you apply doesn’t mean that you deserve the church or that you’re even the one that the Lord will direct them to choose. Just because you have a “phat” resume does not mean that the Pulpit Committee is going to be led to select you. You may be the best one on paper, but the Lord may have something in mind. Remember this – when the Lord allowed Israel to have kings, they had good kings and bad kings. Sometimes the Lord allows someone to get called to a church in order to bring a season of challenge to that church. It’s not about you.
# 2 – YOU DON’T HAVE TO CAMPAIGN
Here we go. You find out about a church you want to apply for. Submit what they are asking for. Send it by certified letter and request that someone signs for it. And then LEAVE IT ALONE. You don’t have to become best friends with the Pulpit Committee Chair. If it’s a woman, you don’t have to send her a bouquet of flowers. You don’t have to buy an ad in a newspaper in that area. You don’t have to call every day to “have prayer with y’all.” Leave it alone. You don’t have to find out who else is being considered and start slinging mud behind the back of the other candidate(s). You don’t have to campaign.
# 3 – DON’T PACK UP YET
The worst thing to do, especially if you’re already pastoring a church, is to start moving out before you get a call to a prospective church. Your members shouldn’t walk in and see no evidence that you’re about to leave. And this almost means emotional packing as well. If you’re the pastor of your current church – PASTOR them until the day you leave. Don’t get lazy now. Don’t get unconcerned now. Serve, serve and serve. Keep up with visitation. Keep up with preaching with enthusiasm. Don’t pack up yet.
# 4 – EVERY CHURCH IS NOT FOR YOU
I had a minister write me several years ago and basically, he politely cursed me out. He was troubled that everytime I posted a vacant church, that it was costing him a lot of money, because he basically applied for every church that I posted. I had to tell him, “Reverend, maybe every church is not for you.” A little research may save some heartache. I’ve been fortunate in my pastoral career, but the highways are littered with pastors who brought high expectations to congregations that weren’t willing to go forward. The pastor had caviar dreams and the church had filet o’fish expectations. Also, making $500 a Sunday sounds good – but if you have no benefits – insurance, housing, etc. – after taxes, you may be in trouble. I candidated at a church in Tennessee once for almost two years and even though they called me to be their pastor, the Lord gave me an alternative assignment – because that church was not for me. Every church is not for you.
# 5 – MAKE SURE YOU’RE READY
I know. You’ve been sitting under Rev. for years and you think you can handle a church. Listen, it’s more than a notion. When I was a kid I thought I could drive Mom’s car. She went out of the city, left her car keys (I was 12), I drove her car just around the block, hit another car, panicked and when I got home I cried my eyes out because I knew Mom was going to kill me when she got home (and she did) – the point is, it wasn’t as easy as it looked when I got into the driver’s seat. Being a pastor has nothing to do with the oratory every Sunday. Being a pastor begs the questions – Are you ready to see people at their worst? Are you ready to stand over someone who may be dying of disease and offer a word of comfort? Are you ready to interrupt your family time to handle the needs of the membership? Can you stand your ground theologically in a changing world? Are you ready to be hugged on in your $700 suit by people who still smell of alcohol and weed? Can you theologically handle preaching AND teaching on a heavy rotation? Make sure you’re ready.
# 6 – GET READY FOR THE INTERVIEW
Not only be prepared to answer their questions, you need to have some questions of your own. What happened to the last pastor? How would you describe his leadership style? How many of y’all come to Bible Study? What is the authority the church gives to the pastor? Those are important questions. But you need to prepare to be yourself. Engage yourself in the interview. Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t get caught up in a trap. I candidated at a church in Pasco, Washington when I was just 20 years old. A deacon in the room’s first question was “how much money do you want?” I told him, that was way down the road and I hadn’t even preached there yet. He literally shouted at me, “HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU WANT?” I deferred. He said it even louder and I dropped my head and I heard the Spirit of God say . . . “this is not for you.” The meeting was over, I preached the next morning, went home and they called someone else – who they dismissed after years of loyal service. Get ready for the interview.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.