by Robert Earl Houston
I’ve been producing (at no cost) a list of “vacant churches” for the past 20 years plus. I was inspired to do so by the work of Dr. A.V. “King” Fisher of Fort Worth, Texas, who for years produced a magazine widely read by preachers called “The E.R.R.P. Report.” I found out about the magazine from my pastor, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, and it contained a list of “Vacant Churches.” Since the advent of the internet, way before others did so, I had a list of “vacant churches” for the African-American baptist church community.
I did so to destroy the “old boy” system of placing pastors in pulpit when it was “who you knew” and “who you owed” when getting called to a church. Young pastors would be beholden to older ministers who held “that favor” over their heads for years and years and years. It was a terrible system and I had been exposed to it and didn’t like it and thought there had to be a better way.
I’ve been calling it “vacant churches” for twenty years. Today that stops.
It’s not a church congregation or building that’s vacant – it is the pulpit. 99.9% of the congregations that I know that go through pastoral transition survive. Yes, sometimes in a tense atmosphere. Yes, sometimes during a season of division, political in-fighting and issues. Yes, sometimes when a clear candidate of the pastorate is before them. And yes, sometimes when there is no suitable pastoral candidate on the horizon.
But the work of the church continues.
Worship services still are held.
Preaching is still being preached.
Listening to preaching is still going on.
Singing is still being performed.
Ushers still usher.
Someone once said to me that a “real church is one that has a pastor.” I beg to differ. I do believe that a church should search prayerfully for a pastor. I also believe that a church without a pastor can still be effective in ministry beyond the borders of the building – working harmoniously together, while waiting for the Holy Spirit to fill the vacancy.
If your church is without a pastor – keep on doing ministry. Occupy yourself with ministry. Try to keep as much as possible. Pray more than you ever have. And the supplier will send someone to fill that vacant pulpit.