A former professor of mine is fond of saying that most church committees consist of “the unwilling doing the unnecessary for the uninterested.” Thankfully, my most recent experience with a committee was nothing like this.
In this post, I have an exciting announcement to make and a few words of advice to offer.
First, the announcement. As many of my readers will know, at the end of 2014 my family and I returned to the States from New Zealand, where we had been studying and serving the Lord since the start of 2012. We returned to the States confident that, in his perfect timing, God would let us know where he wanted us to serve him next. Over the past several months, I have talked to around forty churches and Christian colleges/seminaries and done (as far as I can tally) close to fifty interviews. It has been quite the process! But I am pleased to say that the Lord has now made it clear where he wants us. The search committee of Cornerstone Community Church (EPC) has unanimously nominated me to be their next Senior Pastor, and I have accepted the nomination. In the days ahead, my family and I will be traveling back to Greeley, CO. I will preach for the second time in Greeley on July 12th, and a congregational meeting will be held that day to affirm the call. We are excited to get to know our new faith family and grateful for this opportunity to play a small part in the great things God is doing at Cornerstone. Soli Deo gloria!
Second, the advice. I realize that many churches and numerous candidates out there presently find themselves in the stage of waiting and discerning that I myself have just gone through. I hope here to provide some helpful information gleaned from my experience.
Let’s start with what I think is the best process for a search team. The obvious initial step is to collect resumes. But after this first step, I came across a variety of approaches. Some committees called me and set up an in-person interview without taking the time to learn much about my theology and ministry philosophy. On one occasion my wife and I went to dinner with a search team and they almost immediately brought up a very specific eschatological view (dispensational premillennialism, for those who are into these things). Jamie gave me “the look” and I ordered something stronger to drink. It was clear that this wasn’t going to be a good fit. Another church received my resume, made no contact with me for four months, then, entirely out of the blue, called to set up an in-person visit. At the other end of the spectrum was the church that had me complete four questionnaires and do three telephone interviews (of nearly two hours each!) before the in-person interview. This, it seems to me, is a bit too much. You can only tell so much about a person on paper or over the phone.
In my judgment, the best process is the one Cornerstone used with me. There are essentially four steps. 1) Collect resumes. 2) Have candidates respond to a set of key questions in writing. 3) Conduct two phone interviews. The first one is for the search team to get to know the candidate. The second one is for the candidate to get to know the church and the community. 4) Bring the candidate (and spouse) to the church for the in-person interview and for an opportunity to preach at a neutral site. Of course, throughout the entire process, the search team is praying. This was abundantly clear to me as I interacted with the Cornerstone committee. Additionally, other matters will need to be worked into the four-step process outlined above, matters such as reviewing sermon samples, contacting references, and doing a background check.
Two further features of the Cornerstone committee struck me. One was that it was a diverse group. Men and women. Younger and older. Variety of backgrounds and professions. This, I think, is an excellent idea. The other was their willingness to bring both me and my wife to Greeley, Co (from Birmingham, AL) for the in-person interview. I did quite a few in-persons; most of the churches did not invite the spouse. In my mind, it is very important for both the husband and wife to go to the interview, and I would say that this is important from both perspectives. The search committee needs to get to know the husband and the wife. As we say in our house, “Ministry is a family affair.” Also, my wife frequently discerns things that I don’t, so having her with me is a tremendous help in trying to figure out if we are going to be the right fit for a particular church and area.
Moving along to the pastoral candidate’s part, let me first offer three words of encouragement. God is sovereign. God is good. When God bids us wait, he bids us wait for something. Basic truths, I know. But the search process sometimes has a way of eroding our theological foundation. Don’t let it. Keep these truths in mind.
As for the more practical stuff, the most important thing I can say is this: be yourself. You don’t want to go through the interview process as a pretender, get the call from a church, and then realize, “Oh great, now I have to be that guy.” It’s no fun being a schizophrenic shepherd. The God who called you and gifted you has a place where you can enjoy doing ministry the way you have been wired to do it.
Finally, the most frightening part of the process for some people is the questions. “What are they going to ask me?” “Will they want me to recite the Westminster Confession?” “What if they ask me about the seventy weeks of Daniel?” Being the overly organized, Type-A guy that I am, I kept every questionnaire I completed over the last six months or so. Below you will find a list of fifteen questions I was asked at least twice (and in some cases numerous times). We’re always thrown a curveball or two (I’ve also given you one of my curveballs below), but this list should help you get started in your thinking and preparation. May God lead you, as he has me, to that portion of his flock he wants you to shepherd.
1. What is the gospel?
2. Summarize your understanding of the Christian faith.
3. What are your strengths and weakness, and how do you compensate for your weaknesses?
4. What are your spiritual gifts?
5. What is your leadership style?
6. What is your philosophy of ministry?
7. How do you prepare for a Sunday sermon?
8. Tell us about your devotional habits.
9. How do you spot spiritual maturity in someone?
10. How do you define a healthy church?
11. What is your perspective on worship style, and what role have you personally taken in planning worship services?
12. Who are the historic or current Christians you return to again and again for instruction and inspiration?
13. Have you previously trained others in personal evangelism? If so, how?
14. What experience do you have in developing leaders in ministry?
15. How is the gospel transforming your life right now?
The Curve: Tell us about a time in your ministry when you just totally blew it.
PS – The picture at the top of this post is of my two boys, Aidan and Cullen, praying for me from Birmingham as I preached last weekend in Greeley. Like I said, ministry is a family affair.