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5 questions pastoral candidates must ask: MQ5, the unspeakables...?

Somewhere in the process of pastor search Q & A the candidate better talk about the unspeakables, that is, the questions that the PSC members would just as soon be overlooked. So, MQ5, or MUST QUESTION 5 can be a broad, sweeping question, "what are the darkest things I should I know about your church?", or, more to the point, a series of final questions that will cut through all the pretense and get down to business about the church and its intentions. The list of questions may vary to a certain degree but should at least include---

(1) What are the circumstances under which your previous pastor left the church? The one before that? And, before that? Your goal here is to discover if this church is a pastor killing church or not. The Director of Associational Missions and other colleagues may provide some useful background in this area. But, the committee members, as insiders, will no doubt present a closer representation of their impressions of the previous pastor(s). Encourage them to talk about it. It may be your best counsel to them if they do.

(2) Are the main influencers in the church in the room at the time? Often the real church "gate-keepers" aren't elected to serve or will not serve on a PSC. In some instances staff members can give you a profile of the leadership in the church and those who influence the ministry, mission, and administration of the church. This should not be an occasion for gossip or creating dissension within the body. It is, however, a way to prepare for the future and the possibility of leading the strategic mission of the church.

(3) Have the salary and benefits been cleared with the various ministry organizations that are part of the pastor calling process? I cannot count the times when the numbers haven't added up and potential pastors and their families have been forced to adjust to a compensation package different from the one they were shown. Usually this isn't intentional. But, on occasion the Personnel Committee and the Finance Committee and the Pastor Search Committee and the ruling body of elders or deacons haven't communicated about the proposed financial program. It's okay to ask about your pay, insurance, retirement, vacation, and other benefits. If they're going to be part of your decision, be sure to ask about it.

(4) Have you prayed about this pastoral decision? Well, yes, of course the committee prays. Each meeting begins and ends with prayer. But, the calling of a new pastor is a significant decision. When Jesus called the twelve he spend the night in prayer (Luke 6:12). When the Apostles chose Matthias to serve with them, they prayed (Acts 1:24). So, it is very fitting that you know the prayer ministry of the search committee.

(5) Do the cconstitution and by-laws specify a satisfactory vote percentage? Most churches require a substantial percentage of affirmative votes before a call is issued to a pastor. What is the percentage in the governing documents of the church represented by the committee? Is the specified number reasonable to you? Even more, do you have a percentage in your mind as well? The candidate and his wife should make this a matter of prayer too.

Pause with me for a minute. This entire process, the call of a new pastor, is dynamic in more ways than is always apparent. At times it is a gathering of hurt and injured believers seeking to correct past wrongs, recover their spiritual bearings, or fix something holy that is terribly broken and dysfunctional. In more than one instance I have witnessed the restoring power of Christ reach into both groups and bring healing. One experience touched me deeply and proved to me that this process, though flawed by human nature, can be a vessel of great honor. In that situation one of the candidates discerned the deep spiritual wounds in the members of the committee. The church had experienced years of discord and division, usually focused on a pastor. They had had six in eleven years. This candidate had a prayer session with them one evening, stood over each member of the search committee and prayed intensely personal prayers over each of them. He was not called as their pastor. All of them knew his function with them would be as a counselor. But, his influence brought revival to the church, some hard truth to the leaders, and resulted in a recovery that has totally changed a local community. All because there was some spiritual sensitivity between a PSC and a pastoral candidate.

This process of calling pastors isn't perfect. There have been nasty situations that have sent some of our good people over to the the more hierarchical denominations because our way of accomplishing this marvelous assignment is so disastrous at times. We wink and nod a good bit when talking about it and make jokes about our sugar stick sermons and permitting the truth to get on the table when the search is happening. But, lest we forget, the calling of a new pastor, or staff member, is a God thing. The character of Christ should prevail in all of the parties involved, along with the prayerful expectation that God will guide the process, no matter how human.

My burden is that (1) 1,700 pastors leave pastoral ministry every month, (2) pastoral tenure is less than three years, and (3) 80-90% of our churches are in serious decline. In my limited and unsubstantiated opinion the pastoral turnover rate is the key number. This means that the dynamic between pastor search committees and church candidates is of enormous spiritual significance. While we joke and laugh about it, often from frustration, it is the way we have chosen to fulfill this important assignment. And, it should demand our greatest prayer, effort, and search energy so that he is honored in the process.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

1 Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV

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