Some thoughts on Churches, Pastors and Candidating

After weeks of pecking out a line or two in between changing dirty diapers and whatnot, here’s my post for the month of April!  Hooray and Enjoy!

Over the last (almost) 2 years of being back in Western Canada, I’ve been pursuing ministry opportunities with numerous churches and reconnecting with old ministry peers/friends.  I’ve found that dozens of people I know have dropped out of ministry (and even left the church altogether), and some that I thought would fall by the wayside have instead picked up the pace and are going stronger than ever.  The Lord does what he does in ways and with people that I would not expect, and he continually gets the glory.

In all my re-connections, I have had a chance to talk with several friends who are in ministry and have noticed that apparently dozens upon dozens of churches are desperately seeking pastors but many of the people I talk with find it almost impossible to find a place to serve.  I’ve chatted with many people and speculated on why this may be the case.  After a few long conversations and listening to more than a few troubled hearts, I’ve noticed several things that are common:

1.  Many Churches tend to hold to denominational boundaries with weak or little reason.

Let’s face it: in Western Canada, the average person in a typical church doesn’t have any idea about denominational history or distinctives and doesn’t really think those issues are worth fighting about.  I mean, how many typical people in Baptist churches know the historical reasons for the formation of their conference/denomination and still argue over those issues?  How many of those people could accurately differentiate themselves from Evangelical Free folks?  Mennonite Church?  Evangelical Missionary Church?  How many of those people would consider those differences to be issues worth dividing over?

Yet, most churches in Western Canada are denominationally bound with a tight rope.  What I’ve learned from my own experience and the conversations I’ve had is that individual churches often advertise for pastors in public forums (i.e. the internet) but often have a clear preference for someone who was trained at a denominational school or has experience pastoring in their denomination, even though there’s usually a fuzzy defense for the reasoning for such favoritism.

I’ve witnessed and heard of examples of churches who had several options of candidates and picked a less-qualified, less-educated, less-experienced  man because he came from “our school” or had experience “with us”, and then witnessed a ton of frustration as the church realized what they had done (i.e. realized that they had hired a nice “in house” guy who was a bit of a dingle).

2.  Many Churches are not in theological/practical step with their denominational institutions.

I only say this in relationship with point 1, but let’s face it: the average pastor in your average church doesn’t keep abreast of the theological debates and developments in their own denominational institutions, and likely doesn’t have the time or resources to keep informed.

I see this regularly with whatever is “new” that is being pushed from the denominational bible institutions.  For example, I have had many talks with people in ministry where the question about “all this missional stuff” comes up.  Apparently the talk about being “missional” is coming from most, if not all, of the Bible colleges/seminaries in Western Canada but I regularly talk with people who don’t have a clue what being “missional” is all about or where it comes from (and still think it has something to do with going overseas and planting churches).

I’ve also had many a conversation with frustrated people in churches who oppose an idea but one day discover that said idea was (*gasp*) being promulgated at their own denominational school.  If I had a dime for how many times I heard someone go off about how “emergent church doctrine”, Calvinism, or whatever “heresy” was actually being taught at (insert institution name), I’d have at least enough money to buy a Teen Burger.  No, make that a Double Teen combo.  Big size.  Coke, no ice.  With onion rings on the side.  I think I’m getting hungry.

3.  Churches (in general) aren’t taught about caring for their pastors.

Now this might sting a little.

I can sort of understand since it’s rather difficult for a pastor to teach on “how to care for your pastor” without it looking absurdly self-serving.  None the less, the Bible does give some instruction to sheep on how they should care for their shepherds.  Consider just the following 3 scriptures:

  • Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” – Hebrews 13:17.
    • Look at the imperatives there:
      1. Obey your leaders.
      2. Submit to them.
      3. Let them do this with joy.
    • This obviously isn’t any sort of blind obedience or acceptance of totalitarianism, but the second sentence unpacks the first.  You obey and submit with the mind of doing what you can to make their accounting for you a joy.  As a sheep that is being looked after and cared for, look for ways to lay yourself aside and not fight your shepherd so that the work of your shepherd isn’t a pain because making their lives miserable doesn’t make them care for you better.  Do you think your shepherd would rather be around the calm, cuddly sheep or the one that always bites?  I also write this as a congregant, not a pastor.
  • Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” – 1 Tim. 5:17-18
    • I know many churches that hypothetically know that passage is in the bible, but I’ve never yet met a church that shows the presence of thoughtful consideration of it.  Verse 17 suggest that the elder (read “pastor”) in your church who preaches and teaches is worthy of “double honor”.  So what does double honor mean?  Does it mean giving your pastor the seat at the front of the church?  The best parking spot?  The first serving at the potluck?  Well, vs. 18 unpacks what Paul’s getting at.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, and  Matthew 10:10/Luke 10:7.  Just in case you’re wondering if Paul is talking about money, Paul uses the citation of Deuteronomy and explains himself fully in 1 Corinthians 9:7-11:
      • “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?  Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.   If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”
    • 1 Tim. 5:17-18 teaches, fairly straight forwardly, that a church should be financially generous to their shepherd.  Jim Rickard of Stewardship Services Foundation says “If you want to really know what kind of man your pastor is, double his salary and see what he does!”  Again, I’m not writing this as a pastor so make all the accusations you want.  I know of many pastors who get paid so little it’s shameful; I know guys who are pastors of churches of 100+ people who need their spouses to work because their church doesn’t pay them anything close to a livable salary.   If 1 Tim. 5:17-18 means what it seems to mean, and churches don’t do what it says, that’s called disobedience.  I wonder how many churches have struggles because of disobedience here?  I wonder how many churches have ever recognized disobedience here as sin and repented?
  • Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” – 1 Timothy 5:19
    • Here’s a simple principle.  Don’t put up with accusations of sin against your elders unless they’re brought by more than 1 person and substantiated.  Again, this principle isn’t saying “never admit the faults of your leaders” or “touch not the Lord’s anointed” or anything along the lines of never questioning leadership or calling them on their sin.  This is suggesting that if there’s 1 person in your church who tries to accuse your pastor of sin, it’s the duty of the congregation to protect their pastor and demand that such accusations be substantiated by multiple witnesses.  Don’t simply run with an accusation by a single agitator and start the process of church discipline.  (The application of this principle would have saved the entire recent CJ Mahaney debacle with Sovereign Grace Ministries!)
    • Also, this would apply to lesser accusations, meaning don’t put up with gossip and slander.  If someone is trying to stir up trouble against your shepherd, defend your shepherd and ask the agitator if they would mind you saying the same sorts of things about their spouse?  Then walk them through 1 Corinthians 13:5-7, Colossians 3:13 and Ephesians 4:29 and ask them whether or not they are obeying those scriptures.

4.  Churches (in general) aren’t taught what the Bible says about pastors/elders/overseers.

Now it has been a consistent experience of myself and others that though many churches have elders in some sort of capacity  (i.e. some sort of board of elders), very few have ever been explicitly taught on what the Bible says about elders/pastors/overseers and what they are to do.  I’ve seen churches who have some form of elders that were qualified on the basis of age and wealth rather than the scripture, but then constantly have problems with those unqualified men wrecking their churches because instead of caring for and feeding the sheep, they beat and eat them!

5.  Churches (in general) aren’t taught anything about connecting points 3 & 4 when they’re searching for a new pastor.

If a church is seeking to care for a pastor, it seems reasonable that they should manifest that care when they search for a pastor.

– Let’s just consider the candidating weekend itself.  Candidating is an emotionally grueling procedure that basically puts a pastor and his spouse/family on display (and scrutiny) for a weekend or more.  Consider the following questions in the context of a candidating weekend (all of which are based in real experience):

  • Does booking all 16 hours in a day with activities and interviews evidence care?
  • Does attempting to discuss theological hobby-horses at 9 pm on a Saturday after a day of 6 different events in 12 hours evidence care?
  • Does making a candidate come out and candidate on his own dime evidence care?
  • Does theologically correcting a candidate’s sermon immediately after he closes in prayer (in front of the whole church) evidence care?
  • Does luring a candidate into a public debate on your personal theological hobby-horse so that you can show off evidence care?
  • Does rebuking a person for having student debt evidence care?

Let’s change direction a bit.

If a church is seeking to find a pastor, it seems reasonable that they should manifest understanding of the biblical teaching on elders/pastors when they search for one.

– For example, almost every interview I’ve ever had contained, within the first 5 minutes, the question “What are your gifts?” and I always have to really bite my tongue on two fronts:

  1. Possessing specific spiritual gifts doesn’t qualify elders/pastors.  I want to ask the search committee/elder board where any “spiritual gift” can be found in any New Testament passage dealing with the qualifications for an elder/pastor.  There are no specific spiritual gifts listed in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5, etc.
  2. Possessing specific spiritual gifts doesn’t disqualify elders/pastors.  I constantly wonder what people would say if I said “tongues, prophesy, healing, word of wisdom, word of knowledge”.  Would they rightfully cease pursuing my because they think I’m charismatic or because I don’t possess the qualities listed in passages like 1 Timothy 3?

– In relation to point 2, I’d wonder what would happen if I turned that question on everyone in an interview and terminated a candidating process because the people on the search committee/elder board/whatever didn’t have complimentary gifts to whatever gifts I claim I have?  What would be the response to that?

“Well, it seems like all of you have the gift of administration, knowledge, service and helps so I don’t see why I would be a good fit here.  One of the marks of the body of Christ is diversity.  I’m looking for a church that can compliment me, not compete with me.  Thanks for calling.  Bye!”

Never thought of that until now.  I have a sneaking suspicion that such would not go over well.

Well, there’s some thoughts.  Feel free to post your responses, objections or rebukes!

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Really Sam?  If Revelation 20 teaches premillennialism you’d have to deny inerrancy?” Unger

P.S. – Points for anyone who gets the name tag reference.

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8 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Churches, Pastors and Candidating

  1. I like what you have said, Lyndon. The only thing I would comment further on is your thoughts re. the candidating process. I have been puzzled by the process for many years myself and I have never been the candidate. I wonder what seminaries teach their fledglings about the process. I think many churches habitually over-spiritualize the process and hope that God will speak to them audibly out of the cloud with a very clear, “This is THE man for your church.” In their process, they have to come up with spiritual-sounding questions and catch-phrases that don’t really need to be asked because all the information has already been presented in a cv, resume, or philosophy of ministry paper. On the other hand, some churches have been victims of the “dingle”, as you put it, and are quite wary of this new guy coming in who would like to be their pastor. I think churches need to do their homework re. doctrine, etc., check the references carefully, and then invite the candidate to come to see if it is possible for him to develop rapport with this particular body of believers and/or the community. Building rapport is a two-way street, too. A well-rounded, positive pastor/congregation relationship cannot possibly develop in just a few days, though the first impression can certainly establish whether or not there is any potential for it to happen. My training in adult education taught me that building a good rapport between a teacher and the learners is so important that it is worth spending up to about one third of the initial interactive time just building that trustful rapport. I think churches and pastors need to focus more on that aspect of the “process.”

    • Thanks for your thoughts Ken!

      I’ve been at two different seminaries and have got two totally different takes on candidating, but it’s not usually something that gets a lot of attention over the course of the educational process.

      I definitely agree that many churches, almost by default, slip into over-spiritualizing the whole process and ask questions/use criteria that are completely unnecessary, if not even harmful to the whole process. I regularly talk with people on both sides of the process (churches and candidates/pastors) and there’s almost always some sort of desire for a really strong “God told me” moment in the whole process.

      I actually think that a majority of the problems comes from a far deeper root problem; many Christians (regardless of denomination), don’t know how to make proper everyday decisions without overspiritualizing everything to the point of becoming a closet mystic. There’s a book by Kevin DeYoung called “Just Do Something”, and it’s on my “must read” list for every believer. It’s a short (i.e. 80 pages) book on how Christians should properly make decisions about things without turning into a Mormon (seeking a “burning in the bosom”).

      I agree about the rapport aspect too. I think that part of the problem there is that, at least in Western Canada, I have discovered that a majority of churches have been poorly taught to the point of not being able to properly evaluate someone on a doctrinal level and thus help determine compatibility. With many churches, if not most, there’s a real lack of confidence on that level.

      I’ve found that many churches rely on a single member, the loud and domineering guy “bible guy” in the church, to ask the hard questions and give a thumbs up/down on behalf of the church. I’ve also found that many of those “bible guys” don’t know nearly as much as they portray to the churches, and their hard questions usually revolve around 1 or 2 hobby horse doctrines which, more often or not, are less than helpful at determining compatibility (i.e. questions about bible translations, divorce, the mark of the beast, dispensationalism, etc.).

      If I’m honest, I’d say that several times Jen and I have praised the Lord that a church with a loud and domineering “bible guy” decided to no longer pursue us. It saved us the colossal headache of dealing with that person if and when we went to that church; those people are often the main ingredient in struggles/splits in churches.

  2. “I’ve found that many churches rely on a single member, the loud and domineering guy “bible guy” in the church, to ask the hard questions and give a thumbs up/down on behalf of the church. I’ve also found that many of those “bible guys” don’t know nearly as much as they portray to the churches, and their hard questions usually revolve around 1 or 2 hobby horse doctrines…”

    Your ironic comedy continues to dazzle! Who could manage to walk such an oblivious line as the ‘blowhard, Bible Guy” character you play every week here on this blog!? The giant pot calls the fictional, imagined kettle black, and completely ignores the fact that he’s projecting his own anxiety on to amorphous church members.

    Well played, Lyndon “Loud and Domineering” Unger. Well played.

    • Rule #1 Phil.

      You’ve never shown up on this blog doing anything but rambling on how ironic it is that I find my own sins in others. Do you know me well enough to make those penetrating judgments? Give me a break. Your pingback shows that you’re using the web at Penn State.

      If you want a discussion, bring one. If you want to argue, bring an argument. If you don’t have any actual contributions to bring beyond the level of “yo mamma” comments, please keep them to yourself. You’ve been warned and will soon be blocked.

  3. As someone who wants to be on the missional field full time, planting churches and teaching the word of God, I find it incredible that churches and (in my case) missions organizations reject people who have student debt. The reason I say this is because in order to be in these positions, one has to actually have the degree in order to pastor at churches and become missionaries in any organization.

    So hypothetically, if you want to do full time missions and get into the ministry that you have been trained for and called to do, you are kindly asked to pay off your debt. Why is it that a church would only qualify a pastor if he has a degree yet not actually follow through with supporting him in actually getting it? This is the only “career” I can think of that after going to get your BA and even masters, that you cannot begin right aways because of student debt. If you want a pastor or missionary with College and a Masters degree, you will get debt, so deal with it.

    I am just wondering what kind of basis do churches use to hold to this ridiculous idea considering most churches aren’t willing to train up people in their own congregation but rather have a college do it for them.

    • That’s a growing question for many, Shooter.

      Can you imagine if a hospital turned down a doctor because he hadn’t paid off his medical school debt?

      What’s even stupider is that many churches will hire an untrained man for the job, if he has experience…as if one somehow learns the exegetical tools necessary for ministry by simply being in ministry for a few years.

      • Lyndon, have you written or would you consider writing a post that search team members would find useful when seeking out a potential candidate? Maybe write down some appropriate and productive questions that could be asked? And on a final note..what to do when you’re a search team member and you feel the salary as outlined by the elders is not adequate…

        • Katiebear,

          I’m currently looking for work, but when I find a job and get settled, I will do just that. Don’t count on it anytime soon though…it will be a few months I’m guessing.

          Also, I’m thinking of writing a short e-book on picking a pastor, but that will take even longer (and I’d be lucky to sell 10 copies).

          When you’re on a search committee and see that the salary is inadequate, I’d recommend the following:

          1. Read 1 Tim 5:17-18 to them:

          “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

          2. Ask them what “double honor” means in vs. 17.

          3. When they give you a confused look/some silly answer (i.e. honoring them for their service with public recognition), ask them why vs. 18 gives the specific example of a worker’s wages.

          3. Ask them what “double honor” would look like when applied to the wages someone makes. Get them to give a number. I’m thinking that “double honor” would mean “twice as much”.

          4. Double the salary offering.

          5. When the search committee says “but we can’t pay our youth pastor MORE than our senior pastor”, tell them to raise the senior pastor’s wages too.

          6. When the inevitable “you’re insane/that will never work” string of comments comes out, go back to step 1 and ask them if they believe the Bible or not.

          7. If you’re at a church that has a budget where less than 50% of it is used in salary, I’d tell them to get their priorities straight and cut unnecessary spending on things like missions or coffee or whatever. At least until their budget matches what their priorities should be (and is representative of the amount of giving that should happen). I’m not saying that missions is unnecessary, but rather that a church that struggles to support three pastors shouldn’t be supporting 15+ missionaries.

          ******

          I’ve heard it said once that 1 Tim 5:17-18 is the most disobeyed verse in the entire Bible. That disobedience is likely one of the principle reasons so many churches struggle so much. Most pastors are forced to live under constant stress due to a career that sees forced poverty as some sort of virtue…and when a person makes a comment about that, the phrase “you don’t get into ministry to get rich” is trotted out. Every single time…by ignorant business people with half the relevant education in their respective fields and triple the salary.

          Let’s just say that I have some strong feelings about how most pastors are sinfully treated when it comes to salaries.

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