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It has been an unusual month as I have preached in 4 very different congregations.  Obviously each has its strengths and weaknesses, but all were meaningful times of worship.

The first was a suburban church that has been struggling the last few years.  The facaility was built in the 1990’s.  The congregation was about 130 or so.  They were mostly empty nesters, with a few families with children.  The worship style was blended, with an emphasis on the 1970’s and 80’s.  They used a piano, guitars, saxophone and song leaders.  They had some traditional elements as well- call to worship, pastoral prayer, responsive reading from the Westminster Catechism and a benediction.

The second was a smaller suburban church of about 50.  There seemed to be a relatively even age distribution.  Musically they were also blended, but drew from the 90’s and 2000’s.  The only instrument was a piano and they had some song leaders.  They had similar traditional elements.  Though smaller, they sang louder (or at least it filled up the room better).  They were a bit less reserved, yet more formal in their dress.

The third was an urban church of about 100 that met in an old theater.  The building had lots of character with the old brick walls.  It was darker, with lights on the stage area.  It was decidedly upbeat, with more of a free church worship style.  The worship band was very good and included keyboards, electric guitar, bass, and drums in addition to the song leaders.  The congregation was multi-ethnic, but the songs drew largely from the last 2 decades.  The people tended to be younger.

The fourth was also an inner city church of about 50, which met in an old church building.  It had lots of character, like a small cathedral.  It was nice to sit in pews.  It was also multi-ethnic.  It was also a less structured service, but they also recited the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer to keep in touch with our heritage.  The worship team was a guitarist, electric bass and 2 singers.  The music focused primarily on the holiness and grace of God, drawing on music from the last decade.

It is wonderful to see the rich variety of congregations, facilities, and worship styles.  Too often we get stuck in our own little world.  I’ve enjoyed being enriched by the Body of Christ as I sought to enrich them with the Word of God.  It is encouraging to see God at work in a variety of situations.

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I made a joke on a friend’s Facebook wall the other day.  He lamented playing too much ping-pong in seminary.  I joked that his ministry would be more effective if he hadn’t.  It’d be more like mine …

I figure he’s having a pretty effective ministry.  The church I pastored closed (lots of reasons for that).  I, by no means, took Winter Haven by storm for the Gospel.  But I had some meaningful ministry over those 9 years, and in the 1 1/2 years since then as I’ve done pulpit supply.

Lest we make too much of that (failure), let’s consider the Apostle Paul.  I did while trying not to wake up this morning.  Paul didn’t take every town he visited by storm.  Yes, he saw conversions- I saw a few of those.  He saw Christians grow- saw some of that too.  But he was run out of more than a few cities.  There were riots, a stoning, death threats and more.  Being run out of town might say something about you, but it also says something about those who ran you out of town.

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A book I was reading this morning led to me to think some more of the process of searching for a new pastor, and the fact that it is a process.  If I get around to writing my book on the subject, I’m sure this will get in there.

Though the goal to find a pastor, churches should see the process as just as important as the outcome.  The process is about time, patience and love.

Some churches don’t give the search the proper time to work the process well.  They rush the process instead of seeing it as an important time to understand who they are, where they should probably be going, and how they should probably get there.  What often happens is they look for the guy who has the strengths the previous pastor lacked (if it didn’t end well), or a carbon copy of the previous pastor (if the pastor retired or left unexpectedly in a time of relative peace).  All this takes time, more than you can do in a 2-3 hour meeting once a week (if you’re lucky).  Committees need to invest larger chunks of time to work through these issues, and applicants.  I’d suggest Saturday afternoon or morning meetings- larger blocks of time to pray, think and plan.

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With the shrinkage of the for-profit sector, the not-for-profit sector will see a similar contraction.  Churches are one of the not-for-proft organizations that will be hit hard.  The government should take a lesson from other not-for-profits and cut back rather than trying to raise taxes and spend even more.  These cycles come, but governments seem to lack the discipline necessary to save in times of prosperity for times of decline.  Governments abhor a surplus and must spend it, much to our disadvantage.

Churches will be hit hard for a number of factors.

  1. Unemployed members.
  2. Under-employed members
  3. Lost retirement savings

All of these will reduce the offerings a church needs.  If a church is small, or comprised of a largely retired population, that crunch will be most severe.  I know of a few churches that are at risk for these very reasons.  Things were already tight financially, and now these churches are on the brink and in grave danger.

Other churches will merely contract- reducing staff and/or programming. 

On the surface, this looks to be a bad thing.  As someone who is under-employed and watching the number of churches in which I could serve shrinking, I can see it that way at times.  But overall I think it presents some great opportunities for the church at large.

  • Opportunity for mercy ministry.  There will be opportunities to take care of our own, displaying the love of God in a tangible way.  We are to take care of one another, carrying one another’s burdens.  There will also be plenty of opportunities to take care of the poor outside of the church- opening the door to sharing the hope we have in Christ.
  • Opportunity to repent of our greed, materialism and consumerism.  Many people are having to cut back on their spending and realizing much of it was superfluous and luxury rather than necessity.  Many Americans live beyond their means- as evidenced by the average consumer debt.  It is time for that to change.  Our priorites can be reshaped, refocused by the gospel in times like these.  Good financial management programs can be utilized to instruct those in and outside of the church.
  • Opportunities to reveal the greater hope we have in Christ.  Yes, this can be a time of effective evangelism as people realize they have built their house on sand instead of rock. 

So while times like these are hard, they are also opportunities for ministry.  Churches driven by the gospel will recognize this, and go for it.  Churches driven by other agendas will … be overcome and possibly close their doors.  It is in times like these when we need to trust Him who holds the present and the future, and remember that He tends to work most profoundly when it seems darkest.

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Never trust those early morning thoughts, but I had one this morning.  I wonder how many of the churches that rejected my application are still searching for a pastor.

So, I characterized them, as best I could, according to how long they have been without a pastor.

1 year or less: 6

1-2 years: 4

2+ years: 1

So, 5 churches think it’s better to not have a pastor than to have me (and the other 50 applicants) as their pastor.  Interesting.

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I’ve talked to plenty of Pastoral Search Committees and members.  They quickly weary of listening to sermons and poring over 50+ applications, resumes and data forms hoping to find the right guy.  Yes, God is in control- but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t give us over to our own foolishness at times (see Romans 1:21ff).

Short of having bishops or Presbytery moderators appointing pastors to churches, there has to be a better way.  Right?

Bing Davis founded the Auxilium Network to help out PCA and other Reformed churches search for pastors more effectively and efficiently.

How Does Auxilium Help a Church?

1.    You can substantially cut your search time, when appropriate, while at the same time accessing a wide variety of candidates.  This allows you to not lose ministry momentum, and brings the new pastor in a timely manner.
2.    Since we come to work on-site with each church and committee, you and AuxNet come to know and respect one another.  This allows for a comfortable working relationship in which you feel like you have a professional guiding you and remaining available to you during the entire process.
3.    We take on all of the technical and subjective parts of the search process on your behalf.  This allows your committee to act as representatives of your church, while AuxNet does all the day to-day work involved in completing the process.
4.    We provide you with complete reports on final candidates, so that the search committee has only to get to know each final candidate, visit them and/or invite them to the church for evaluation, and then make a recommendation and ask the congregation to vote.
What is the process?
1.    We work directly and on-site with each search committee, helping you formulate and follow a process to find the right candidate for the job. 
2.    We work directly with you in determining a candidate profile for the pastoral opening.
3.    Once the candidate profile has been completed, we will help you post your job opening in various places.  Potential candidates will then submit their profile materials directly to us.
4.    After an established posting period, we will begin to go through all submitted materials to assess which represent the right candidates for the job.  AuxNet Executive Director Bing Davis, himself a PCA Teaching Elder, will interview each candidate several times.
5.    Each potential candidate will go through a rigorous background check, including criminal history and credit check, all references will be called and standardized questions asked, others will be sought out who can attest to the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and each candidate will be given a Myers Briggs Type Inventory. At the end of the process, we will recommend the top 2 candidates for the job; the church can then pursue its prerogative of choosing its pastor.

 It can be tough to trust others, but right now most churches ask laypeople with limited time to spend enormous amounts of time, and little to no experience, on a very important task.  A good consultant knows what questions to ask both the committee and the applicant to discover a good fit.

About the only thing I might add to their process is Dr. Douglass’ Church Personality Diagnostic.  His book is What is Your Church’s Personality?, and a few committees I’ve talked to are using it (here are some sample pages).  I was the wrong guy for a church for 9 years.  Real and meaningful ministry took place, but my gifting and emphasis was very different from theirs which increased the resistance at key points in my ministry.  There are other ways of looking at this.  But CavWife thinks the Church Personality Diagnostic results described me very well.

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Steve Brown interviews Dan Allender on leadership and his book Leading with a Limp.  Here are some snippets to pique your interest.

“There is a lack of truth in all of us.”

He discusses how the double life created by posturing acts like an acid that destroys faith.  That lack of truth leads us to deny the difficulty of our crises, betrayals etc.  We pretend we have it all together, largely because we give people too much power over us.

“I’m honest, but only about what I want to share. … Honesty is part of the grace of the hound of heaven, …”

“I got to a point (in reading leadership books) … there were a lot of glorious trees cut down unnecessarily for alot of leadership stuff.”

“The gospel is about good sex.  The gospel is about good drinking.  The gospel is about what you smoke and how well you smoke it.  So the question ultimately becomes how do the pleasures that God have given us in the world, how do we bring to him our pleasures as we engage his pleasure. … It changes how we live it and offer it to others.”

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