Can We Change The Way Churches Seek Ministers?

I’ve had numerous ministry friends that have been fired. I too was once fired, even though I wasn’t involved in any illegal, immoral, or unethical activity. The decision came as a shock to my family and I as well as to the church. Ten months prior to this my family and I had spent a weekend with this church, with me preaching on Sunday and then receiving a call from the elders asking me to come serve the church as a minister. But now, only three weeks after my family and I were finally able to move a nine-hundred miles across country to serve with this church, I was terminated immediately.

As you might imagine, being fired left was difficult. Three weeks prior to this, the church was having a welcome fellowship for us and now I was fired. The decision didn’t just hurt me. It hurt my wife and children. I also know it was upsetting to the church too, as almost every member was just as shocked as I was. Now there is more to the story but I’m sharing this to suggest that the was many Churches of Christ go about “hiring and firing” ministers is wrong and needs to change.

Like seriously, needs to change. I say this especially for the sake of my fellow ministers of the gospel serving among Churches of Christ who have also been fired for reasons having nothing to do with any illegal, immoral, or unethical activities.

The traditional approach that Churches of Christ take in finding ministers, which is still very common, involves placing a “minister needed” announcement on a job board. Most of these boards are found on the websites of universities affiliated with the Churches of Christ. The announcement is meant to solicit resumes from interested ministers, resulting in a pool of candidates for consideration. Then either the elders or a selected search committee will identify the most qualified of the candidates and perhaps after a couple of telephone conversations or an initial phone interview, the top two or three candidates will be brought in to visit the church. This visit usually occurs over the weekend, which means the church has a few days (at best) to evaluate the ministers. The minister and family have the same time to decide if the church and local community is a good fit for them. At the end of the day, it’s easy for this process to become a talent show with whichever minister performs the best receiving the call to come serve as the minister. Should the minister accept the invitation, the minister is hired.

Churches of Christ, we have a problem.

Seeking a minister to serve with a church should not be a hiring process conducted much like a company hires a sales rep or new business manager. It certainly shouldn’t be a “dog and pony” show where the top three candidates are brought in for a visit to face off in what amounts to a talent show of who can preach the best sermon. The vocation of ministry is a sacred vocation and should be treated as such.

Most churches seeking a minister to come serve with their church want to rightfully talk about finding the minister that God is calling. Since that’s the case, let’s give space and time for God to work in the process. That means the process of finding the minister God is calling to serve with the church involves discernment, which takes a lot of time that is saturated with prayer and conversation. It’s a time of prayer and conversation that the church needs to have with each other but also with those ministers they are giving consideration too. The reality is that both the church and minister should be discerning, listening to each other over a period of time so that God can reveal to the church and minister whether he is calling the minister to serve with the church.

Because the minister is called by God to serve, there isn’t any reason for quickly dismissing the minister except in the case of illegal, immoral, and unethical conduct. Even in the case of illegal, immoral, and unethical conduct, the decision to dismiss should be discerned rather than automatic. If God has called the minister to serve with the church, then what right does the church, via its elders or leadership team, have to dismiss the minister without a period of discernment to ensure that it is the right decision. Likewise, the minister shouldn’t be so quick to resign without discerning this decision as well (more on that later).

Don’t misunderstand me. There are times when there needs to be a ministry transition but when it seems so, I believe this should be discerned with the entire leadership team or elders and minister together. Talk together about the problems and what needs to happen. Perhaps this results in some meaningful time where the problems are resolved without any transition. However, after much discernment (prayer and conversation), if it does seem that a transition is necessary, then neither the church nor the minister is blind-sided by the decision. Perhaps both the church and minister can agree then on a transition process that is fair for both sides, especially the minister whose family has needs (financial, emotional, etc…) that cannot just be abruptly disregarded.

Churches of Christ, we have a problem with the way ministers are selected to serve with churches. The problem will continue as long as the selection process is viewed as an “employment” decision rather than a calling blessed by the Lord and therefore in submission to the Lord and each other. When the ministry is simply viewed as an employment arrangement, both ministers and churches can make decision the employment status without submitting that decision to the Lord and each other first.

Now I’ll confess… Before I understood this, I served with a couple of churches and when things were not going the way I thought they would, I announced my resignation. As soon as another opportunity came along, I submitted my resignation and made this decision without ever asking the leaders to discern with me whether God was still calling me to serve with their church. Was there some problems that made the ministry difficult? Yes… problems with both the church and with me. However, had I invited the leaders into a discernment process, through prayer and conversation God might have helped us to see a way forward together that would have resulted in more fruitful ministry. The same goes with churches too.

In October of 2017 I received a call from the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, Delaware informing me that someone had been recommended me to them as their next minister. When I informed them that I was interested, we began a period of discernment together that lasted almost six months. Over that time, we had numerous conversations interviewing each other. The search committee spoke with people that could tell them more about me and I spoke with people that could tell me more about them. By March of 2018 I was convinced that God was calling me to serve with this church and hoping that the church shared this discernment. They did and I received a call from the shepherds inviting my family and I too visit so that they could commend me to the church as their next minister.

I’m so glad that I received that call. Ministry still has its challenges but I haven’t doubted once that God has called me to serve with the Newark Church. I love this church and consider it a privilege to serve as their pastor (yes, that’s the role most church ministers fulfill and that’s okay). I’m thankful for the process that Interim Ministry Partners (IMP), a partner of Hope Network, held both myself and the church through, with Phil Ware serving as the Interim Minister. The process of discernment gave both the church and I the space and time to see the sacredness of God’s work, letting God bring us together.

The only reason I’m sharing this is because we, the Churches of Christ, must take a better approach on both ends of the ministry transition. Calling a minister to serve with a church is a matter of discernment rather than just a “try out.” Likewise, when minister transitions do occur, they should be the result of discernment too rather than just a quick decision that comes out of nowhere. If we really want God to have a say, we’ll seek a better approach.

3 responses to “Can We Change The Way Churches Seek Ministers?

  1. A very solid article and it’s very unfortunate that so many churches tend to struggle and for that very reason of not using proper discernment allowing popular opinion to be a false guide to hiring or resigning! Many churches seemingly lack the leadership that it takes to properly handle the responsibilities and to some that lacking of discernment seems unimportant at the time. Personality conflicts have destroyed more relationships or potential ones than the reasons given in the article. It’s heartbreaking to witness churches in which there has been repeated patterns of dissention and splits reducing them to a mere shell of what they could or should have been but yet hold on to the same false delusion that what their doing is going to have any different results.

    • Thanks for your comment. I do think the problem stems from a lack of leadership and particularly a lack of leadership imagination. The traditional approach to ministry transitions that I describe was often repeated simply because that’s how it was done in another church, without ever asking if it’s the right way. Thanks again for your comment.

  2. On the late Jay Guin’s blog which is still available, there were a whole group of posts on this same topic and the relationship between elders and preachers. It is tragic how the cofC hires, retains, and fires/replaces preachers. First, there are the differences in what the preacher expects to be doing, what the elders expect the preacher to be doing, and what the congregation expects. The elders frequently want to sit as trustees handing off pastoral care to the preacher while micromanaging. The preacher has all responsibility and no authority to do anything even teach a different Sunday school class. Should the elders or unofficial power structure decide that they want someone else as preacher, they may select that person and then run off the current preacher by the manufacture of false allegations, a smear campaign, or just a firing. Besides, as all in the cofC were taught, the preacher is never “called” as a “pastor” because that would sound too denominational.

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