What’s the least amount of money it’d take for us to get’cha to come and be our preacher?” This conversation was the first contact with this church—the worst approach I’ve ever received inviting me to consider working with another church.
Elders and search committees tell much in the first contact. Are you interested in just some preacher or me? What have you learned about me that makes you think we might be compatible and I would be effective where you are? What will be your selection process? I’m not interested in a “beauty contest”—asking ten to twelve preachers to come in successive Sundays, select the best sermon, and invite him to be your next preacher. I’ve participated in that when I was desperate. It’s better not to be desperate. Let me share with you a welcomed contrast to that approach.Elders and search committees tell much in the first contact. Click To Tweet
The Best Approach I’ve Ever Experienced or Heard
- On June 4, 1984, I received a call from Bill Kirkpatrick. He said he and another man wanted to talk with me 25-30 minutes. He was in Montgomery, Alabama. They would be in Dalton, Georgia, at 4:00. When he and Kenneth Jones arrived, they introduced themselves as two elders from the Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas. They were looking for a preacher. They had an impressive introductory packet of information about the church. They wanted me to read it, and they would get back to me. I told them I wasn’t interested in moving to Texas. They replied, “We aren’t asking you to move to Texas. We want you to read the information, and we’ll talk to you later.” I told my elders Wednesday night about their visit and my response.
- In about two weeks, they called requesting me to answer some questions to see if we were compatible. I told them I wasn’t interested in moving to Texas. Kenneth Jones said, “I’m not asking you to move to Texas. The elders would like to know more about you, what you believe, and how you work. It may be we wouldn’t fit.” They were the same questions they asked prospective members and which they used to evaluate Bible class teachers. I told my elders about the questionnaire.
- In another two weeks, I received a call, requesting my family and me to visit Arlington. They wanted to acquaint us with the area, meet the other elders, and talk some more. We flew out on Thursday and returned on Saturday. They wanted to arrange another visit. I told them I wasn’t interested in moving to Texas. The only way I’d return was with a consultant, James Jones, from Atlanta, Georgia. He was a marriage and family therapist and a consultant with churches. I said, “It isn’t fair how we interview and hire preachers. There’s eight of you and one of me. When one of you is talking, seven of you are thinking. When I’m talking, nobody’s thinking. I need help. Coming to Arlington would be a major move for my family and me.” See: Who Is Your Counselor?. I told my elders in Dalton before and after I went.
- In about two weeks, they called and said they were ready for James and me to come. We spent seven hours talking with the staff and eight hours talking with the elders. The elders and James had an hour without me. I discussed this trip with my elders in Dalton.
- The Friday before Labor Day, I received a call inviting me to come to Arlington to work with them. We had an understanding I would have two or three days to think if they invited me to work with them. My family and I discussed it. On Labor Day, I called and told them I had decided to stay in Dalton and thanked them for one of the most challenging and growing experiences of my ministry. It was the best deliberation process I’ve ever known.
The following Wednesday night, I talked with my elders at Central in Dalton. I knew many in the congregation had heard about our talking with Pleasant Ridge. I told them if I’d damaged my relationship with the church, I’d resign and begin looking for another congregation. After discussing this, they told me they wanted me to stay. We had another four years of good ministry in Dalton.
Observations about the Process
- We took the time we needed to think. Often a church invites a preacher in for a Sunday. He teaches Sunday morning Bible class and preaches Sunday morning and Sunday night. He and the elders meet an hour before Sunday night services. Then they make a decision affecting the church, the preacher, and his family for years to come. We involved three months from the first contact to the final decision.
- They were willing to invest time, effort, and money to make a good choice. The brethren at Pleasant Ridge had the names of several preachers. They visited each one, delivering information for each to consider. That was a long missionary journey from Arlington, Texas, to Montgomery, Alabama, to Dalton, Georgia. They thought it was important.
- As the summer progressed, I had the idea they were interested in me—not just “a preacher,” and I would be fortunate if they chose me.
- They and I were willing to ask questions and make statements to get to the issue of whether this move was good for Pleasant Ridge and my family and me. We talked about what we liked and didn’t like. We expressed what was impressive and how we were disappointed.
- We used outside help. They had a counselor in the congregation, Mike Walker, who participated and observed many of our discussions. James Jones was helpful to them and me. James and I talked between sessions. He observed the discussions. He suggested questions and areas needing more exploration. My family met with James several times during the summer.
- The elders at Pleasant Ridge told me the summer was helpful to them and gave them wisdom in selecting their next preacher. This process should involve more than a weekend.
What are things you’ve observed that were helpful in making a good decision about preacher or church choice?
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