I’ve Been Approached by Another Church…

Your phone rings. Someone says, “Hello, I’m John Doe, an elder of Anytown church. We’re looking for our next preacher. Several people recommended you. Would you be willing to talk with us to see if we’d be a good fit for working together?”

Now, what do you do? You’re happy where you are. You don’t need to move. You haven’t been fired. You have adequate compensation. Your family is happy.

Do you turn down every request, even those from great churches, even one where you’ve said, “If that church ever looks for another preacher, I’d like to get a call from them”?

If you decide to talk, how do you do it? Do you inform your elders? Or do you tell your elders when you walk in and resign, informing them you’ll move in ninety days?

I’ve dealt with the question many times in my ministry and answered it in different ways.

My answer depends on my rules and my trust in the elders where I’m serving.

One rule I’ve found helpful and fair is the 7:12 rule:

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).

Considerations for Preachers

  • If my elders start thinking about changing their preacher, would I like them to let me know why they’re considering that and let me know if there are ways I could improve and stay, or would I want them to hand me a check for three months and tell me last Sunday was my last Sunday?
  • Would it be easier to talk with another church in light or darkness? If I didn’t have a fear they’d find out, could I talk more freely?
  • Do I try to stay current on my relationship with my elders? If they don’t give me a regular review, do I inquire about how we’re doing, how pleased they are with my work, and what I can do to improve?

If you fear being released, you don’t have a close relationship.

Considerations for Elders

  • What are the elders’ rules about giving their preachers the freedom to think without fear? Some elders rule: “If you ever want to talk with another church while working for us, we’ll give you full time to talk. That will be the end of your time here.” The only choice now is slipping around and secrecy accompanied by fear of being discovered.
  • Do we want a preacher nobody else wants? When you’re securing your next preacher, select the worst candidate. That’s one way to reduce the likelihood that another church will call your preacher.
  • How have we recruited preachers when we need one? Do we talk with good preachers who are involved in a good work and might be someone who’d work well in our congregation? Is it consistent for us to do that and have a rule we’ll fire our preacher if he considers another church?

When either springs a surprise on the other, I ask two questions:

  1. Why didn’t they talk to me about what they were thinking? What’s wrong with them?
  2. What was there about me and my relationship with them? They didn’t come to me first before making this radical change. What can I do to prevent this from happening again?

More Observations

One of the best preacher searches I’ve seen: https://www.jerriebarber.com/the-preacher-who-is-being-considered-1/

The case for talking about this before you need to talk about this: https://www.newshepherdsorientation.com/buying-a-tombstone/

Some thoughts about this principle in the business world: https://robertglazer.com/friday-forward/two-weeks/

What are your thoughts about discussing possible changes in elder-preacher relationships?

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

5 Responses to “I’ve Been Approached by Another Church…

  • Jerrie, good thoughts. Most preachers face both dilemmas in time. It seems that the best time to speak about this issue is “BEFORE” you are hired. Addressing it when you are in negotiations for the new position, allows both sides to talk about an “exit” strategy.

    There never is a perfect plan, just works a bit easier to have this talk early on.

  • Ancel Norris
    5 years ago

    I have never told my employer when someone approached me until talks got down to “brass tacks”. We had a preacher told the elders he had been approached by a church, we gave him our blessings but afterwards we surmised the deal was already worked out. So my thoughts are just be honest and not tell the elders you have been approached, nothing concrete when the deal is already signed.

  • A church is little different from any other employer. No one likes the idea of another company poaching their employees. Some companies only hire top talent, so they expect their employees will be approached. Telling an employer every time a company makes an inquiry about your services though is a bit like telling your wife every time you think some woman is “making eyes” at you. This isn’t going to go well. Be careful: churches will have search committees and members on and off the committee will make inquiries and the danger is you will take it as “official” when it’s really not. Everett Huffard said something about this at a lectureship years ago that has stuck with me: When you are considering a move, there needs to be a “push” or “pull.” If there is neither, stay where you are. If there is either, consider what specifically the “push” or “pull” is. Would Jesus be happy about it? If not, it’s an issue you ought to try to resolve before you consider moving, or consider being considered.

  • I faced this dilemma 6 years into my first work. My wife was pushing hard to move closer to family and one came open. When it was time for me to be gone on a Sunday to “tryout” I told my elders the truth. I felt like I had a good relationship with them and wanted to be honest because I wanted them to be honest with me. They reacted badly. Next Sunday after I got back they asked to meet with me and invoked the 30 day notice in my contract. I didn’t get the job and told them there was no way they would find a new guy in 30 days. I asked to stay on until either I found a good fit or they hired someone else. They rejected that and said, “If you’re looking to leave, then we need to start looking too.” It was difficult not to be bitter and leave a mess but I tried very hard to make the exit as painless for the church as possible. I did not tell anyone about the elders’ decision or specifics, just that we were wanting to move closer to home whenever they asked where we were going. It caused HUGE financial pain for my family because it took over 3 months with no income to find another pulpit. We burned through money we had planned to use as a downpayment on a house. Instead I ended up taking a work out of desperation which was a terrible fit and we had to rent. I left again after a miserable year and took some time off from full-time ministry.
    After all that, I don’t know what to tell other preachers when they ask this question about informing the elders. It caused years of misery for my family and hardened my youngest son’s heart against the church in general. I would just advise two principles to keep in mind: first, protect your family. Say nothing to put them at risk or in uncomfortable positions. Second, know the eldership and your relationship with them. Let those two things guide you. It’s sad that it often boils down to a business decision instead of brethren talking to each other and trying to help.

  • Don Caron
    5 years ago

    Likely the new church will seek a reference from someone in the current church, so better to let them know when things get serious.