The Preacher Who Is Being Considered #1

From chapter 38 of Between Preachers, by Jerrie Barber

“What’s the least amount of money it’d take for us to getcha 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 on successive Sundays, select the best sermon, and invite him to be your next preacher. I 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.

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 for 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 are 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 my ministry’s most challenging and growing experiences. It was the best deliberation process I’ve ever known.

I talked with my elders at Central in Dalton the following Wednesday night. 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

  1. 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 were involved three months from the first contact to the final decision.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. They and I were willing to ask questions and make statements to determine 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

A church selecting a preacher and a preacher selecting a church is more important than, “Where would you like to eat tonight?”. The time, thought, effort, research, and prayer should demonstrate that.

What are things you’ve observed that were helpful in making a good decision about preacher or church choice?

(Visited 221 times, 57 visits today)
Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

5 Responses to “The Preacher Who Is Being Considered #1

  • Anonymous
    6 years ago

    Women should not contact other women to ask questions about a preacher who applied. I’ve had women gossip about me before I came to try out and they asked personal questions only I could answer. I decided not to try out at the congregation when I asked if the woman attended. I politely said no and stated the reason. If a woman tries to assume a leadership role in the church or being a busybody in other men’s matters or trying to be an elder, then it’s an absolute no for me. Women who assume the roles of elders or elders who allow it are destroying the church.

  • I was fortunate not to go through the “desperate” situation but once. I learned a few things about looking and being looked at in almost 60 years of preaching while this is not original with me, I will still pass it on. The Baptist “call” their preachers, the Methodist “send” their preachers, but we “try” ours. I am glad to see some things changing, one is the “preacher’s house”, (what a misnomer), it never was ours and it helped churches keep the salaries lower. We did build up equity for the churches by living in “their” house and had to pay social security on the rental value. A good answer to your original question would be, “Let’s start with what your previous preacher is now receiving at his new place”…. thank you Jerrie for your friendship for more than a half century.

    • Leroy,

      Thank you for your observations.

      Your note prompted a thought.

      Would it be helpful if groups of elders and preachers met for conversations sharing likes and dislikes about relationships, roles, helps and hurts in compensation, preacher search, and other topics?

      I would profit and enjoy hearing from all about their preferences in these and other topics.

      I might change my mind about some things if I knew why some prefer certain approaches over others.

      • I think us “older preachers” might be a help to the elders and younger preachers and yes it might enlighten us….

  • Bill dayton
    6 years ago

    So jerrie…if the congregation that calls u then states they’re going to have a preacher parade…would u even consider that work. I t was told that preachers are like lighthouses…they are not in competition with each other…they just do what are designed to do…shine