Initial reflections on the pastoral search committee

Searching

A month ago, in late September, the pastoral search committee I’m part of were very excited – we had been through an intensive six months of groundwork, interviews and prayer to get to the point where we had a person to bring to our church congregation – the person we believed God was calling to be our new senior pastor.

Then we received the news that he had decided to withdraw his name from the call – we were shell-shocked – up until that point it had been such a smooth process. The reasons why he no longer wanted to proceed were entirely understandable and commendable, but it was still disappointing for us as a committee to have to farewell the person we thought would be have been leading the church from early next year.

Over the past month we and the church leadership have been reflecting on a number of matters stemming from this event, culminating in a report back to the church members early next week on the process so far and where to next.

We’re going to be taking a bit of a hiatus as a committee, looking to reform again in the New Year – we’re still very aware of God’s guidance and the fact that he has great plans for our church in the future. But as always, God’s plans and timing aren’t always as we expect them to be.

Back in September I was starting to form the ideas for a ‘lessons learned from being on a pastoral search committee’ blog post – naturally this will have to go on the backburner for a while until the process has successfully finished – however in the interim I wanted to share a little bit of advice I received earlier this year.

I’m a firm believer in seeking the advice of others who have gone before you, and in this instance I sought out the advice of one of the pastors whose blog and sermons I follow, Nate Pyle (Lead Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Indiana).

Nate gave this advice:

“Often, in the anxiety of wanting to find a pastor, churches put their best foot forward. Just as the pastor, a candidate for a ‘job,’ is putting their best self forward. To me, the process often felt like dating. The key is to get beyond that as fast as possible. A church must, as best it can, authentically represent itself. So, if the pastor asks if the church is willing to change, the church should be as honest as possible in the minute lest both church and pastor get into a relationship that is founded upon false expectations.”

As a committee we really appreciated this advice, particularly the analogy of the process being similar to dating. We used this analogy during the interview process to communicate to candidates how we intended to approach the interview.

Incidentally, I saw on Twitter the other day that Nate also had some other good advice:

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Long weekends and fantasy basketball

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Labour Weekend is just around the corner. For most New Zealanders this heralds the beginning of spring and the first long weekend after a long winter without public holidays. Some still use Labour Weekend as a time of reflection on its original purpose, a celebration of the eight hour working day (back in the 19th century people took the day off to attend parades – most of us just take it for granted nowadays). However, for me Labour Weekend usually heralds the beginning of the fantasy basketball season. With the NBA regular season kicking off on Tuesday 27 October, most fantasy basketball leagues will have their drafts over the coming long weekend.

Fantasy basketball merges my passion for the NBA with my interest in stats and managing my own team. I enjoy working with all the data associated with basketball, trying to make educated guesses on which players will perform, and working through all of this using complex formulae in an excel spreadsheet. Over recent years I’ve also been using the Basketball Monster website, which is an excellent resource of fantasy experts and has the best number crunching software available.

I’ve been a fan of the NBA since the late 90s. My favourite team, the Golden State Warriors, won the championship last season for the first time since the mid-70s – I’ll talk more about them in a later blog post. I was introduced to fantasy basketball when we moved to Dunedin in 2008. A number of the guys in the cell group we joined there were part of a longstanding league, the Dunedin Invitational. At the time, the bulk of the managers were from New Zealand (and most living in Dunedin). Now however, all but two of us are from overseas – primarily Canada – and now we’ve moved back home to Whangarei, the Dunedin Invitational has the odd quirk of having no managers actually living in Dunedin. I had a great start to my time in this league, winning the first four seasons I competed. Since then, I haven’t had as much luck, but it’s still great fun!

More recently I’ve also joined a second league which, interestingly, has a large contingent of New Zealanders. I was invited to join this league while on the Busersports forums (the precursor to Basketball Monster). This is a very competitive league – experienced managers, many of whom also use the Basketball Monster tools – so I haven’t had as much success compared to the Dunedin league. However, there was one amazing season when I went through the 20 odd weeks of the regular season without losing once, only to stumble at the final hurdle.

Over the past few seasons, particularly last year, I’ve struggled to commit as much time as you need to really succeed, due to time pressures (with work and family) and changes in focus (with my growing passion and commitment to church). However, I still persevere with it all, as it is one of the things I really enjoy doing, and I have somewhat of a bond with the leagues and other managers (who, bar one, I only know online).

So this weekend another fantasy basketball season begins, starting with two league drafts – wish me luck!

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Ambitions, hopes and plans

The song All for Jesus has frequently been in my head this year (after singing it occasionally at out previous church), particularly the lyrics ‘All of my ambitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands.’

These lyrics are a reminder for me to test my intentions and to be aware of my ambitions and plans. I find this particularly to be the case when it comes to trying to figure out where God intends for me to serve once the pastoral search committee (to find our new senior pastor) process is over – which will hopefully draw to a close soon.

The song also emphasises the need to be intentional about sacrificing own ambitions for God’s kingdom – he may have plans that don’t necessarily line up with our own. So often in life we cling to our ambitions and plans as they can give us a sense of security.

But Jesus wants us to give him our all – everything, including our ambitions, hopes and plans. In Luke 9 he says “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

This doesn’t necessarily mean those plans we thought we had aren’t what we’ll end up doing, but we have to be willing for Jesus to have other plans for our life.

This song and Luke 9:23 make me seriously ask myself these two questions:
1. What are the ambitions, hopes and plans that I’m holding onto?
2. Are these getting on the way of me fully surrendering to Christ?

Being a disciple of Christ isn’t meant to be easy. However I take solace in the last words Jesus speaks before ascending into heaven at the end of Matthew 28 “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus recognises discipleship is difficult – however he is always with us and loves us, no matter what.

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.

For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

All for Jesus – Robin Mark

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Learning to pray

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Our son turned two today – he was very excited, especially about the birthday cake and candles, which he has been anticipating since we went to a birthday party a few months ago.

He’s been making amazing strides in his language over the past month, and we’ve begun to teach him how to pray, which has been lovely.

Ever since the day he was born we’ve been praying with him. The first blessing he got was from his Nan in the delivery suite, when he was only a few minutes old. Later that night, I vividly remember holding him as Kim slept in the hospital bed, bringing his face close to mine and praying that he would grow into a strong man of God.

Prayer is a part of daily life for our family, something he has been, and always will be, exposed to. We pray with him at least a few times during the day; grace at dining table (he’s always reaching out to hold our hands once he’s in his high chair (probably because it means dinners almost ready!) and once he’s in bed.

More recently he’s been asking for prayer, especially at bedtime and sometimes more than once. He’s been sick quite a bit (for him) over the last month, so when we ask him what he wants us to pray for he says ‘peace’ in his cute little voice. I find that our prayer with him definitely gives him comfort – he almost always will be peaceful and fall asleep after we pray.

Kim has been teaching him he doesn’t have to have wait for us to pray, that he can talk to God all by himself; he just needs to say ‘peace Jesus’. I think he’s starting to get the hang of it.

This has got me thinking about how we learn to pray. I’ve always felt some sort of deficiency in this space, like I’m not very good at it. But over recent years I’ve become more intentional, learning new ways to pray and spiritual disciplines, attending a course that our church in Dunedin offered a few years ago, and studying the Bible more.

It heartens me to know that even the disciples seemed to struggle with prayer, asking Jesus to teach them how to pray in Luke 11. What followed was the Lord’s Prayer, which I’ve often overlooked in the past. During our church’s week long prayer vigil this year, I spent some time reading NT Wright’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. It gave me a much deeper understanding of what this particular prayer is really about, and helped me think more about how I pray in practice. NT Wright likens the Lord’s Prayer to a framework, scaffolding rather than the whole building. It made me realise in particular that I have a tendency to spend a lot of time praying about my needs or the needs of my nearest and dearests, but not nearly enough time praying for God’s kingdom, asking forgiveness, and just genuinely honouring and praising God. A new perspective I’d overlooked, but am trying to focus more on now.

I’m never going to be a perfect pray-er – I, like my son, will always be learning (who isn’t?!), but who better to learn from than Jesus!

9So this is how you should pray:
Our father in heaven,
may your name be honoured
10may your kingdom come
may your will be done
as in heaven, so on earth.
11Give us today the bread we need now;
12and forgive us the things we owe,
as we too have forgiven what was owed to us.
13Don’t bring us into the great trial,
but rescue us from evil.

Matthew 6:9-13 (as translated by NT Wright)

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