Further reflections on the pastoral search committee

I posted some initial reflections on the pastoral search process last September, when our search committee was about to begin a 5-month hiatus triggered by our then preferred candidate for senior pastor deciding to withdraw his name from consideration.

We resumed the search in March this year, feeling refreshed and energised from the break and looking forward to seeing what God had in store for our church. After an intensive period of searching, interviewing and, throughout it all, prayer, by September we were very excited to recommend to church members that we call Russell Watts as our senior pastor. The members agreed and Russell officially agreed to the call in late September.

We feel incredibly blessed to have someone of Russell’s calibre coming to our church. He’s currently the senior pastor at Ranui Baptist Church and has a particular set of skills (and giftings) that will be valuable to our church, helping to equip us to more effectively spread the good news about God’s kingdom to those in Northland and beyond. Very exciting times ahead!

I thought it would be useful to share some further reflections on the search process:

  1. The impact of prayer: Prayer has been an ongoing and constant part of the process, as it obviously needed to be, both by the committee and wider church community. This included prayer for wisdom and discernment for us as a committee, for patience for the committee and church as we waited on God’s timing, and for the person God had planned to be our next senior pastor. Kim and I occasionally joked about the committee’s need for wisdom, using the well-worn ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ meme which graces the top of this post.
  2. The significance of James: Scriptures from the book of James were recurring throughout the process, themes of perseverance (James 1:2-4), wisdom (James 1:5-8), trust and faith (James 4:13-16) and prayer (James 5:13-16). Even at the members’ meeting to call Russell the chairperson of our Elders group, completely unaware of the recurrence of James, prepared a devotion on James 2 about love and favouritism.
  3. The value of good process: We were blessed to have able leadership on the committee in the form of our chairperson. He comes from a very process-oriented profession and instilled necessary rigour to our process. We always made sure to tick all the boxes, to communicate often and well, and to follow the Baptist NZ guidelines as they applied to our search.
  4. The importance of values: Our committee identified and agreed to six core values when we first formed: confidentiality, transparency, honesty, graciousness, consecration and patience. These are the values that underpinned our process from the outset. They informed our discussions with church leadership and the development of documents relevant to the search, ensured effective ongoing communication with church members, and were essential during the crunch points of shortlisting, interviewing and making decisions on who to call. These values kept us grounded and united in our approach and were crucial to ensuring the process ran smoothly.
  5. The benefit of transition: While unintentional, the transitional period of what will in the end be just over a year between senior pastors has been valuable to our church community. It has seen more people from the church community step up and serve (including in positions of leadership) and has given the church what I believe to be necessary breathing room after our previous pastor’s 25 year pastorate. It has been a healthy time of transition which will continue into the early part of Russell’s tenure with us.

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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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Whakataukī

whakatauki

One of the privileges of my job is being able to attend conferences which have some amazing keynote speakers. I was at a conference in Nelson last week where Tā Mark Solomon, the chair of Ngāi Tahu, addressed the delegates about the ambitions of his Iwi – probably one of the most successful and pragmatic Iwi in New Zealand (Ngāi Tahu’s rohe covers most of the South Island, minus the Nelson/Marlborough area).

Tā Mark touched on the tribe’s whakataukī (proverb) which is:

Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei
For us and our children after us.

He emphasised that this proverb sits at the heart of all that Ngai Tahu do.

This got me thinking about the importance of having a vision and values and ensuring these are instilled in your family, team or organisation. When done well, values give us direction, they give us purpose.

The key is though, that it’s not just about developing them, filing them away and forgetting them (as is so often the case). Tā Mark emphasised that they need to be at the heart of everything you do. You need to continually reference back to them and assess what you do against them.

Kim and I have often talked about developing a core list of values for our family to adhere to. I like the idea of basing these around biblical concepts, and often think of the following verses when considering what we should include:

Micah 6:8: No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Acts 2:42: All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

Revelation 2:19: I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

This topic has also been present in my mind as we look to call a new senior pastor for our church. It is so crucial to have a church vision and values that is continually reinforced and at the heart of everything we do. It’s also so important to have buy-in and agreement from the congregation that this is what we are about.

Having been back at our church for about nine months now, from my perspective the current vision, values and mission statement appears to have been a tick box exercise (or at least is now, probably ten years after it was developed), as I haven’t heard it mentioned once during a service or in any communications. This isn’t saying that the vision itself is wrong, just that it doesn’t appear to be at the heart of decision-making or what we do as a church.

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