Saga of the Drive-By Pulpit Committee

So this week, after a nearly 9 month process, after answering the world’s longest questionnaire, after having the specter of a possible move over my head while trying to go on at my church like nothing’s happening, I got word I would not be called as the new pastor of First Baptist, LoDebar (not their actual name, in case you were wondering).

Oh wait, you’re gonna love this part. I received word not via a lovely typed correspondence from the chairman of the pulpit committee. And not from a phone call from him, either. And not even an email from him.

How did I find out? When I checked the church’s website and saw the picture of their candidate smiling at me with his wife and bald head.

He had the bald head, by the way. Not the wife.

“Excuse me, I have a reservation. Bitterness, party of one…”

I can’t say I wasn’t warned about this kind of thing. Joe McKeever’s a veteran pastor now retired who writes some tremendous articles on ministry. I’ve read several he has dealing with search committees, which can be found by searching his terrific site JoeMcKeever.com. Do yourself a favor and head over there when you finish this.

Joe warns that there’s no universal guideline for how a search committee operates. Let me emphasize that again…NONE! He says to be ready for anything and everything. He goes on to innumerate several wacky, madcap things he’s endured in the past. His advice is: be ready for anything.

Truer words were never spoken.

I remember the time I was interviewing for a position and we were having a Q&A session with the church members. One lady rose in the midst of theological and practical questions. She posed this one for the ages…”Boxers or briefs?”

No. Seriously.

Back about three months ago, this pulpit committee said they’d narrowed down their search to three guys, and I was one of them. I was gratified and frankly a little surprised. Although I have years of experience in larger churches, I’m currently pastoring a small church plant. But this was a church running around 1000 in worship, so I felt a little like I had won the ministry lottery.

Next they said they needed my preaching schedule, so they could send someone to my church to watch me preach. I thought this was odd for several reasons…

First, I have a bazillion video sermons online. Sending someone across country seemed an old school way to do it, when the entire group could watch my sermons on their computers. Also, to send one person means you only get one opinion and no balance. Good chance for personal prejudices to muddy the water.

Second, I’d told them upfront I was the pastor of a church plant. So if they were coming to see what their church would be like as me as pastor, my little start-up church would hardly show them anything they’d relate to.

But don’t worry. They never came.

Not once. I sent them the dates I’d be in the pulpit from December through February, they said they’d be there soon. They never showed. Trust me, in my little church, I would definitely know if they were there.

Here’s another beautiful thing: I never once got to talk with them. Not in person, not on the phone. Yet I was in the top three on their list of finalists. Really?

I never got one chance to tell them my heart or let them meet my wife. No interaction, no fellowship. Nothing.

As I read the announcement on their website now, I started to understand. It seems their new pastor wouldn’t have far to drive for his trial sermon that coming Sunday. That’s because he was already there.

Their new pastor was a member of their church. All along. Boy, had I been a sucker.

While I was playing by the rules and trying not to push myself on the committee, he was there in the pew with them every Sunday. While I waited by the phone, he and his family did weekly “photo ops” as the perfect Christians attending services.

And while I was busy struggling to pastor a church plant that was barely surviving, he wasn’t even pastoring a church but just punching a clock. No disrespect, but church ministry is bare-knuckles stuff, not for the weak of heart. You do it because it’s your life calling and you have to.

To say I got mad is a bit of an understatement.

I’m pretty sure my car will never get saved, because I told that committee to go %$^#)?> themselves quite a few times this week. I suggested they do things that, to my knowledge are not anatomically possible.

I was angry because good Christian people just played me for a fool when all along they had their ace in the hole, passing them the offering plate on Sundays and the dinner rolls at Wednesday night suppers.

And I was the most angry because their church members will never know the truth. They’ll think their team searched the country far and wide. And then, lo and behold, they found the very best and perfect man right in their own backyard.

“Who woulda thunk it?!?”

I knew it was probably a mistake and pointless, but I wrote the chairman a letter:

Dear __________,

Close but no cigar, huh? So I guess this means you’re not visiting my church any time soon? :0)

Congratulations on the end of your search. I pray only God’s greatest success on your new pastor and on your church in the future.

I must admit, I would have enjoyed the privilege of speaking with you or your committee even once in this process, even on the phone. I am also a bit surprised to find that your choice is already part of your church. That information would have tempered my expectations about the process. 

But since I did take it seriously, I’m sending along some notes I made. They may never get any further than this email, but I believe they are valuable in that they are how an outsider with knowledge of church trends and operations sees your current situation. I was eager to share with you my research of your church and what I saw as important challenges you face, in order to turn around your recent decline and again be a growing congregation. I guess this will be as good as it gets for me now…

I went on to give him my observations on what needed to happen to reverse the decline they’d experienced for the past several years.

In my mind, I can visualize the chairman when he received the email. He reads the first few lines, realizes what it is and quickly hits the delete button on his computer, before reading the suggestions and further.

That’s because people like him, who pick the easy way out of a responsibility, who don’t mind stringing someone along even when they know what they’re already going to do, they’re not interested in strategy and growth. They are managers who are just trying to keep the wheels turning in the old factory. They’d been given a holy responsibility, only to treat it as a holy hot-potato to be dropped on the closest recipient.

Of course, he’d said all the right things in his correspondences. He made me believe they were really about prayer, which inspired me to pray regularly for each committee member by name. I thought they were really special, only to find out they were looking at their responsibility as a burden more than a privilege. As soon as they could, they found the escape hatch and took the easy way out.

Right now, it’s Saturday night and I face yet another Sunday with my sweet, dysfunctional little church, But as I think over the week, I realize something surprising. Even with all our struggles, I think I just dodged a bullet…

…a bullet from a group of drive-by baptists.

The fact that they’d pretend to do a real search while only going through the motions proves that I am blessed of God not to have moved there. How trapped I would have felt if these people, whom were considered their church’s cream of the crop, were truly representative of the whole place I’d be pastoring? What a nightmare to be stuck in such a dead-end church!

So now I sit in my brown comfy chair, facing another day of hauling equipment into a rented facility. But even so, I’m thanking my God for letting me get the drive-by treatment from this group of ecclesiastical thugs.

I guess one way or the other, God gives churches the pastors they deserve after all. Hmmm…

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