I’ve recently come back to blogging after having to step away from posting during a season where I served as the chair of a Pastor Search Committee. If you have spent any time at all serving in a local church, there are few things that cause more anxiety than the mention of, need for, and prospect of serving on a PSC. But back in August of 2017, I received a call from our senior pastor asking me to pray about whether I would be willing to serve on the committee that would be looking for the next one since he was retiring in 2018 after serving our church for 30+ years.
I eventually agreed to serve and ended up being elected chair of a committee of nine people. In the 10 months that followed, we saw God do some amazing things – literally “more than we could ask or imagine.” (Eph. 3:20). God found the right person for our church and set everything up so that the transition was smooth and the church remains unified. I got to know eight simply fantastic people and experience God in a new and powerful way. In addition, I learned a lot – so I thought it would be fitting if one of my first blog posts as I jump back in was about five things (and there were many more) that I learned during this entire process.
#1: God is the most present when we are the most helpless.
When our committee first started meeting, we had two training sessions to get us started and give us a sense of how the process worked. We were told that our current staff and pastors would not be a part of the search because they did not want to have any undue influence but if specific questions came up, they would be available to meet with us and answer them. I was elected chair and we scheduled our first meeting as a group. I don’t think I can overstate how scared to death we all were in that first meeting. We were trying to find a person to step into the shoes of a deservedly well-loved pastor of three decades and we were on our own. The feeling was just like being thrown into the deep end as a child and told to swim.
Interestingly (and not coincidentally), I had just begun teaching a discipleship class on worship based on 2 Chronicles 20 in which King Jehoshaphat prays to God, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chron. 20:12) That was our prayer and rallying cry throughout the journey. Just like the King, it was the helplessness that we felt that caused us to desperately seek God’s help and his direction. Many times throughout the process, we encouraged each other with the saying, “God’s Got This.” And he certainly showed up and led us every step of the way.
#2: God speaks through his Word.
I’ve been in church all of my life. I have heard time and time again that God speaks to us through his Word and on some level I understood that truth. We learn who God is and how he operates through his Word. But this experience was maybe the first time that I really saw God use his Word to speak directly about and into a current situation that I was dealing with at that moment. The 2 Chronicles verse above was one example of that. Members of the committee were quick to share verses with the group that they had recently read that were relevant to our situation. Another one of the verses that we kept coming back to was Isaiah 43:19, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”
The most specific example of God’s guidance through scripture was near the end of our journey. There was a moment of time where we were hearing some criticism and were becoming fearful that the church might not be unified in the final result. We were trying to figure out if we needed to respond somehow. Someone shared Exodus 14:14 – “The LORD will fight for you, you need only to be still.” We also went back to 2 Chronicles 20 where God’s answer to the King’s prayer was “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.” And in a matter of a couple of weeks, we saw all signs of disunity in the church vanish without us saying or doing anything. It was stunning.
#3: Unity among believers occurs when they focus completely on God.
I’m a former prosecutor and have tried a large number of jury trials. Because of that, I have a good sense of how difficult it is to get a group of people to agree on something. In fact, it’s difficult to get two or three people to agree on where to go for lunch, much less something important! But from the beginning to the end of the pastor search process, every member of our committee was completely unified over each step that was taken. We never even really had any disagreements, heated discussions, or had to wrestle too long over any particular decision.
This was not because any of us weren’t engaged or didn’t care what decisions were made. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I believe the reason had to do with #1 above – we knew we were in way over our heads and we had to depend on God. Since we were all seeking Him, we were all following one leader and he was gracious to show us each step. One other interesting part of this was that whenever we discussed a step beyond the very next one, we could never come to a consensus and everything would be cloudy. When it was time to take that next step, we were quickly able to agree what the next step was.
#4: God sometimes answers prayer in an overwhelming way to show His Glory (and maybe our lack of faith)
When I think about all of the prayers that were offered by this committee, on behalf of the committee, over the process, over the transition, etc. I cannot imagine the hours and words that they would encompass if added together. Certainly our committee prayed fervently over the course of the journey. But one specific answer stands out.
In our church, the candidate for pastor comes and preaches a “trial sermon” and the congregation then votes on whether to call him as the pastor. Under our bylaws, he would need to get 75% of the vote in order to be offered the job. By the time we got to the Sunday when Pastor Robert was scheduled to preach his trial sermon, we were pretty confident we would get more than 75% of the vote. After all, he had met a lot of the church by that point and things had seemed to go smoothly. As the committee met with him to pray that Sunday morning before he was to preach, someone asked, “What percentage should we pray for?” I chuckle when I remember that none of us wanted to pray for much more than 90% and I think our prayer was pretty vague on a specific number.
God didn’t mind – Pastor Robert got well more than 99% of the vote. I will always remember our faces when we heard the final count. We realized God had showed us his power yet again.
#5 – God allows us to participate in his work to teach us about himself.
God was in control of this search long before the committee was ever formed. There was nothing special about us that caused it to be successful – I often tell people that God made sure we didn’t screw the whole thing up! But by allowing us to participate in what he was doing, God taught each of us some very important truths about himself like the ones I’ve shared here.
I can’t say that I always believed 100% when we would tell each other, “God’s got this.” But he did – and he still does.