Monday, June 02, 2014

Wacky Transition Stories #1

Sometimes the way a pastoral search unfolds is truly bizarre—for the candidate, for the search committee, for the congregation, or all of the above!

In this new series, we'll share stories of some of the more bizarre events we've heard—and, in some cases, experienced. (We've changed the names and locations to shield those involved from embarrassment or awkwardness.) There's no telling how you'll find these; some may say, "I can't believe that actually happened;" others will find commiseration and sympathy in the similar experiences revealed. Everyone could think of these as more in the category of "what NOT to do!"

So, here's Wacky Story #1, which came to us from a ruling elder who served as the chair of the search committee in this account...

Community Church in York, South Carolina is a small, 50-member congregation that has been around for a little over 60 years. Their pastor had received another call, so the congregation formed a search committee led by one of the elders (call him Joe). This committee was active and diligent in their work to evaluate candidates and begin the process of narrowing the list down to a few. Meanwhile, several qualified men in the region served Community Church in their weekly worship service by providing pulpit supply.

One particular preacher, who we'll call Tom, became a regular; he was a seminary graduate with some ministry experience, and had been ordained by their presbytery; however, he was currently without a call, and was therefore available to come fill the pulpit for Community Church on a regular basis. Tom had a good rapport with the congregation in general, and had submitted his name to the search committee as a candidate to be the next pastor—but, for a variety of reasons, they had eliminated him fairly early on in the process. He took it well, and continued to serve them regularly in preaching.

After several months of consideration, the search committee began to turn its attention to one candidate in particular, whom we will call Bill. They really liked the way Bill had answered his questionnaire, and when they did a phone interview it went really well. Bill and Joe had also had several phone conversations one-on-one, and a friendship had begun to form between them. After further consideration, the committee decided to invite Bill to spend a long weekend with them, interviewing, leading worship, and preaching.

The interview weekend came, and Bill and his family arrived on Thursday night. They spent time with a wide variety of congregants, including a lengthy interview with the session (all of the elders together) and another extended conversation with some other leaders. Bill seemed at ease leading their worship service, and his sermon hit the mark pretty well. When Joe asked around, he couldn't find anyone who didn't seem favorable to Bill as their candidate—it looked like they had found their next pastor.

The congregation was scheduled to meet and vote the following Sunday. The process was supposed to be simple: they would call to order, pass out ballots, and cast their votes. There would be a few minutes before the votes when they could have some discussion, if they needed it. Joe didn't think they would.

So he was surprised when, after asking if there were any questions or discussion, someone stood up and asked, "Why didn't we consider Tom to be our next pastor?" Joe began to explain that Tom had, indeed, applied—and then another member cut him off angrily, saying, "How come you never told us that!?" The discussion quickly devolved into an emotion-filled, multi-sided debate: some wanted Tom and were angry that he wasn't the candidate; others didn't want Tom, but were still frustrated they didn't know he had been a candidate. Others didn't care about Tom at all, and couldn't understand how the vote for Bill had become an argument about someone else!

The meeting went for nearly two hours. In the end, Joe was able to make a full explanation that Tom had been given a fair consideration, and had been eliminated for a variety of reasons (which he was grilled about in the meeting). With the hope that questions about Tom were behind them, he asked if they wanted to go ahead and vote on Bill, or wait until the following week. The general mood seemed to be that they wanted to go ahead and have the vote.

Clearly, though, the spirit of enthusiasm for Bill had been tempered severely by the debate about Tom. When the votes were counted, only 55% had voted in favor of Bill.

Bill declined to accept the call, such as it was, because he recognized the problems associated with taking such a barely-legitimate call. Bill continued his search with other congregations, and Community Church eventually called a different candidate to be their pastor.

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Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you during the pastoral transition process? If so, we'd love to hear it! E-mail us at:

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