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November 2017

The Work Goes On


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Pastor Wanted

By Brandon Roysden


It’s the conversation you’re never really prepared for. After a Sunday morning worship service, our pastor called me and another deacon into his office. We knew he had been having some health complications, but we had no idea the disease had progressed so quickly. Then we heard the words that would change the direction of our church, “My doctor’s have told me that I can’t keep up the duties of the church, and I need to retire.”

Less than a year before, I was honored to become a deacon at the church I have attended for 15 years. Little did I know we would soon be saying goodbye to a pastor of more than 20 years and entering into the search for the next man to lead our church.

Beyond the emotional impact of this revelation came the scary realization that we were now tasked with an incredible neither of us had experienced before. Thankfully, after eight months of prayer, scores of conversations, and more meetings than we care to remember, we recently welcomed a new pastor to the pulpit at Bethlehem Free Will Baptist Church. From this side of the process, I have a new appreciation for the effort, faith, and steps required to walk through such a pivotal time in the life of a church. For me, it was a lesson in faith and patience and one that taught me many valuable lessons, some of which hopefully can aid others who find themselves in a similar position.

When the leader of any church leaves or resigns, especially one who has enjoyed a long tenure, the steps to find the next leader can be precarious and unknown. It is with full understanding of this truth, that I humbly submit the following guide. We are definitely not experts, but we are thankful to God for His gracious guidance and mercy that led us through a difficult time in our church.

  • Prepare and communicate quickly. Because our pastor communicated in advance, we were able to announce the first church-wide meeting about next steps the morning our pastor resigned. We actually planned the meeting for that evening. Alleviating concerns and showing the congregation we had a plan was integral in earning trust with our people.

  • Honor your exiting pastor. Regardless of the situation, saying goodbye to a pastor is an emotional experience. Barring a change due to church disciplinary reasons, it is totally appropriate to honor your outgoing pastor, whether he is retiring or simply moving forward to his next calling. Depending on the situation, some church members may have hard feelings toward the departing pastor, but he was the man of God for your church for this time, and he should be treated as such. In our situation, the pastor was forced into early retirement by his health. We demonstrated our love and appreciation through a reception, gifts, help with moving, and more. Your approach may be different, but don’t forget to thank God for the service of one man of God as you enter your search for another.

  • Know the rules. Every church is different, but it is important for the leadership to know and study church documents to understand the prescribed process for finding a pastor. The church may have certain guidelines no one remembers, especially if it has been a long time since anyone has reviewed this section of the church’s constitution.

  • Lean on the experience of others. One of the first things we did was reach out to others who had been through this process (both churches and pastors) to ask what advice they might have. Some suggested books, some warned of pitfalls, and others simply encouraged us throughout the process. It was comforting to know we were on the right track because we were hearing from others who had been through it before.

  • Use time wisely. The time your church is without a pastor should not be wasted. For us, it was important we communicate some specific messages to our church and to get feedback about the type of church we want to be. This is one area I wish we could’ve been even more intentional, but during this time, we conducted a church survey, completed book studies about church health, and repeatedly emphasized what the future of our church could look like. For us, Sunday nights gave us time for updates and interaction. The time between pastors may not look exactly like that for you, but I encourage you to take full advantage of the time to create clear direction and outline a hopeful future for your congregation.

  • Find an interim if possible. We found a former pastor in the area willing to fill the pulpit regularly during the transition. Finding an interim was one of the most frequent pieces of advice I heard in conversations with others who had been through pastoral transition. Having someone to shoulder the preaching ministry of the church allows leadership to focus on other important matters. Obviously, this is not always possible, but when it is, I highly recommend it.

  • Create a guiding coalition. In some churches, this may be a pastoral search committee; for some, it is the deacon board; for others, it is a diverse leadership team. Regardless, ensure you have an easy and effective way to communicate with this group. If possible, appoint members from multiple demographics (middle-aged women, older men, newer members, church founders, etc.). If every member of the team can understand each step and feel like they have a voice, it can go a long way to having them advocate the process and decisions back to the congregation.

  • Keep everyone informed. As I mentioned above, we made it clear that Sunday nights were the place to get the latest information or ask questions. We announced updates regarding the search, shared items of prayer, and previewed what was coming up in the process. This may function differently in your context, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of keeping everyone informed. This doesn’t mean you must share every candidate or detail, but it is crucial to make the members of your congregation part of the process and to let them know what they can expect from the church leadership throughout the search.

  • Accept/Evaluate Candidates. This may be one of the more difficult parts of transition. Depending on your network, it can be difficult to get the word out to qualified and interested candidates. For us, we tried to let everyone possible know we were looking for a pastor, and asked if they knew of anyone looking for a congregation to shepherd. Reach out to leaders in your denominational agencies. Simply informing these leaders that your church is seeking a pastor puts your church in their mind as they travel and speak to potential candidates throughout the year. In addition, the Executive Office offers a church and pastor postings page on its website to help with this process.



Once you have received sufficient resumes, you’ll need to decide how you will evaluate them. After providing resumes, sermon recordings, and answers to our questionnaire, we had everyone on the pastoral search team list the candidates in the order they felt would give us the best path forward. This allowed us to see if anyone rose to the top of the list. When they did, that’s where we started.

  • Hosting the candidate. Once the search team and a candidate are open to exploring next steps, it’s time to schedule a day for the candidate to visit your church. Before this happened, we communicated multiple times with the candidate, and, thanks to advances in technology, hosted a video call to allow the search team and the candidate to get to know one another. Once the date for a visit is set, advertise well in advance. In addition to having the candidate preach on Sunday morning, we also felt it important for the congregation to interact with him in a different environment, so we invited everyone back for a fellowship meal on Sunday night and had a Q&A time hosted by the head of the search team and the candidate. We invited our members to submit questions as well. This gave everyone a chance to hear from the potential pastor in a conversational style, and to hear his vision and approach to ministry.

  • Be Patient. Multiple advisors warned against the danger of getting in a hurry, and we found this to be true. A common “rule of thumb” is to expect transition to take at least one month for every year of the previous pastor’s tenure. (For our church, this would have been almost two years.) While no one wanted to wait that long, our resolve was tested after nearly eight months passed without a pastor. I firmly believe our patience was rewarded when God moved to bring us the pastor He had prepared for our church.

  • Pray, pray, and pray some more. This could be both the first piece of advice as well as the last and should be constant throughout. Without a move of God, everything else is simply man’s attempt to obtain resumes and host a job interview. As a church, we wanted more than someone to fill a position. We wanted God to guide us to His choice for our church. Encourage prayer in your people. Plan fasts. Schedule dedicated times of prayer. Whatever you do, don’t stop praying until God has answered with His man for His season, however long that may be.

As a former teacher and event director at Randall House, lists like the one above are my friends. I love X’s and O’s and being able to follow a process. As a matter of fact, perhaps the most difficult part of the entire search came when the process ended, and we had to wait. I told some of my closest friends, “Following the process was the easy part. Waiting on and discerning God’s will are the most difficult, by far.”

And though our search was not without hurdles, we can now look back and see God’s hand at work. We made mistakes along the way and had to course correct. We waded through numerous candidates before finding the one God had prepared for our church. We became discouraged and weren’t sure what was going to happen. But now, a few months into the tenure of our new pastor, I cannot overstate how thankful I am to our people, the members of the search team, and ultimately to God for walking with us through this valley. Our source of sorrow has become our source of hope, and that sounds just about the way God does things to me (Psalm 30:11).

About the Writer: Brandon Roysden is chairman of the deacon board at Bethlehem Free Will Baptst Church in Ashland City, Tennessee.





©2017 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists