For the past several months, our church has been looking to call a new senior pastor. I was asked to be one of a team of six to dive into the search process. Our founding pastor, who served the congregation so faithfully and with distinction for over three decades, was ready to retire. (I think too many capital campaigns will do that to you.) We knew it had to happen sooner or later. But that’s just an abstraction until it actually does happen.
The process seems to have reached a happy end; the call has been issued and accepted, and soon, a new pastor will arrive to begin the next chapter of our congregation’s story. All in all, it’s been a wonderful journey of faith-building and discovery.
I can say it now: I’m really not much of a committee guy. Throughout my professional career, I’ve served on more committees than I can remember. There’s always been a loose rule at the seminary that professors would only be appointed to four committees max per year; often, I would find myself on at least seven or eight. And truth be told, I sometimes had the sense that one of the reasons I was asked to serve was because it looked better from a diversity standpoint. I appreciate the intent, but at the same time, my more cynical side imagined that someone, somewhere, was thinking, “I know, let’s put the Chinese guy on there.”
But the main reason I don’t relish committee work will probably sound familiar to anyone who’s been there: to hijack a bit of Shakespeare, they’re frequently “full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.” A huge number of person-hours is expended in discussion that frequently goes in circles. If the team breaks out of that spiral, a report is written–and after due consideration and a hearty pat on the back, the report goes on the shelf, until the next time someone says, “That’s an important question. Let’s form a committee.”
I know–I’m exaggerating. A little.
All that to say that when the pastor asked me to be part of the search team, I agreed, but had my own private reservations. In addition to my own experience with committees, had I not heard enough tales of woe, of endless pastoral searches and failed calls?
But here I sit, delighted and excited, looking forward to the future and feeling privileged to have been part of the process. My colleagues on the committee were the finest one could ask for; our discussions were animated and productive, and we would leave each meeting being of one (sound) mind.
And along the way, we discovered the most important thing of all: God was in charge.
I remember the committee’s first meeting. Team members did their own evaluation of a slate of candidates, reviewing resumes and video sermons, scouring the Internet for any other relevant information. My experience of watching the sermons had been that only one candidate would really fit. I worried that I was being too harsh. But scant minutes into the team discussion, we all discovered that we had reached similar conclusions.
And so it went from stage to stage. We worked hard to fulfill what we thought our mandate was–to present the board with a small slate of viable candidates, plural. But we repeatedly came back to the same conclusion: we had one candidate upon which we all agreed, and felt strongly that this was the right one. Our retiring pastor has put it well: it’s as if God was saying, “Look, I’m trying to make it easy for you. I gave you one. That’s all you need.”
Members of the congregation have their own stories of confirmation. One couple, long time leaders in the church, told me that they had both been praying diligently for the search process. At one point, without knowing anything about the candidate, the wife told her husband, “I feel like God is telling me that the new pastor will be from Chicago.” The husband listened but demurred: “Really? I feel like God’s saying the pastor’s going to be from Arizona.”
The candidate’s last two ministry appointments, of course, were in the areas of Chicago and Phoenix.
So I repent. I know now that God can even work through a committee. I should have known that already, but I can occasionally be a little dense (okay, okay, more than just occasionally).
To Dave: thank you for all your years of sacrificial service. I hope you know that your labors have not been in vain. Well done.
To Aaron and his family: welcome! We look forward to life together.
To Lesley: thank you for your incredible leadership in the process. And to the rest of the team, Tim, Lynne, Dan, and the other Dave: it’s been a joy! Truly.
Praise be to God!