Saturday, March 5, 2016

You Did What?!? Why I Did the Unthinkable and Lived to Tell About It

Last week a friend called me and started the conversation by saying, “What are you doing?” When I asked him what he meant he said that he saw on social media that I had announced that I had accepted a call to serve at church in a neighboring state. He was trying to understand how I could let my current church find out something so important via social media. At that point I said, “They already knew I was preaching in view of a call. I told them last week.” At which point he said, “You did what?!?” I told him I told them the week before because I loved them and trusted them and coveted their prayers. And, though surprised, they were glad that I trusted and loved them enough to want them to be a part of such an important process. It has not always been that way.

In January of 1990, I was called to serve my very first church as a pastor. It was a part-time role while I was finishing out my college education. But, from that day until now, over twenty-five years later, one thing has remained a constant: pastors do not alert their congregations that they are considering a call to another church before they have actually accepted that call. One on hand, it makes perfect sense. After all, most employees would never walk into their boss’s office and announce they are considering making a change to another company. Doing so would almost certainly earn them an escort out of the building.

I have only made a handful of ministry moves, but in every case, I did not tell the church I was serving until after I had accepted a call to a new place. I did not really care for doing it that way, but I had been warned by many older, more experienced pastors that one could not let the people in your current place of service know you were considering another call. I would like to suggest three reasons why that is no longer true and why it is preferable to bring your church into the process. Plus, I’ll provide one prerequisite that must be true before you attempt to do this.

1. Prayer
Considering moving from one congregation to another is a gut-wrenching decision for any pastor. It is always difficult for the congregation the pastor is leaving. The one thing that a pastor and his congregation need is clarity from the Lord. How better to receive that clarity that through prayer. One of the great joys I received during the week leading up to preaching in view of a call at another church were the texts, emails and Facebook messages from our members letting me know that they were praying for me and for the process. What a tremendous encouragement to me and an opportunity for God to prepare their hearts for the future.

2. Social Media
The way in which we discover the “news” of the day has forever been changed by the reality of social media. According to the most recent numbers, over 3 billion people have internet access, of which, just over 2 billion have active social media accounts. Facebook alone boasts of 1.4 billion unique accounts, meaning that 47% of all people with access to the internet have a Facebook account. Practically, that means that when a pastor preaches at a church in view of a call and accepts a call from that congregation, many of the people in the new church will desire to share that news and connect with the new pastor via social media. Unless one’s current church is aware of what is happening, a communications disaster could occur.

3. Sermon Audio and Video
In days gone by, often the first time a church heard a prospective pastor preach was on the Sunday he was preaching in view of a call. I am not sure anyone wants their body of work to be evaluated with their “performance” on one day. Today many churches post audio and /or video of sermons on their website or via social media outlets. By pre-announcing that I was going to preach in view of a call, the prospective congregation to share my name and details with their church so they could hear (and see) a large number of sermons. The result? The prospective church had a better idea of what my ministry looked (and sounded) like on a weekly basis. Thus, they were better prepared to search their hearts as to whether God would use them to call me to their church.

Having given three good reasons why you should consider pre-announcing that you are considering a call elsewhere, let me be clear that it is always risky. I was fortunate to be able to consult with our key church leaders and get their input before making the decision to pre-announce. It was at their urging that I did so, though they all admitted they had never heard of anyone doing so before. We all recognized that pre-announcing could backfire and undermine your ministry at your current place, particularly if you are not called away.

For that reason, let me offer one vital prerequisite. From your first day of ministry where you are, you must build love and trust between you and the people in your church. When my friend asked why I would tell our church ahead of time, I responded, “Because I love and trust them and they love and trust me.” That does not change the pain of making a transition or the sorrow of saying good-bye to dear friends, but it does speak deeply about the relationship that has been built and the health of the church situation you may be considering leaving.

Again, I am aware that this approach may not be possible for every pastor or every church situation. But, at the urging of some of our key leaders, I wanted to share why we took the approach that we did. I hope it is helpful. I would love your feedback.

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