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Monday, July 13, 2015

I Thought We Knew the Right Questions to Ask



Interview processes are grueling.     

The staff selection process can be very long and tedious, and I often wonder why, since staff pastors generally stay at their assignments for around two years.  How much damage can really be done in that amount of time?  That's rhetorical.  Most of the time, I left interviews for staff positions thinking, "Goodness, I feel like I've just been vetted...  and, you know, so has my three year old!"

Over time, we learned that it was just as important for us to interview the church board as it was for them to interview us.  As we have gone through different stages of life, our question lists have evolved.  And let's be real, if we'd always known all the right questions to ask, we never would have gone anywhere.  There is a part of me that knows, now, that we will accept any call, to any place, if we believe it is God's call for us to a specific community.  In some ways, this seemingly makes the very act of asking questions obsolete.  But questions matter.  The older I get, the less certain I am that the contents of the questions are essential, although I do have a few favorites.  The more important thing is to listen to people when they answer.  As you listen, ask yourself, "What can God do with us here?"  Understand that every church has faults.  One of the most telling questions I ask is, "What's wrong with your church?"  Realistically, they're probably not going to answer that during the interview process, but you can rest assured you will learn the second your moving van pulls into the driveway.

We have successfully navigated more than a handful of interviews, and by "successfully," what I mean is that we have survived the inspection and been offered positions.  The interview process is flawed, and what I mean by this is that everybody involved is so desperate to highlight their very best qualities that something gets lost in the language.  That something is, often, transparency.  We have not taken every position we have been offered, but that has had much more to do with the things that God was speaking into our hearts than the things that any person said or did.  Well, except maybe in Louisiana, but that's another story for another day... or never.  The best advice I can give regarding interviews for staff positions is be honest and listen carefully.

***

Candidacy processes for Senior Pastorates are completely different experiences.  They are not even in the same league.  I was going to write that I would like to share some details from two very difficult processes to which we subjected ourselves, but the truth is, I would not like to share these, at all.  I would like to forget them, completely.  However, because I think that knowing about these experiences could possibly provide some insight, encouragement, or comfort, I will share them. 

I like to think I'm pretty tough. And honestly, I kind of am, at least much of the time.  Somewhere along the road, though, I think my potential for hope dwindled a bit.  I found myself not shooting quite as high as I used to in order to avoid excessive disappointment.  But when the church down the road came open, I was on it, and it wasn't just about me.  I love Psalm 37:4, because I do delight in the Lord, and I have worked hard to align my desires with God's.  I prayed, and prayed, and prayed.  The process went on for months, and I really believed that this was the place where God wanted us.

We already knew people there.  Our kids played Upward basketball there.  We had friends there.  When Phil sent his resume and talked with the District Superintendent, and was told that his name was being taken before the board, we were excited.  We were just over the border on a different district, and when Phil went to his credentials board meeting, our D.S. asked how the interview had gone.  At that point, we did not yet have information about an interview, but things looked pretty good, since our D.S. had obviously talked with the other D.S.  It felt like the process was moving along smoothly.

And then, the church board didn't pick anyone to interview from that group of candidates.  Frankly, I was confused.  I spent a couple of weeks wondering what on earth could have possibly happened, and finally, when I had exhausted every possibility and couldn't live with the question anymore, I contacted a friend who was on that church board and asked what it was about us that didn't seem like a good fit for, at least, an interview.  She was blown away by my question, because the board had never been presented with our information as a possible candidate.  What?

Over the course of another month or so, the D.S. who had lied to us retired and another one was chosen.  Phil contacted him, explained our situation, and resubmitted everything necessary for the candidacy process to move forward again.  By this time, there was also a newly elected church board, and my friend was no longer a part of it, but her husband was.  I'll be darned if the new D.S. didn't do the very same thing.  After this board meeting, Phil contacted him and asked him why.  The D.S. responded that he thought someone from the church board was bringing our information, but as it turned out, they had another candidate in mind.  Essentially, the process was over after this conversation, and the church went on to hire a wonderful pastor, someone we knew from years ago, in fact.  And I spent some time crying my eyes out, not only because we were not going to be selected for a position that I felt was clearly within the will of what God could have for our family but also because I now questioned whether we could depend on people in leadership roles in the church to even be honest.

Well, several months later, the church down the road in the opposite direction came open, and since it was on our district, and we loved our D.S. and absolutely trusted him to not lie to us, we decided to take another stab at a candidacy process.  Phil did a lot of pulpit supply there over many weeks, and although he wasn't labeled the "interim" pastor, he sort of filled that role.  Our family went together, most weeks, and we were starting to get to know some of the people.  It seemed like things were going really well.

I should back up just a little bit and share the fact that we had been a part of the candidacy process for this particular local church about nine years earlier, so there were some strange dynamics going on for me.  I had desperately wanted to go there almost a decade before.  This time felt different, but part of that was that I was remaining a little bit guarded.  Our D.S. was positive, though, and he seemed to genuinely want us to fill this opening.  We knew they were going to be discussing candidates soon, and our information was definitely a part of that process.  It felt like this was going to, perhaps, be a redemption moment.

And then we showed up one Sunday morning, and right before Phil was to get up and preach, they made an announcement that they would be interviewing a candidate for the Senior Pastor position, and they put a picture of the candidate and his family up on the projection screen, and you know, it wasn't us.

So, I'm sitting there trying to process what the heck just happened, while grasping at straws trying to maintain my tough as nails facade, and the tears just started flowing.  But, of course, I'm on the far side of the sanctuary, so to make a mad dash for the door would require me to walk past all of these people just completely exposed.  We had actually not talked with our kids about our hope that we would be making a permanent move to this local church, so they're getting really concerned, because they have no idea, whatsoever, why Mommy is just about hysterical, and I'm actually using Ian, who was five at the time, sitting on my lap, as something like a human shield, with my face buried in the back of his head.         

Phil got up and preached.  I don't know how he did it, especially with me sitting there sobbing.  He told me later (years later) that getting that first word out of his mouth was one of the hardest things he ever did.  The kids went to children's church.  We survived the day.  Our D.S., who legitimately never imagined that they would make that kind of announcement with us sitting there, apologized.  But it still stung for awhile.  I have no doubt that the people of that local church did not intend to hurt us in any way, but sometimes people do things that hurt, even unintentionally. 

For some weeks after this incident, the only thing I could think was, "I am hanging by a thread".  This had to do with the current circumstance and the previous one.  Candidacy processes are exhausting and to have two of them, about which you cared very much, end in nothing was completely draining to say the least.  I had been excited about where I honestly believed God was leading!  Things were good.  And then, on top of the disappointments themselves, I found myself really frustrated with myself, because apparently if you throw a couple of unexpected things at me in quick succession, I am still really capable of falling apart.

Ministry is really hard sometimes.  Sometimes I wish a church would look upon my family and the question would be, "How badly do they need us?" instead of the other way around.  Don't misunderstand me, I know that's never really going to happen.  Missed possibilities and closed doors hurt, a lot.  Don't lose sight of a dream that God plants in your heart, but also consider the potential for spending your life in a God-forsaken place where no one else wants to go.  By doing that, you just might be able to show God's love and that place won't be so forsaken anymore. 

Life doesn't always pan out the way I plan it.  Alright, let's be real.  Life almost never pans out the way I plan it.  That's OK.

L.

2 comments:

  1. Wow! Just wow! Some of the life experiences you have had are heart breaking and yet, I can see through this post how God has allowed you to go through them so that you may minister to those who are going through similar situations.

    You have seen a lot of hurt in your life...may God bless you abundantly!

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    1. Thank you so much for this. I have to be honest, there have been quite a few experiences that I would rather have *not* gone through. However, since I *have*, I hope they will be of some use to someone else. And thank you for this blessing. We are, indeed, blessed.

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