So when I suggest they slow down, many churches react with surprise and not-a-little disappointment. "Slow down?" they ask. "We want to get the new guy here. We want to put him to work! Time's a-wasting!"
One of the best (and least welcome) pieces of advice I have to offer churches in the search for a new minister is this:
Before you can find what you need, you must first discover who you are.
It's the same advice any father would offer his young son on the subject of dating and marriage. It's the same advice any friend would offer a woman who has just lost her husband after many years of marriage. It's what you would tell someone before they settled on an occupation or took up a hobby. Surely the decision about a new minister merits the same thoughtfulness as choosing a hobby!
Churches should ask, "Who are we?" before asking "Who is he?" What is God's unique call on the life of your congregation? Where are you going? What are your gifts and abilities? What do you value? What are your goals and ambitions? What stage of life are you in? What opportunities has God opened to your congregation? How are you equipped to do kingdom work?
Until you can answer the "Who are we?" question, you're not ready to answer the "Who are we looking for?" question. You don't know what skills you need in a minister, what experience and training, what passions and gifts. Ministers do not come in "one size fits all"... just as churches aren't pressed from a cookie cutter. Understanding yourself is the first and necessary step to recognizing what and who you need.
- He has been speaking to you directly by his Spirit: through his guidance in Scripture and in prayer... through his gifts and convictions.
- He has been speaking to you through your church: the people he has brought together to form you congregation... the gifts and resources he has blessed you with... the experiences and skills he has assembled in your church family.
- And he has been speaking to your church through your circumstances: where you live... the shape of the surrounding community... the needs that are present in your neighbors and neighborhoods.
By listening carefully to God, your congregation, and your circumstances, you will hear the Lord's calling on your church and — in that call — discover your unique mission. The following series of articles helps you hear what God has been saying to your church for years now. It prescribes a series of exercises for paying attention to kingdom business.
That's where the minister search process begins: with listening... with asking the right questions... with getting reacquainted with your church... so that, when the time is right, you will recognize the person God has prepared to lead your congregation into the future.