In recent weeks I’ve talked with some pastors who are considering if it might be time to move to a new place of ministry.
Some of them are under pressure to leave their current church so it probably is time for them to be seeking a new church.
Others feel that they have accomplished everything they can in their present ministry and are using that as a springboard to begin searching for new ministry opportunities.
This is a difficult time for clergy and their families; it is not a time to get hasty and do something you’ll soon regret.
For two years before I left my previous pastorate, I knew my time there was drawing to a close. I did not especially want it to leave, but I could sense my ministry at that church was closing down.
We had enjoyed 18 years of positive ministry there, but I felt the church had gone as far as it could under my leadership. They needed a new pastor with different gifts than I had in order to move forward.
This was a scary time and I sought the counsel of family and our area minister. Although I felt certain it was time for me to go, the question was “Where?”
Many years earlier, I had read a book on pastoral transitions in which the author wrote that this is the loneliest time in a clergy person’s life.
One can seek counsel from as many people as possible, but it is still a decision only the minister can make.
Family needs and considerations play a huge part in that decision, but it remains one that the minister has to make by himself or herself.
It is important to know why you are leaving your present ministry and to be willing to wait for God to open the right doors.
For two years, I prayed and considered various ministry options until God opened the door to my present place of service.
I see too many pastors run into this process willing to pursue any open ministry opportunity they find. That is a recipe for disaster.
This is a time to move slowly and deliberately. Both the church and the minister should take time to really get to know one another.
It is expected that the church will contact references; the minister should also contact people about the church.
Call other churches in the area and ask about the one you are considering. If the church is in a denomination, call the denominational or judicatory leader who serves that church.
I was once being considered by a church in another state, and I called the judicatory person who had the area in which that church was located.
Interestingly enough, that happened to be the church of which he was a member so he was able to tell me quite a bit about the church.
Although he was very positive about the church, after further discussions with the search committee I decided this would not be a good fit for either of us and declined their offer to become their pastor.
There will likely be several meetings with the committee or team designated by the church to search for candidates to bring before the membership. Be prepared for those meetings.
My experience has been that many committees, especially in smaller churches, are not prepared with good questions to ask the candidate.
As the potential new leader of this congregation, this is a great time to demonstrate your leadership abilities.
Be prepared with good questions you can ask the committee that will not only answer your questions but help them better know you.
When I interviewed with my previous church, I didn’t know what to ask them and they really didn’t ask very good questions either.
We were fortunate. Despite doing everything wrong in the interview process, we turned out to be a good match and enjoyed a good ministry together.
Others I have known were not so fortunate. They ended up accepting a church that was not a good match for their spiritual gifts and personalities. In many cases, those ministries were both miserable and short-lived.
As I have coached bivocational pastors who were seeking a new place to serve, I have found that many of them were uncertain what to ask search committees.
In my book, “The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry,” I list the questions I began to ask church search committees.
I would suggest ministers have a similar list of questions typed out and lying before them.
Often during the interview process, the committee will answer some of these questions during the course of conversation. At the end of that process, be sure to ask the ones they have not answered.
Asking questions and paying careful attention to the answers is a crucial part of the search process.
Sometimes, the answers you receive will prevent you from accepting the call to a church that would certainly not have been a good match for you and your family.
This period of seeking a new place of ministry is a challenging one. If you are in such a place now, spend much time in prayer, talk to spiritual leaders you trust and when new doors of ministry seem to open, do your homework and find out as much about that church and what they need in a new pastor as possible.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Ind., for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.