The Bachelorette is a reality TV show where one single woman is put in a situation where she interacts with a larger group of potential suitors. She goes on dates, has group activities, and whittles down the group of men to one man. It seems strange to find a potential husband by dating twenty men at one time.
However, this show’s process of finding a significant other is not unlike the way many pulpit committees seek to find a pastor. Often, pulpit committees will talk with several candidates at one time, even interviewing multiple candidates at one time. There is no hard rule against this practice, but there is some wisdom for not doing it this way.
First, by dealing with multiple candidates simultaneously, you run the risk of splitting the pulpit committee between two or more potential pastors. Who wants to go to a new call knowing that some on the pulpit committee did not want you? Often, the division on the pulpit committee will become known in the congregation. This information can cause unnecessary division and conflict.
Second, pulpit committees who treat the calling of their pastor like a company hiring an employee run the risk of using human wisdom over God’s calling. You compare the candidates and look at their skills and abilities. This process can lead a pulpit committee away from the first and primary question, “Who is God calling to be our pastor?” The question then distorts to become “Who do we want to be our pastor?” Note well the subtle but distinct difference in focus. Who you want because he fits your mold and idea might not be who God wants to challenge you and lead you.
Finally, it is unfair to pastors. To enter into serious discussion with a pulpit committee can be difficult for a pastor. He must seek the will of the Lord concerning a potential call. He must evaluate his present ministry and the possible ministry in the new call. He is faced with uprooting his family and leaving a congregation he has loved and served. It is an incredible frustration for many pastors to enter into this process and move through it only to find out that they were one of many candidates. If you were seriously dating someone, would you be happy to find out they were seriously dating other people besides you? Pulpit committees need to respect a pastor’s work and time. Only bring them into the process when you think this might be the man God could call to be your next pastor.
In most presbyteries that I am familiar with, train pulpit committees to work with one man at a time. The process should look like this: after receiving the ministerial data forms, the pulpit committee needs to pray through the names, see which ministers seem to line up best with their congregation, rank them in order, and then start with the first name on the list and pursue it until there is a yes or a no. If it is a no, you go to the next name on the list.
My plea to pulpit committees is to pursue one man at a time. Continue with one candidate until there is either a yes or a no. Trust the Lord to guide you to whom He is calling to be your pastor.
Would you want your daughter to date twenty guys on a reality TV show to find a husband? Do you think that God wants His church to use a worldly model or worse, a reality TV show model? A model that incorporates multiple candidates simultaneously? Or do you think He wants you to seek Him and let Him guide your process by prayer and working with one candidate at a time?