IMHO: A Weekly Commentary from our Publisher
Much of my current ministry involves training, coaching, advising (dare I say ‘consulting with’?) Pulpit Committees. Although I did not set out to do as much of this as I do (it’s more than half my ministry now), it has certainly been rewarding.
Among my list of things I recommend a church NOT do is elect the Session as the pulpit committee. This is based on two of my early experiences.
Coming out of seminary, I took a call to a now-dissolved church (although it took 30 years after I left for that to happen!). Their pulpit committee was made up of their six-man Session. At the time I was a TR (“thoroughly Reformed”) before the Aiken Taylor invented the term (using me and my friend Joseph as poster children). I digress.
Meeting with these men for two days and seeing how deeply committed at least 4 of the 6 were to the necessity of teaching the Reformed faith, I thought I had found the perfect church. (Later I remembered Dr. (J. Oliver Jr.) Buswell’s warning to us before we went candidating – “Boys, there is no perfect church. But should you find one while you are candidating, don’t go there. It won’t be perfect any more!”)
To make a moderate length story short, I took the call and soon thereafter discovered that in this church about the only thing the Session was left to do was to interview new members and discuss the finer points of Calvinism. The deacons had total control of finances – approving all expenditures. The Women in the Church (WIC) had nearly total control of all ministries. This left me wondering why I made such poor assumptions.
A few years later, while serving as a Navy chaplain, I was doing one of a number of pastoral interims that God graciously brought my way during those years. This was in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), which will have meaning at the end of the story. The Session was, once again, the pulpit committee, and asked me for advice. They were looking for a high energy pastor and, I guess because they saw I was one, I might know others. So I gave them a name.
Again, to make a long story short, that name rose to the top of the list and he took the call. By the time he arrived I had been transferred across the country. A few months after he arrived, I got a phone call (no email, no IM, no Facebook back in those dark ages). And I was shocked that he was a bit concerned; I was sure he had found the perfect church. And he had studied under Uncle Buzz too!! Here’s his sad story.
At a Session meeting, a disagreement came up among several of the elders. They were fussing about which one of them had the privilege of taking their new pastor with them to the opening game of the local NFL team the following Sunday afternoon. They ALL had season tickets!! Of course, having moved into the OPC, this new pastor had assumed at least all the elders, if not most of the people, would be strict Sabbatarians.
Could it be true that pastors should NEVER make assumptions about their new Session? I’m just saying!
IMHO, Don Clements