Friday, May 30, 2014

What Do You Do When They Don't Call Tuesday Night at 7:00?

     Last month I discussed one of the most disappointing and frustrating things in the search process for me as a preacher: a promise to call with information on the search committee's progress or of the elders' deliberation, usually preceded with, “We'll let you know something next Tuesday night at 7:00": followed by nothing.

     One year at the Eldership Retreat at Faulkner University, I was exhorting elders to communicate with prospective preachers – especially when you say you will. David Short, then director of Faulkner development and an elder of the University congregation, taught me a good lesson. He said, “Jerrie, we experience the same thing in raising money for the school. We present the opportunity to help Faulkner. The person needs some time to think about it and promises to call at a certain time. I also note it in my planner and confirm the date and time. Then I add, "I'll look forward to hearing from you next Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. And if you are not able to call at that time, I'll check with you a day or two after that." That gives me permission to renew the conversation.”

     Thank you, David Short! That is an application of a principle that I have long believed and taught: I am 100% responsible for my communication. As I have reflected on that valuable suggestion, I wonder if I had not done that for the same reason that many have not called. Most people don't like to give and receive unpleasant news. And most of the news in the search process is not favorable – unless the church is considering only one preacher and the preacher is only talking to one congregation and they both could not envision any other being as good as the one now being considered.

     I would guess that most elders or search committee members don't enjoy delivering the message, “We have decided to look elsewhere.” I know that is not the most encouraging news for a preacher with three weeks to go on a ninety-day agreement. Therefore what I need to do as the preacher wanting to know what is happening is complete the conversation. Make the call. Ask for the information I want. Minutes are free on my cell after 9:00 p.m. and on weekends. If they are still considering me or if I am the preacher they want, I learn that and the call probably will not change that. If I am no longer being considered, I learn that and I am free from thinking about that possibility any longer. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, NKJV).  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

“We’ll Call You Next Tuesday Night at 7:00”

      One of the most frustrating experiences that I had several years ago when I was talking with congregations considering me as their next preacher was the statement of those looking for a preacher, “We’ll call you next Tuesday night at 7:00 and let you know something.” When this happened – and it happened more than a dozen times – I would confirm: “Is that Tuesday the 16th? Is that 7:00 Central time or Eastern time?” I was living in the Eastern time zone.

     I would confirm our appointment: “I’ll be waiting for your call next Tuesday night, February 16th, at 7:00, Eastern standard time.”

     I looked forward with great anticipation. Was I still being considered? Would they like me to come for an interview? Have they eliminated me from consideration? Am I their choice and are they ready to make final plans for us to locate to a new work?

     Time after time, I would prepare the family: “I have an important call coming at 7:00. No one is to use the phone after 6:30.” This was before call waiting and cell phones. “It is essential that I get this call. I need to talk with an elder calling me about the opportunity to work with a congregation.”

      7:00 p.m. EST would come and go. 7:30 would pass. I thought, “Surely I misunderstood. They said Central time. They will call in thirty minutes.” 8:00 passed. 9:00 and still no call. I assumed, “Maybe they meant Wednesday night. That’s when elders usually meet.”

     In anticipation, I would prepare my family the next night for clear phone lines. My experience was: no call that night, sometimes a week or two later than promised, and sometimes never.

     This was so frustrating and disappointing. That experience was so much the norm that I remember the name of an elder decades later who was different. Jimmy Vaughn from Amory, Mississippi, talked with me on the phone about their preacher search. He said, “We are talking with one preacher at a time. We would be interested in talking with you if we do not come to an agreement with the one now in consideration. I will call you either way.” He set a time and date to call. Now to my surprise, he called on the night and at the appointed time. It was so unusual, that when I see him now I refer to him as “the elder who tells the truth.”

     What am I saying about the selection process? If you are on a search committee or if you are an elder working on the search process:

  • Acknowledge each applicant. A form letter is better than ignoring the person as unimportant.
  • If you say you are going to call, make a note and call.
  • If you don’t have any new information at the appointed time, call at the appointed time and say you don’t have any new information and indicate when the preacher might learn more.
  • When a preacher is no longer under consideration, contact that man and tell him he is no longer under consideration. The rejection hurts. But it hurt me more to learn of it three months after the new preacher had moved and I still had received no communication.
  • Thank the person who applied and give a word of encouragement that God has a place in His kingdom for him to work.

     The principle Jesus taught was, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, NKJV).

     Next month: What can the preacher do when they don’t call at 7:00 p.m., EST?