Soul Aches: What makes your soul ache?

by Michael McCartney

My soul is aching today. It has been wounded, leaving me feeling isolated and alone. I should be “happy,” but I am not. I feel trapped and betrayed.

Have you ever been there? Can you relate to what I am experiencing today?

I have been a pastor now for over 32 years, and I still experience an aching soul from time to time. It’s a hurtful, lonely, and painful experience—one you want to deny and push under the business of life. People have told me to just get over it, to try speaking positively, to look at the good. It will go away, they say.

But it seldom works that way. I wish it did. I wish I could say a magical “A-bra Ka-da-bra” prayer to wipe away the hurt! But I want to be honest with myself and with you. And the truth is, the hurt still lingers under the surface of my life and ministry.

Psalm 6:3 “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?”

What makes your soul ache? Do you even know? Here are situations I have experienced that cause my soul to ache.

1. A broken relationship.

I went to the spring concert for our Christian School last night—and ran into all kinds of people who had left our church for various reasons. I smiled at them, they smiled at me, and we even hugged (well, most of them did), but I felt an ache in my soul knowing everything was not okay with them. A nice façade masked the reality that all was not well.

I recall when I broke up with my first fiancé. A flood of ache and pain broke out in my soul; I felt stung. The break-up grieved my spirit, and I turned to a pastoral couple for help. I could not push in the pain down any longer.

Job 7:11 “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

Is it healthy to let it out? To vent your anguish verbally? To let out the ache, hoping it will fade? Some don’t think so! But I know it helped me in these hurtful moments of my life.

2. The experience of today’s church life.

As a pastor I know I should not say what I am about to say. I have always said when I retire I am going to write a book entitled, Things I Could Not Say as a Pastor, but here is one of them.

My soul aches over the condition of today’s church in America. It’s so diluted, deceived, self-centered, consumer-driven, cruel, judgmental, lacking empathy, hypocritical, spiritually barren, socially isolated, biblically illiterate, and weak. So many people jump from church to church, uncommitted to one local church. They get offended easily. They don’t admit their mistakes, and they have critical spirits—often directed criticisms toward their pastor.

Wow that felt good! I needed to get it out of my soul!

So, how are you doing with my complaining? Detoxifying my soul about the current condition of the church? Do you think I am just a cry baby? Maybe I am being too negative. Some would say so.

1 Chronicles 22: 19 “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD.”

My soul aches for the Church because most attenders, it seems, do “church” for themselves and not for God. If we want the ache to leave our souls, we need to get back to doing church for God—not for ourselves.

3. A sin-filled society.

My soul also aches over sin—the sin all around me and even my own sin.

Does your soul ache over sin? Sin is so destructive—so cruel, so abusive, so shameful, so evil. Yet our world is following sin deeper and deeper into an abyss of pain and suffering. Many choose sin over right living. Some are even proud of their sins (which, according to Scripture, gives them the name “fools”).

I don’t want to be a fool. I want to be wise and stay away from sin, because it rips my soul apart. Sin makes my soul bleed and ache.

Proverbs 13:19-21 19 “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil. 20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. 21 Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.”

4. The pain of rejection.

It’s the big “R” word: “Rejection.”

I have dealt with rejection many times since I was a boy, none more so than when my father told me, “You are not my son.” Even recalling that horrible moment right now at age 58 brings up a soul ache. He said it after a fight we had when I was 11. I was trying to stop him from beating up my mom.

The physical wounds have healed, but the wounded soul still surfaces from time to time. It did the other day when my wife and I went to see the movie, I Can Only Imagine. As I watched the troubles between that father and son, it really hit me dead center in my soul. My heart ached increasingly with each beat .

Proverbs 24:14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

How is your soul?

I have heard a lot of emphasis over the last few years on “Soul Care.” I have been to seminars that focused on the topic. I have read several books on it. I have even preached on it. I have listened to sermons about it. It’s a relevant topic that seems to be coming out more into the open, simply asking: How is your soul?

Jesus said in Matthew 16:26: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Jesus said in Matthew 22:37: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Jesus emphasized the importance of your soul’s health—not just for eternity but in the here-and-now! Your spiritual success in life depends on the condition of your soul!

So, how is your soul?

John Orberg states this about our souls: “If your soul is healthy, no external circumstance can destroy your life. If your soul is unhealthy, no external circumstance can redeem your life [Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You (p. 40). Zondervan (2014-04-22). Kindle Edition.]

Our souls ache because they crave God. They want his presence dwelling within. Our soul has a longing for God’s presence because he designed us that way.

Ortberg says that while reading through the Bible, you get the sense that the soul was designed to search for God. The Hebrew Scriptures—which might be thought of as the Great Soul-Book of human literature—are almost obsessed with this thought. Listen to these few verses from the Bible:

  1. The soul thirsts for the Mighty One (Ps. 63:1).
  2. It thirsts for him like parched land thirsts for water (Ps. 143:6).
  3. Like a laser it focuses the full intensity of its desire on him (Ps. 33:20).
  4. It lifts itself up to him (Ps. 25:1)
  5. It blesses him (Ps. 103:1–2, 22)
  6. It clings to him (Ps. 63:8)
  7. It waits for him in silence (Ps. 62:1).

Ortberg notes: “Indeed, the soul lives in God. The soul seeks God with its whole being. Because it is desperate to be whole, the soul is God-smitten and God-crazy and God-obsessed. My mind may be obsessed with idols; my will may be enslaved to habits; my body may be consumed with appetites. But my soul will never find rest until it rests in God.” [Soul Keeping (p. 116).]

Our souls need to be connected to God’s presence, What changed and transformed the disciples in Acts 2? A connection of their souls with the Spirit of God. It was an internal connection, not an external one. It changed their perceptions. It drove out their fears of the future. God wants to make every moment of our lives glorious with his presence. Ortberg states, “Every day is a collection of moments, 86,400 seconds in a day. How many of them can you live with God? Start where you are and grow from there. God wants to be with you every moment.”

As I sit today in my favorite place for spaghetti, I look around and see a lot of aching souls—people in desperate need of soul care. They are dealing with hurts using the wrong medicine. A few are at the bar using drinks for their aching souls. One lady is all alone, talking to no one, looking sad. She stares blankly at a baseball game on the bar TV.

Others ease their pain using other TV sports as medication. Many are using food. Still others stand outside on a cold, wet day, sucking on cigarettes to try to calm their inner needs.

I see a man with his mother at a table. She is in a wheel chair and appears to be very sick. I see her aching soul in her blackened eyes, and I see his ache as he looks at her with sorrowful eyes.

I am also one of those in this place with an aching soul. I have chosen spaghetti to ease my hurt and pain. I am not really hungry, but today I am trying to soothe my aching soul with food (not a good idea when you want to lose weight).

So, I empathize with those around me. I know this soul problem is for real. I wonder right now what others may be using to ease the pain of their soul? Shopping, spending money, movies, fantasy games, porn, sex, anger, pot, parties (which my neighbors really like and feel is a great solution to soul aches). I am sure many other ways of dealing with soul aches are in play as well as I sit here and ponder “Soul Care.”

Psalm 31: 7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.

I must admit after eating my spaghetti that I feel a little better in spite of how much it cost. ($18.00 for spaghetti? Really?) But maybe it’s not the spaghetti that has helped so much as the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Sitting and writing about my soul ache has made a way for the Spirit to help.

Many deny their soul aches. Have you ever done that? Many in this place are denying that their soul aches. Many Christians deny their aching souls as well.

But I think you get my point—soul aches are all around us if we will admit it and look for them. (They show up even now in the conversations I overhear in this place. No, really! “Quiet, I don’t want people to know I am listening to them as they sit next to me.” But they are so loud and vocal about their life soul aches, I hear every word they are saying.)

Soul aches are nothing new to God or his people. Just read Psalms, Lamentations, Job, Jeremiah—and the list could go on.

David, “a man after God’s own heart,” experienced soul aches and its isolation. He had to deal with people trying to kill him, with the betrayal of a fatherly figure he had served faithfully, even with sin itself. These all created unwanted aches and pains for our hero of the faith. That’s why he cries out in Psalm 6:3 the big God question: “How long Lord?”

I too am saying the same thing today, “How long Lord?” Just give me a time frame. Is it two days? Two weeks? But I hear no answer to my question, to my soul ache.

So, what is a man or woman after God’s own heart going to do?

Deuteronomy 10:12-21. 12 And now, O Israel, [add in your name] what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? 14 To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff–necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.

Maybe, I could not have come up with a better answer to my question than this passage of Scripture. It speaks to me. So, read it again and again and let his Word sink into your aching soul. Let him bring healing to it like only he can! He knows how long it will be for you! He knows what you are going through. So let him speak to your aching soul!

Michael McCartney is pastor of Christian Hills Church in Orland Hills, Illinois.

How Have Pentecostals Changed?

If you’ve ever watched a car rust away, you know it’s a painfully slow process—so slow that the change is imperceptible to the naked eye. Time-lapse photography helps, but otherwise you notice it only over months or even years when you return to the spot, recall what used to be, and finally notice the differences.

Shifts in attitudes or practices are like that. They often come gradually, imperceptibly.

Which is why some may not recognize subtle changes in Pentecostal churches in recent years. Few are able to return to the beginning and recall what used to be. Under those conditions, seeing the differences can be difficult, if not impossible.

But there are some who can provide us with a long-range perspective. In a recent interview with The Pneuma Review*, author Dean Merrill observes, “Despite my decades of work in the wider Christian publishing field, I’m as Pentecostal today as I’ve always been.”

Merrill tells of his Quaker parents encountering the Pentecostal experience about the time he was born. The result was that he grew up taking Scripture, including Acts and the Epistles, at face value. “This was ‘normal Christianity’ as far as I was concerned,” he says.

His early experiences formed a reference point for Merrill—a place to which he could return to measure what has changed. And while there have been changes, it is reassuring to hear Merrill say that the gifts of the Spirit are still operating in today’s Pentecostal churches—and not just in distant, primitive locations overseas. God is still at work in today’s North American churches.

Read the full interview here.

*The Pneuma Review: Journal of Ministry Resources and Theology for Pentecostal and Charismatic Ministries & Leaders

It’s Not 1994 Anymore

by John D. Sprecher

It was my 46th birthday, July 5, 1994—into middle age, but feeling young and energetic and looking forward to many more years of ministry.

Just a month or two before, I had had a sobering conversation with a friend soon to retire from a company with a “30-year-and-out” pension. He told me he was going to take it. It was one of the first times I had thought seriously about retirement.

A Tsunami of Change

But while I was focused on my birthday and family, a marketing tsunami unknown to me was being unleashed on the west coast. That very day Jeff Bezos incorporated a company—a company named for a mighty river. It would soon become a household name and eventually change how we shop, read, and get our entertainment: Amazon was born!1

About the same time, the Internet was picking up steam. In less than a generation, it would become a powerful tool, leading the way to redefine our interactions and expectations. Today, cities across America are outdoing themselves trying to land the second headquarters for Bezos’s behemoth Internet company.

In 1994, words that have since become part of our daily language did not exist. You couldn’t “Google” something in 1994, because Google did not exist. Neither did Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix, or Wikipedia.

Now familiar items were still unknown back then: DVDs, smartphones, blogging, texting, streaming, e-books, broadband, the “Cloud” (not for rain!) and many others have come and gone. New ways to communicate and connect continue to proliferate. Anybody still on Juno, AOL or MySpace? Or have you switched to Gmail, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, or some other of a host of platforms?

Now a generation later, the power of the Internet is unquestioned. Nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population and about one half of the entire world are on the internet. In the U.S. three out of every four have a tablet or smartphone. Two-thirds have three or more connected devices.2 Over three billion people have a social media account, and most have more than one.3 U.S. adults spend over 200 minutes per day on mobile devices, 90 percent of that time on apps, and almost two-thirds of “searches” are done on smartphones.4

So what does all of this mean to pastors and churches?

First, the rush of information has, according to some, shortened the human attention span from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds by 2013. By comparison, a goldfish has a 9-second attention span. At times you may wish you were preaching to an aquarium of attentive fish rather than a congregation reflecting the soft glow of their cell phones. You are never quite sure if they are using a Bible app to follow the text—or merely texting!

In a highly and easily distracted culture, do we seek ways for the most important message anyone will ever hear to penetrate the digital fog that surrounds our people? In reality, people are still hungry for genuine truth and authentic relationships—even if they are fact-checking the message you are preaching.

Second, consider this: “Are the people we want to reach able to find us digitally?” In 1994, if someone was looking for a church, the first place to go was the phone book and the yellow pages. A nice ad placed once a year—along with perhaps a newspaper ad or something on the local radio station (Christian or not)—and you were known in the community.

Very few look at yellow pages these days. Instead, they Google or Facebook “churches,” and when they see one they might want to check out, they probably watch a service online or at least listen to a sermon before they even make a first visit.

The challenge for smaller churches in this kind of world is a feeling of being overwhelmed by technology. Those of us born before 1994 just don’t experience technology as a second nature, as do those who were born since then.

So what can we do? Here are a couple of simple suggestions.

Keep it current!

Ask yourself if someone were to spend only eight seconds on your web page, would they see something happening this week? Or would they see your Easter schedule—weeks after the fact? Better a simple, up-to-date Facebook or web page than an out-of-date site with events from last week (or last month)!

If people see something current, those who are interested will dig deeper. Hopefully, they will then find what you want them to know about you. If you can’t handle the technology or find the time, find a millennial whom you can task with keeping your digital presence current.

Don’t be intimidated!

Rapidly changing technology and its challenges can be overwhelming, no doubt. But don’t let that get to you.

Remember that ultimately, the deepest needs of human beings are the emotional, physical, and spiritual connections available only when we are in community—and by that I mean being physically present, in the same room with people we love.

A thousand Facebook friends will never replace a warm hug! Avatars cannot substitute for a face-to-face conversation or the physical presence of a fellow believer in a time of need! There is no better community to be engaged in than the local church, so celebrate what you have to offer the world—not only eternal hope, but authentic in-person relationships.

That has not changed since 1994.

John D. Sprecher, lead elder for the U.S. FCA, pastored churches for 45 years, most of them at Rock Church in Rockford, Illinois.




1 Stone, Brad (2013). The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. New York: Little Brown and Co. ISBN9780316219266. OCLC 856249407.
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Sexuality…and Cultural Shifts

by John D. Sprecher

I have never forgotten the excellent and valuable advice I received from the late Paul Cornish when I was in Seattle Bible College in the late 60’s and early 70’s: “Don’t be shocked by anything.”

In the more than 45 years since then, there have been plenty of opportunities to be “shocked,” often in regards to societal views on sexuality—views related to single mothers, abortion, cohabitation, sexual orientation and more.

In the 50’s and into the early 70’s, an unplanned pregnancy often led to a hastily arranged marriage or a planned “exile” for a young woman. She would visit some distant relative for a time and give up her child in a “closed” adoption. It was assumed she could then “get on with her life,” never grieving the loss of the child she had carried.

Abortion, legalized in 1973, changed that formula. Then people began to celebrate movie stars who had children outside of marriage. These and other trends began to change the norms and expectations of society. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 39.8 percent (nearly two of every five) of 2016 births in the US were to unmarried women.1

Over the years, views on divorce has also shifted. It became a major area of discussion in churches—and even at conventions: “What can be done? Can a divorced man serve on the church board?”

The answers were complicated by varying circumstances. “Was he divorced before he was saved? Has there been appropriate penance? Who initiated the divorce, him or his wife?”

Now the question seems to be, “Can we find someone who is married—regardless of the number of times—and is not cohabiting or gay?” Today, even many divorced and remarried pastors serve at various levels of ministry.

Cohabitation was relatively rare in 1970 with about 523,000 unmarried couples living together in the U.S. In 2016, however, the numbers of cohabiting couples reached 18 million.2 While the U.S. population increased by about 58 percent in that time,3 the number of couples living together has increased by more than 3,341 percent!

Just as troubling, over half of all couples who marry in the U.S. have cohabited prior to the wedding. Over 50 percent of those who cohabitate never actually marry, so even though they cannot be a divorce statistic, any separation will still be emotionally painful—especially if there are children involved. The sad reality is that while the presumed reason for living together is to determine marital compatibility, the rate of separation is significantly higher for these couples.4

Beyond these significant changes we have seen in male and female relationships, our society has now normalized homosexual relationships, allowing marriage with the same sex to be recognized and valued on the same level as heterosexual relationships.

Human sexuality is one of the most powerful forces in our psyche. God created us as sexual beings, and that desire has maintained the species until this day. We don’t like to think of our parents as sexually active, but they were—or we would not be here.

Nothing New

David was driven to murder because of his sexual escapades. Solomon, who was considered the wisest man to live and had some of the most powerful encounters with God in the Old Testament, was nonetheless led into idolatry by his wives. The list of examples is long.

In Romans, the Apostle Paul records the path from a natural, God-given sexual desire and its fulfillment to the point where God allows humans to depreciate themselves into unnatural relationships. We have to wonder if the rapid move to confusion over sexual identity—a hallmark of the current generation—is not God giving us over to our own lusts and desires.

I would submit that the destruction of the sanctity of marriage in our western culture has been nothing less than an attack on the picture of God’s relationship with his people. That, in turn, has undermined the message of the Gospel. Our homes, called to be an illustration of love and submission to one another, no longer reflect the love, care, and protection of our Lord.

A Serious Call

It is only when we take the call of Jesus seriously that we are able to fulfill his call for each of us. Unless we take up our cross and die to our own pride and selfishness, we will never be a good marriage partner or an example of Christ in our home. Unless we are willing to forgive as we have been forgiven, we will not be able to find joy and peace in a relationship with a spouse.

So how do we respond to the challenges in our homes and churches?

In our hearts we know we will not solve the problems politically—even as we try petitions, letters, and protests. Our problems are spiritual at the base and, as such, require a spiritual response. When confronted with the challenges of the day, we demonstrate the spiritual nature of our response, whether we are condemning or compassionate, judgmental or gentle, or whether we snarl or weep.

When I was in Bible School studying under Paul Cornish, my “mantra” for a ministry response was how Jesus responded to the woman caught in adultery. I would suggest that is the appropriate response we need today.

Jesus did not condemn the woman, and we don’t have to condemn her either. But sadly, some forget the last part of the verse. Jesus said, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). We are loved by the Father too much for him to leave us as victims of the sin that will destroy us. New life means turning away from sinful behavior.

If we have compassion for the sinful, desperate condition of people, it will affect how we relate to them (and them to us). It will determine how effective we will be in seeing them come to Christ.

John D. Sprecher, Lead Elder of the U.S. FCA, was a pastor for more than 45 years, most of that time in Rockford, Illinois. The 2016 rate, however, was lower than the peak of 51.8 percent in 2007 and 2008.


Pastoral Transition Guidelines

The following document was prepared by Jim Olson, former pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship in St. Paul, Minnesota and now President of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation.

Fellowship of Christian Assemblies (Central Region)

“It was Christ who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  (Eph. 4:11-12)

Not only does Christ bestow gifts on people, He places gifted people into the church to serve it in various ways.  So it is with godly pastoral leadership – that leadership is a gift to the body of Christ.  That is why the process of pastoral transition is so crucial.  It is a tremendous opportunity to discover God’s next gift of pastoral leadership for that local church.  It is also a time of great vulnerability and must be approached with care and prayer.

The following are some suggested ideas for discussion by current leadership within a church, whether that church is presently in transition or not.  These guidelines, of course, need to be freely adapted to the specific situation of a given church, but intentional prayer and discussion should be given to these various areas.

A. Closure

Pastoral transitions happen for a variety of different reasons, from termination to sending out to a new field of ministry.  Regardless the reason, careful thought should be given to the closure process.  Adequate attention to issues of grief and loss as well as anger and frustration must be given.  Where there has been significant dissension or pastoral failure this closure may need to happen in the context of a larger process of healing.

Reference Points:

  1. The length of the previous pastorate.
  2. The state of the relationship between the previous pastor and board, the previous pastor and church, and the board and the church.
  3. Where has the primary catalyst for pastoral transition come from—the church,  the board, or the pastor? (See sample constitution for guidelines)
  4. Adequate time between announcement and departure should be given.  (3 months in normal circumstances)
  5. During that time period attention should be given to:
    a. Preaching themes
    b. Preparing leadership, key people, and vulnerable individuals for change
    c. Repairing ruptured relationships
    d. Intentional releasing of the ministry
    e. Proactively being available to assist the process of next steps
  6. A farewell service which includes elements of fun, honor, and blessing should be carefully planned.

B. Committee

Careful thought should be given to the selection of a  pastoral search committee.  Who will be on that committee, how will they be chosen, what is expected of them, etc.?

Reference points:

  1. Committee may be comprised of current leadership (elders/church board) or current leadership may appoint a larger committee.
  2. The committee should be comprised of people with spiritual maturity, vision, faith, grace, prayerfulness, discernment, courage, humility, etc.
  3. The committee should be representative of a broad cross-section of the congregation: age, gender, long/short-term members, culture, areas of ministry involvement, formal & informal leadership, theological perspectives, etc.
  4. Communication—without information there will be speculation.  There must be constant communication between the committee and the church.
  5. The committee should agree on uniform confidentiality procedures.

C. Time/Table

Take adequate time!  Too often churches rush the pastoral transition process.  Though unnecessary delay should be avoided, churches often leap before they look.


Reference points:

  1. What unfinished business is needed for the outgoing pastor to do before he leaves and how long will it take.  The leadership and outgoing pastor must make that determination.
  2. Attempt to lay out a general calendar recognizing the process will normally take a minimum of 6 months.

D. Evaluation

An essential but often overlooked part of the process of pastoral transition is the intentional evaluation of the needs and dreams of the congregation.  In order to maximize the effectiveness of the match between a new pastor and congregation, there must be a healthy match between the pastor’s gifting/talent/experience/abilities and the congregation’s needs/aspirations.  This evaluation should also encompass any need for healing/reconciliation within the congregation.  Guard against reacting responses.

Reference points:

  1. Consider developing a congregational assessment survey.
  2. Discover the dream of the congregation.
  3. Discover the resources and needs of the  congregation.
  4. Evaluate the role and responsibilities of the current church leadership with an intention of improving cooperative pastor and leadership relationship.
  5. Evaluate the role and responsibilities of future pastoral leadership addressing issues of style (context) and content (substance).
  6. Is our constitution an adequate representation of our dream, beliefs, goals and objectives, and structure? The incoming pastor should normally be included in any process of constitutional revision.

E. Resources

A church should be prepared for the potential of pastoral transition by having a list of available resources.  These resources include:  FCA churches and pastors who can be contacted for help; other churches, pastors and ministries who could bring support; books; tapes; articles; etc.  There should also be a list of pulpit supply resources – individuals within and outside the congregation.

Reference points:

  1. Establish a list of contacts and resources prior to transition.  Update list regularly.
  2. Make initial contact with FCA churches and pastors with which you already have established relationship.
  3. Make contact with members from the FCA Midwest steering committee (if possible, establish relationship prior to transition).

F. Pulpit Supply/Interim

Fairly early on in the transition process a decision should be made concerning continuity in the pulpit.  Will that be filled by a variety of speakers or a temporary consistent pulpit supply?  There should also be a discussion regarding the potential of an interim pastor coming for a season of time to assist the congregation through its transition time.  Serious consideration should be given to the concept if there has been significant dissension, decline, pastoral leadership crisis, or following a long term pastorate.

Reference points:

  1. Care should be given to doctrinal consistency between pulpit supply/interim person and church.
  2. The distinction between pulpit supply and interim is reflected in the responsibilities of each.  Pulpit supply is intended to provide a consistent week to week public voice to the congregation.  Interim is intended to intentionally assist the congregation full time through the transition process.
  3. In both cases clearly understood time and  responsibility parameters should be established up front.  These parameters include a clear understanding about the potential of a pulpit supply or interim pastor becoming a candidate for the open pastoral position.  In most cases it is not wise for an interim pastor to become a candidate for the permanent position.

G. Ministry Description

A ministry description reflecting the expectations and requirements of the incoming pastor should be developed.  In addition, a comprehensive written personnel policy should be in place covering issues of compensation, vacations, sick time, retirement benefits, health insurance, car & housing allowances, Sabbatical leaves, and funds for conventions, seminars, books, and personal development.

Reference points:

  1. What type of pastoral strengths, styles, etc. does our church need at this time? (Do we need an evangelist, a father, a dynamo, etc?) Refer to previous “Evaluation Section”
  2. What are our ministry priorities? Refer to previous “Evaluation Section”
  3. Re-evaluate existing pastoral ministry description.  (Done by Search Committee with input from eldership/leadership.)
  4. Congregational expectations of the pastor’s spouse & family should be clearly communicated.
  5. A written “comprehensive personnel policy” should be in place and should be developed in conjunction with the incoming pastor.
  6. Clear guidelines regarding the process of  reaffirmation of call and ongoing evaluation of ministry should be defined.
  7. Be realistic!

H. Search Process

To facilitate the selection process the church may benefit by using an application form, reference check system, interview form and doing a background check on all serious candidates.  Once a specific candidate has been identified, a candidating process should be agreed upon.

Reference points:

  1. Prayer immersing all search activities.
  2. Establish process – may include pre-candidating visit, resume review, review of preaching tapes, interviewing, etc. before formal candidacy.  The pre-candidating process may occur simultaneously with several individuals, but should be a consistent process.  Treat all potential candidates with courtesy.  Please clearly communicate any decisions made to all candidates.
  3. Avoid “beauty contests” – simultaneous evaluation of multiple candidates. Consider one formal candidate at a time.  A formal candidacy would normally include ministry to the whole congregation, meetings with key leadership groups, and should be long enough to encompass all the regular meetings of the congregation.
  4. Remain sensitive to relational issues involved between the candidate and the church they are currently serving.
  5. Establish a “policy of consensus” regarding the search process, i.e., majority, unanimity, 75%, etc.
  6. Give serious consideration to the affiliations of potential candidates.  The search should begin with FCA listed ministers.

I. Staff

In multiple staff situations, consideration must be given to the status of remaining staff.

Reference points:

  1. The new senior pastor should be given the prerogative to invite present staff members to remain.  For the stability of the church and the security of the staff, the senior pastor should be encouraged to retain staff for six months to one year.
  2. Clear communication between the Search Committee and the candidate regarding current staff should be an integral part of the Search Process.
  3. Clear guidelines regarding the type and amount of input from current staff and former pastoral leadership should be established at the beginning of the Search Process.

J. New Beginnings

Once a selection has been made, a call extended and accepted, consideration for the new pastor’s transition into the church should be given.  Provision should be given for moving expenses, consideration for home purchase financial needs, adjustments to school, neighborhood and church life, etc.

Reference points:

  1. How much time has there been between the person’s former pastorate and coming to new pastorate?  Has there been adequate time for closure from previous position and an opportunity for rest before undertaking the new pastoral position?
  2. Financial compensation may be given to provide opportunity for rest between pastorates.
  3. Planning for an installation service should take place early in the new pastorate.
  4. Consider establishing a “Transition Committee” to help during the first months of a new pastorate.
  5. Special attention to the needs of the new pastor’s family should be given.
  6. Every year on the anniversary of the new pastor’s coming, an appreciation/celebration may be given.

K. Prayer

Before, during, and after, the entire process must be saturated in intentional and intensive prayer at all levels of the congregation.

Reference points:

  1. Recognize that God is in control of the process and that He has the right person for the church and He will be glorified in the process.
  2. The place of the church is to discover God’s plan and purpose, not create it.
  3. Establish specific times and seasons of intentional intercession.
  4. Recognize that the time without a pastor is a vulnerable time for the church.

L. Appendices

  1. Sample Installation Service Program & Covenants
  2. Sample Ministry Descriptions
    a. Senior Pastor
    b. Associate Pastor
  3. Sample Interview Forms/Questionnaire
    a. For Pastors
    b. For churches
  4. Sample Evaluation Questions
  5. Resource List


Contact Person: Jim Olson (Bethel Christian Fellowship) 1996


Resource List for Pastoral Transition

Browne, William C. Training a Pastor Nominating Committee in the Search for a Compatible Pastor.  Ann Arbor, MI:  UMI, 1991.

Carroll, Jackson W., Carl S. Dudley, William McKinney, eds. Handbook for Congregational Studies.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1986.

Dale, Robert D.  Pastoral Leadership.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1986.

Dale, Robert D.  To Dream Again.  Nashville, Broadman Press, 1981.

Gillaspie, Gerald Whiteman.  The Restless Pastor.  Chicago:  Moody, 1974.  The pros and cons of longevity, when to resign and how to start fresh.

Gillespie, Robert.  The Empty Pulpit.  Chicago: Moody, 1973.

Grider, Edgar M.  Can I Make It One More Year?  Atlanta:  Knox, 1980.  A penetrating look at the issues that make ministers want to leave their churches.

Hahn, Celia A.  The Minister Is Leaving.  New York:  Seabury, 1974.  The effect of pastoral termination upon the parish and the minister.

Harris, John C.  The Minister Looks for a Job.  Washington:  Alban Institute, 1977.  Covers the special factors a pastor must take into account in a job search.

Kemper, Robert G. Beginning a New Pastorate.  Nashville:  Abingdon, 1978.  Discusses termination from one pastorate and the interviewing, candidating, deciding, and planning involved in starting a new one.

Kirk, Richard J.  The Pastor and Church Face Retirement.  Washington:  Alban Institute, 1979.  Planning for the final passage out of full-time ministry.

Philips, William Bud.  Pastoral Transitions.  Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, Inc., 1988.

Schaller, Lyle E.  The Pastor and the People.  Nashville: Abingdon, 1973.  Primarily concerned about pastoral change.

Virkler, Henry A.  Choosing a New Pastor:  The Complete Handbook.  Nashville:  Oliver Nelson, 1992.

Warren, Rick.  The Purpose Driven Church.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1995.


The following selections about pastoral transitions are from LEADERSHIP Magazine.


Title, Author (Type:  ART = Article; ITW = Ideas That Work; SDB = Sidebar) Page # Issue Year]

Aids for Selecting the New Pastor, Warren Bird (ITW) 100 Sp 82

Candid Candidating, Kenneth B. Quick (ART) 70 F 90

Confessions of a Pulpit Committee, Em Griffin (ART) 106 F 83

Getting the Real Story:  A Guide to Candidating, Douglas C. Scott (ART) 24 Su 84

How Do I Know I’m Called?  John Newton (SDB) 55 Su 90

Is It Time to Leave?  Donald Bubna (ART) 51 W 96

Is It Time to Leave?  Gary L. McIntosh (ART) 70 Su 86

Pastoring Begins with the Search Committee, Everett L. Wilson (SDB) 74 F 90

Wilderness of the Candidate, The, Ben Patterson (ART) 20 F 83


Evaluation Questions
from Robert Dale:  To Dream Again

A Script Questionnaire for a Church

Act I:  The Early Days

  1. Who was our church’s founder? Its first pastor?  The charter members?  How would I describe these persons?
  2. How was our church born? Out of positive or negative circumstances?
  3. What do the earliest records of our church say about our church’s beginning?
  4. What projects were undertaken first by our church?
  5. Does our church constitution, bylaws, or legal documents contain any unique or unusual features?  Do they speak for or against certain themes which indicate early issues?
  6. Are there any memorial areas or items in our church? What are they?  Under what circumstances were they given and/or dedicated?
  7. What are the favorite stories and most unforgettable events of the early years?
  8. How was our church’s name selected?

Act II: The Golden Years

  1. What were the greatest growth period(s) of our church?
  2. Who were the pastor(s) then? For how long?
  3. What were those pastors’ slogans and mottoes?
  4. Who were the key laypersons during the greatest growth period(s)? What did they represent?
  5. What projects and new programs were initiated during these growth periods?
  6. What have been the issues and problems over which people have conflicted regularly in our church?
  7. When were buildings erected? What do these projects represent?
  8. Which events and persons from this era are “magic” and are still remembered and discussed? Why?

Act III:  The Present Moment

  1. Who gets recognition in our church? For what?
  2. What priorities does our church budget point to?
  3. How does our church now reflect its beginnings? How is our church different from its founding dream?
  4. What is the prevailing feeling tone of our church? Fellowship and love? Guilt, fear or anger? Service?
  5. What forces keep our church as it is? What or who are the traditionalizing forces?
  6. What are the special celebrations of our church?
  7. If our church were one person, who would it be?

What Is the Foundational Aim of Our Church?

I. Basic Identity

Who are we? Do we have a ministry dream?  Where are we as an organization?  Are we on the     planning incline or problem-solving decline of the organizational health cycle?

II. Unique Contribution

What is our unique contribution in our community?  What is the special strength of our      congregation?  What is the distinctive nature of our ministry?

III. Primary Audience

Who is our primary audience?  Are our programs, finances, and energies focused primarily            toward our church family or beyond our church?  Does our ministry tend to select particular age,        social, economic, or educational groups?  Which new audience(s) will we try to reach?

IV. Resource Use

How do we use our basic resources:  people, money, time, information, and physical facilities?      Which resource do we value most?  Least?

V. Strategic Game Plan

How will we multiply our membership growth rate?  How   will we train our people for ministry?             How will we influence our community?  How will we expand our stewardship potential?  How will we enrich our own fellowship?

What Has Shaped Our Congregational Beliefs?

  1. What are the special gifts of our congregation for which we’re grateful?
  2. What hurts or conflicts have we suffered and still resent?
  3. Who have our key leaders and influencers been?
  4. What have been the most important decisions we have made as a group during our history, and how do these decisions continue to shape us?

Values Shown by Our Budget

  1. How does our church actually spend its budget?
    *Mostly on buildings and properties?
    *Mostly on personnel salaries?
    *Mostly on national and foreign missions?
    *Mostly on local ministry and outreach?
    *Mostly on church education programs?
  2. Do our budget expenditures flow outward on mission or inward on maintaining our congregation?
  3. Which are groups are spotlighted via budgeted funds?
  4. Which organizations get the most money?
  5. Do we have any organizations or groups which have no access to budgeted funds?

Looking for Energy Reservoirs

  1. What do people volunteer for in our church?
  2. What do our members show enthusiasm for, get excited about, and have a willingness to do?
  3. What does our church budget time and money for gladly?

Evaluating Our Recognition Pattern

  1. What are people honored for in our church?
  2. What does it take to get a thank you, a public recognition, a certificate of appreciation, a memorial plaque, your name listed in the worship bulletin or church newsletter, or a personal letter from the minister?
  3. Who is honored?
  4. How are they honored? By whom? When?
  5. Are some church posts partly or totally honorary? How are these honorary offices assigned?

Clues to Informal Structure

  1. If you wanted to test a ministry idea with someone in your congregation, with whom would you talk? Who is   the key “legitimizer,” the person who justifies ideas   as correct, reasonable, and fitting, in your congregation? Who is your church’s “quarterback,” the person whose power can reverse a developing decision or whose opinion can declare a ministry option out-of-bounds?
  2. When you have a personal burden, with whom do you talk about it in your church? When members want the advice of another layperson, with whom do they talk in your congregation?
  3. If you had just returned from vacation and wanted to know what the church and community need situation is, whom would you ask? If you wanted to circulate ministry information, with whom would you share the information, and thereby, cultivate the grapevine?

Naming Our Organization’s Norms

  1. What are the “rules” that govern our church? Have   these rules been violated?  How?  By whom?  At what cost?
  2. What do people feel free and easy doing in our church?
  3. What do people “have permission” to do in our church?
  4. What do people feel pressured to do in our church?
  5. What have people wanted to do but felt pressured not to do in our church?
  6. What have people felt pressured not to do; therefore, people don’t do it and feel at ease?
  7. What issues trigger conflict?

Installation Covenant for _____________

Peter gives an important appeal to elders in his first letter, chapter 5, verses 1-4.  Hear these words:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you,but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.  (I Peter 5:1-4)

You have responded to God’s call, confirmed by this congregation, to serve as the outreach pastor of __________.  That we may know your heart in this matter, will you please respond to the following covenant.

(Candidate will stand before congregation.)

Leader:  Do you believe with all your heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?

Candidate:  I do.

Leader:  Do you believe the Bible to be the Word of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit for the salvation and edification of mankind?

Candidate:  I do.

Leader:  The Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.  Have you committed your life to be obedient to this command of Jesus Christ?

Candidate:  I have.

Leader:  When Jesus sent out His disciples He said that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”  Are you willing to give undivided loyalty to the call of the Lord and wherever He leads you, you will follow?

Candidate:  I am willing.

Leader:  When the New Testament church was initiated, it was made up of born again believers who were united in the Holy Spirit under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Is it your aim to develop believers and this church modeled after that New Testament pattern?

Candidate:  It is.

Leader:  The key to spiritual power is a close walk with God.  Will you give high priority to personal prayer time, careful study of God’s Word, and a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Candidate:  I will.

Leader:  As a member of the staff and leadership of ________ you will be a member of a ministry team.  As an associate on a team, are you willing to follow the Scriptural admonition, “To look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others, having the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.”?

Candidate:  I am.

Leader: Do you accept the faith and order of _________ and promise to be loyal to this fellowship that it may more and more be a fruitful branch of the church universal; and while cherishing brotherly love toward all the faithful followers of Christ everywhere, do you covenant to labor earnestly that the purity, peace, and strength of this, your chosen church, may be increased?

Candidate:  I do.

Leader: Moved by your love for God and a sincere desire to proclaim the Gospel of His Son among all people, are you now ready to take upon you this holy ministry and faithfully serve in it?

Candidate:  I am ready, with the help of God.

Leader:  God be your helper; the Holy Spirit be your illuminator; and Jesus Christ your Lord and Redeemer.  Amen.

Congregational Covenant for _________________

Congregation, please respond by stating:  “We will.”

  1. To the best of your ability, will you respect and hold in loving regard this man as he performs the work of the Lord in helping to lead this congregation and the larger Body of Christ?
  2. To the best of your ability, will you support his labors by praying to God on his behalf that he might have strength and wisdom in proclaiming the Gospel message?
  3. During his period of ministry to this congregation, will you, to the best of your ability, honor him as one called by God to serve among you in order that his labor may be joyous and not burdensome?
  4. Will you reaffirm your call to _________ to be our __________ Pastor?


Sample Interview of Church
by Candidating Pastor

  1. How many are currently attending? What are the demographics* of the congregation?  [*Ages,   couples/ families/singles, education, ethnic mix, etc.  Also what are the religious backgrounds? How many are newcomers, recent converts?  How many have a traditional background?]
  2. What is the concise vision or purpose of your church? How many elders and deacons can clearly state the vision of your church?  How many ministry leaders (Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, youth workers, etc.) can clearly state the vision?  How many attenders can clearly state the vision?
  3. How is the vision of your church unique? Or, to put it another way, does your church have a congregational gift that sets it apart from other churches in the area?  [Does your church do ministries that others don’t or can’t do?]
  4. How would you summarize your church’s philosophy of ministry? [Describe the church’s approach to ministry along with as much as you wish to tell about methodology, limitations, ministry programs, volunteer personnel, staff assignments, and so on.]
  5. What is the ministry style of your congregation in worship, programming, and leadership? [Traditional-Contemporary, Intentional-Spontaneous, Central Control-Released Laity]
  6. Have there been any significant conflicts in the history of the church? How recently?  What were the issues involved?  Are there any lasting effects in the congregation?
  7. How has your town changed in the past 20 years? [In other words, how are the people of your town different today from what they were in the 70s?  What demographic shifts have occurred? Has there been a change in the prevailing mind-set of the community?]
  8. How have any community changes listed in question 7 affected the ministry style and focus of your church? Has your church changed to adapt to a changing population?  If so, how and to what extent?
  9. How does your church do strategic planning? How does the church adapt to cultural changes for future ministry?
  10. Where do you see the church on the following continuum:


Relating to the culture …                                                        Confronting the culture;
Communicating in ways the culture understands.                  Challenging cultural presuppositions.

  1. What do you want the senior pastor of your church to do? [What roles do you see him fulfilling? Do you have a written job description for the pastor?  How do the roles of other staff members fit together with the role of the senior pastor?]
  2. What do you want the senior pastor to be?
  3. What kind of working relationship can the pastor expect to have with the church board? How are the pastor and board members accountable to each other?
  4. How much does the church empower the pastor for ministry? [Which level of administrative decisions are executive decisions and which are board decisions?]
  5. Is the congregation comfortable with the present ministry roles of your church? Or do members want to see change in the future?  If so, what would they like to see?
  6. As a board, would you answer the previous question similarly to the congregation? Or do you have another perspective?  If so, please describe.
  7. Where is the heart of your church? Where do your passions lie?  What are your dreams for this congregation?
  8. Do you expect the pastor to be a leader? Or do you expect the pastor to fulfill certain assignments or roles?
  9. Who sets the agenda for ministry?
  10. In what way and to what extent are the elders, deacons, and trustees involved in ministry?
  11. Does the pastor hire additional ministry staff members with the approval of the elders? Or do the elders hire additional staff with the approval of the pastor? How are staff management or discipline problems handled?  Do you want the pastor to function more like a CEO or more like an employee of the elders?
  12. What expectations do you have of a pastor? Do you have a job description listing those expectations?  What do you expect of the pastor’s spouse?  What qualities does the church most look for in a pastor and a pastor’s family?
  13. What systems for mutual accountability do you have in place? In what ways do you hold the pastor accountable?  How does the pastor hold the elders accountable?
  14. Could I get the names of some references: a nearby neighbor who does not attend the church; a nearby fellowship pastor; two individuals who recently left the church (one happy, one unhappy).