Part 1- The Phone Call
The phone rings. You look down at the screen on your mobile phone, and there is the name of your Superintendent — maybe even his/her smiling face from your contacts. Your heart sinks – “What now?” Then you remember, “Oh, no! It’s appointment season. The cabinet is meeting this week.” While you hesitate, your finger poised to answer, it goes to voicemail. Panic, then relief, then a heavy sigh, followed by more panic, “Now I have to call her back!”
Before you have a complete panic attack, realize that you have some say in the appointment process and the outcome will probably be good. Here are some helpful hints to get through the first phone conversation with your DS.
God put you here for a reason. If God has put it in the Bishop’s mind for you to go, have faith that God has a reason. Pray for the wisdom and the faith to go, like Abram, into another place and flourish. Good thing you didn’t answer, now you have a few minutes to prepare yourself.
Get out your Conference Journal or download it from the Conference web site: You will want this at hand to compare what the District Superintendent (DS) tells you with the statistics that previous pastors have recorded for the church.
Locate the sections that contain: Salary, Statistics, and Appointment History. This way you can flip back and forth quickly as the discussion warrants.
Print out a list of the questions you want to ask. Leave room to write your answers.
Prepare to take lots of notes.
The DS will tell you all about the church and the situation and all of the opportunities that it represents for you. Listen carefully.
Remember the DS’s job right now is to do the Bishop’s bidding and get your agreement to go forward. Listen to how the DS decides to go about that process. What comes up first: the church, the community, a situation at the church, the outgoing pastor, or your skills and abilities? This will tell you something about how your DS sees all these pieces fitting together.
If the DS gives you any statistics, make sure to write them down; also write down any salary package figures. Perhaps even ask to have the statistics repeated to make sure you have recorded them correctly.
When your DS finishes with the presentation, be ready to move to the next section. In your most calm and dispassionate voice say, “I have some questions.”
- Ask questions
Make a list of questions ahead of time. This way you are more likely to remember them all. If the DS cuts you off, or tries to cut you off, you need to be gently persistent about asking all your questions. Here are a few to get you started:
Ask about the church:
- What is the average attendance at worship? (really?)
- What are the prospects for growth?
- What are the fires that must be put out during the first year?
- How are the finances?
Ask about the outgoing pastor:
- How long has the current pastor been there, and why is he/she leaving?
- What did the last pastor accomplish?
- What was his/her mission and what will he/she leave as a legacy?
- Did the pastor ask for a pastoral change?
- Is the congregation happy or sad to have the pastor leave?
Ask about your standing:
- Why me? Which of my qualifications, skills, abilities, history or background made the DS or Bishop think I was right for this church?
- What do you expect me to do at this church?
- How long will you expect me to stay there?
- What do you expect me to accomplish while I am there?
- What is the salary package?
- Base salary
- Housing allowance
- Who pays for cable, phone, internet?
Ask about the community:
- What is the community like?
- If you have children who are of school age, ask about the schools.
(The DS may not know, but it will be important that he/she understand this is important to you.
- Does the church have a parsonage?
- What is the address of the parsonage? (If the pastor doesn’t live there, it might not be in the Journals. Have the DS get it for you.)
- Does the current pastor live in the parsonage?
- If not, is the housing allowance sufficient to get adequate housing?
- How safe is this neighborhood?
- Would I be wiser to live outside the parish for any reason?
- Is the Senior Pastor staying or leaving?
- What exactly are my responsibilities?
- If my responsibilities are unknown, who will decide them: The Sr. Pastor, or a committee?
- How well has the Sr. Pastor worked with associates in the past?
- Will I have a chance to interview with the Sr. Pastor?
- If this is not a July 1 appointment, when does the position start and is that negotiable?
- May I call the current and/or former pastor(s) to ask questions?
Finally, and most importantly – Timing
- When do you need an answer? (Note: You should be given at least 24, or more helpfully, 48 hours to reply. If this is not offered, ask why not.)
- Do your research:
Now that you’ve heard the specifics, you should check out the information you’ve been given and you should add to it.
- How long did each of the last four pastors serve?
- Check your conference statistical tables: Do they match the DS’s numbers?
- Check the printed salary in the Journal: Does it approximate the salary offer?
- Check the appointment history:
- What do you know about these pastors?
- Do you know any of them personally?
- Are you in a position to call someone who knows about this church?
- Does the church have a web site (critical piece of information)?
- Is it current?
- Downloadable newsletters?
- Are there pictures?
- What is the major industry of this town?
- How is it doing in this economy?
- How has it done in the past 10 years?
- Is the town growing or declining?
- Where do people shop, dine, bank, etc.
- Go to Zillow.com or Redfin.com and locate the parsonage:
- What are the schools your kids might attend – how are they rated?
- Are the home values rising or falling compared to other neighborhoods?
- Is the online description similar to the one the DS gave you?
Call the Chamber of Commerce:
- Talk to someone about the town, schools, churches, shopping, etc. Do not reveal why you are calling other than you are considering locating there.
- Keep in mind that the feedback will be glowing, but you will get a different view of things.
Make a Visit:
(If you are able to travel there within the time frame, do so. If not, do you have a trusted friend or family member who could make a visit for you? This is a spy visit. Do not stop. Do not reveal yourself to anyone. Absolutely do not get out of your car at the church. This is for first impressions only.)
- Take your spouse, or other close confidant, (But not the children on this visit.)
- Drive to the church and check it out. What does the building say to you?
- Drive around the church block. What does the neighborhood tell you?
- Drive to the Parsonage. What does the house look like?
- Drive around the neighborhood. What does the neighborhood tell you?
- Drive to the schools, shopping areas, malls, etc., first impressions.
- Make up your mind
If you say “Yes!”
Let’s be clear, the expectation is that you will say “Yes!” When you sign on to the United Methodist system, you give your life to the authority of the Bishop and Cabinet. I am convinced that even at those times when we don’t understand why certain things are happening, that they are still doing God’s will. Saying “Yes!” affirms that you are a servant of Christ and will go where the church needs you. Saying “Yes!” opens up new opportunities, new people to love and new communities to serve.
If you say “No!”
Remember, you can say “No.”
Be careful about saying “No!” In my 43 years I said “No!” four times, each with different results. Twice the Bishop sent me there anyway and I had a great time being the pastor, those were wonderful churches to serve. The Bishop knew better than I. Once when I said “No!” the Bishop agreed it would be a hardship on my family to make that mid-year move. One time when I said “No!”, the DS came back and offered us a choice and we took the second choice and stayed ten years. You can say “No!” but you’d better have good reasons.
Pray about it and God will lead you to the right decision.
Copyright 2016 – Steve Petty