I ask that you indulge me just a little bit longer. At this point, you are wondering how I knew what type of culture this particular church had? How did I know about how cold they were and about the gossiping and the lack of genuine concern for anyone outside of their little cliques? And how did I know how most just vanished out the door before the echo of the song of benediction stopped ringing in the corners of the sanctuary? I guess I will have to explain that.
I wasn’t hired in the usual way. What happens is the church assembles a pulpit committee or a search committee in order to fill the senior pastor’s vacancy. They gather a group of names, interview them and decide who they want to present before the congregation via a sermon. Kind of like a working interview at that point. He would preach, the congregation would ask him questions about what he believes and decide via a vote. I was hired in a less conventional way.
You see, I was spending the summer in the town where my family vacationed in the summer. It was up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a beautiful part of the state. Well, I was a year removed from Gordon Conwell seminary. I had interviewed at some small churches but always seemed to fall flat in my sermons. I was spending time at the summer place of my parents when the nearby church had an emergency of sorts. The pastor had taken ill. He had let a cough progress into mono.
The people in the church were familiar with me because this was the church that was our home away from our home church, so to speak. Well, now they were in a bind so they asked me to fill in while the regular pastor recovered. I said not a problem. And I did pretty well and I suppose it was because there was no pressure on me. I knew I was not interviewing for the position so I felt free to speak and to preach, and essentially practice for a later position in the ministry. So I gave everything into each sermon. Because of that time I grew quickly and became more proficient in my preparation and presentation.
Now it during this time that an elder of my church happened to hear me preach while on vacation. He didn’t speak to me other than when he was leaving when I greeted everyone as they left. It wasn’t much, just a hello and he commented that it was nice sermon from a young preacher. I said thank you and he left. It was about a month later I saw him again and he had about a dozen other people with him. I didn’t think anything of it. My sermon that day was taken from the third chapter of Romans. I had started my summer in the first chapter of Romans.
After the service the group hung around for the after church dinner. The elder who had come before had asked if I could spend some time with him and the other people with him. So I said sure, just let me mingle with the members of the church first and then we could have the whole rest of the afternoon. So I did, spent time talking to the people and they waited. Some talked with the members of the church and some of the church came over to talk to them.
Anyway, it finally came time to sit down with them. As it turns out, I sort of interviewed with them that day. The elder had brought the other elders and the search committee to hear me preach. It was backwards, sermon first and interview second, but it worked best that way. I am terrible at interviews. And they were interested in taking me on as their new senior pastor. They wanted a younger person who bring a little bit of passion and fire to his sermons.
I asked for a day or two to think it over and seek some advice. I went over to the pastor’s house, the sick one, the next day. He was almost fully recovered and ready to return to the pulpit. He missed it but he needed the time off. Anyway, I talked to him about it and he made a suggestion. He suggested that I take the position on the condition that I be able to attend the church for ten weeks as a parishioner to observe the culture of the congregation. They agreed.
So, that’s how I knew about the church and how I knew about the culture I was walking into.