An Open Door?March 3, 2009
Many pastors wrestle with the challenge of discerning a call to another church. What were the specific steps involved in leading us to a church in Northern Ireland?
There were eight steps, that I can count!
1) Being invited as pulpit supply.
This happened last October when Nicki and I were also attending a wedding in Northern Ireland. We popped down to BBC on the Sunday and were made to feel very much ‘at home’ during our day visit with the church. I felt particularly empowered in preaching Psalm 19 that Sunday morning. We also found out a little about the congregation, but at this stage there was no mention (and no thought in our mind) that anything further would come of the visit.
2) An approach from the prospective church’s leadership to consider preaching with a view.
At this stage, we had a provisional call to make. Would we at least investigate this possibility, or view it as a non-starter? Nicki and I both believed that the former was our only option. At this stage, we spoke to the leadership of our church and received their blessing to prayerfully consider this development.
3) Asking some provisional questions.
Nicki and I were due to visit Ballymoney for a weekend in early January. Given that a weekend is a short window of time, I suspected that I wouldn’t get much time to ask the plethora of questions I wanted to. With this in mind, I sent through a list of over 40 questions to the BBC leadership in advance. These covered three areas: theological, methodological and personal. I was somewhat surprised that the BBC elders not only answered some of the questions before the visit, but all of them!From their written responses, it was already clear to us that we were very much on ‘the same page’ as this church.
4) Meeting with the eldership.
On the first Saturday evening in January, I met with the eldership. The four hour meeting was something of a theological grilling but I was extremely pleased that this was so! At the conclusion of this time, I felt even more convinced that these five elders and I could work well together.
5) Preaching with a view.
I preached twice on the Sunday. In the morning I spoke on a Psalm and in the evening I preached from Acts. While this was obviously a little different from a usual day’s preaching, I tried not to focus on the fact that I was ‘preaching with a view.’ Instead, I reminded myself that every Sunday I’m preaching before God’s gaze and under ‘God’s view.’ While I didn’t feel I preached particularly well, I felt that God sustained me throughout and that the congregation were receptive. Yes, I could imagine myself preaching here week after week.
BBC prayed, we prayed, our home church leadership prayed. In Ballymoney, they set up prayer meetings every Sunday night following their service specifically to pray for guidance about my call. On the night of the church meeting in NI, some of our elders took me aside and prayed with me that God’s will would be done.
7) Receiving counsel from people I respect.
In the run-up to the vote concerning my call, I spoke (mainly by phone) to a number of trusted people and discussed the scene in Northern Ireland and my potential suitability for a church like BBC. I spoke to a few men who had pastored in Northern Ireland and also to the church’s former pastor. Following these conversations I felt more encouraged to move ahead should a strong call come.
8 ) Receiving the Call.
The last piece of the puzzle was always going to be the vote. When the word came through that the call had been unanimous, I was simply astounded. Though in most situations, a unanimous call is unrealistic to expect (only a very high percentage can usually be hoped for) perhaps in our case, God had to be just so ’emphatic’ in the strength of the call.
Following a few days of further prayer, we accepted the call!