Confessions of a Moderator
What lessons are there to learn through the process of searching for a new pastor with help from a moderator?
The departure of their pastor in November 2020 left West Kilburn Baptist Church in London somewhat perplexed and struggling as to how best to move forward, especially with the added complication of restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In January 2021, Johnny Prime (FIEC Head of Local Ministries) – who had been involved in overseeing the process - contacted me asking if I would be available to serve alongside the Leadership Team as they began the task of searching for their new pastor.
I had retired at the end of 2020 from the pastorate at Flitwick Baptist Church, Bedford, having overseen the process of calling our next lead pastor, and having worked alongside him during the year previous.
I met with the Leadership Team, and following a decision by the members, I was invited to serve as their moderator.
What is a moderator?
"By the very nature of the situation, there will usually be limited experience of the special task of calling a pastor. It may therefore be wise to invite a gospel minister who commands the respect of the church to give advice, to assist the Search Group and the leadership team and to chair business meetings. To do so in no way impinges on the independence of the local church. If you do call a Moderator, make sure you check your church governing documents to see if he will be counted as one of the managing trustees. Our recommendation is that he should not be classed as a managing trustee and should not be involved in voting on church business."
Calling Your Pastor, p8
We were using the excellent resource Calling Your Pastor as the basis for the work. However, it soon became apparent that a vital part of this ministry was to help prepare the church to be ready to receive and follow their new pastor.
This involved allowing the church a time to heal, reflect on the past, and recognise and embrace the need for revitalisation under the oversight of the man of God’s choice.
When I was taken on as moderator, it would be true to say that the felt need of the church for radical revitalisation was not at the forefront of the hearts and minds of the church family. But the Lord brought us to this realisation over time, which speaks volumes for his kindness.
It pleased him to lead us to invite Steve Palframan to be our new pastor and he was appointed in October 2022 to formally start in July 2023.
Key lessons learned on the journey
Establish a “letter of agreement”
This should document the role, responsibilities, duration, and if required the remuneration for your role as moderator. And include a clause in the agreement empowering the church to dispense with your services immediately if they wish to. I can send you a copy of the letter we used at West Kilburn, just drop me an email.
Invest time in building deep relationships
That is with the church leaders, the ministry leaders, and the church family through sharing God’s word and your life with each other. This is essential to nurture mutual love, trust, and respect for the journey.
Listen to how the Lord has led the church through the “great days of the past”, through the “many dangers, toils, and snares”, through painful memories and wounds, and into the present-day relational dynamics and pastoral challenges.
Devote yourself, and your fellow leaders, to prayer
Not only should the leadership prayer but call the church to prayer, and to intentional seasons of prayer and fasting, as together you seek the Lord’s leading and blessing on specific heart-felt needs for his kingdom.
Avoid the fatal pride trap at all costs
Don’t delude yourself into imagining “I know what this church needs and I am the man to do it”. You may have had years of experience, but you and I are grossly underqualified for the task, and the job is already taken care of by the Great Shepherd himself!
Seek the counsel of wise servants of Christ
The Lord has richly blessed us with well-seasoned and battle-experienced servants of Christ, so make use of these godly servants and seek their counsel on the hard issues you will face, and invite their prayers.
Use WhatsApp, Zoom, Costa (other coffee shops are available), or even better local FIEC conferences and events.
Ask the church the hard questions
For example: “given the age profile of those leading ministries in this church, what will we look like in 5 to 10 years if nothing changes?”
And: “what are we doing that the gospel does not demand of us?”
And: “what are we not doing that the gospel does require of us?”
The present pressures of weekly ministry commitments can distract us from developing a biblical vision for the future of the church, and make us fearful of being willing to try new and fresh ways to share Jesus.
They can make me avoid asking myself the question, “who am I going to pass the baton of my ministry onto in God’s relay race?” (2 Timothy 2:2).
If your ministry becomes an idol, we are all in trouble!
Develop, document, and publish
Be clear about the plans for calling a pastor who has a growing Christ-like character, has a clear vision for Jesus’ local church, has hard-won convictions on the gospel, and has the proven competence and relational chemistry required - all of which are vital to the man of God’s choice to lead us well on the scary boat trip of church revitalisation (Mark 4:35-38).
Keep the church fully informed of progress
This encourages ongoing trust, through transparency, and accountability, and fuels our corporate prayer and praise.