The scenario is both common and painful.
You are being considered by a church to become the pastor or to fill a staff position. The church’s bylaws require a congregational vote to affirm you. According to those bylaws, the vote to affirm you must be at least 70 percent of those present and voting.
You receive a vote of 72 percent.
Should you go to that church?
It depends (I know; that sentence does not help at all).
Your first impulse might be to decline the offer quickly. And you may be right. But there are seven questions you might ask before you make a hasty decision.
1. Was the vote secret ballot or open vote? Secret ballot votes tend to be lower than show of hands or verbal affirmations.
2. What is the history of the church in voting to call pastors and staff? If the church’s recent history was three votes of 95 percent or more, your lower vote does not portend well for your future. But some churches just have more ornery members than others. They vote negatively because they can.
3. Are you replacing a well-loved pastor or staff member? It’s hard to follow a legend. And some church members can’t conceive of anyone being there but the person who left. They take out their angst on you through a negative vote.
4. Is the position new to many people? I am aware of a situation where a campus pastor was barely voted affirmatively by the church. His vote was just one percentage point above the minimum required. As people began to discuss the vote, one common theme emerged: “What does a campus pastor do?” The problem was not the person as much as it was lack of clarity about a new position.
5. How long has the position been vacant? The shorter the vacancy, the more likely the candidate will get negative votes. Church members have not separated themselves emotionally from the former pastor or staff person. That does not mean a church should drag a process out. It does mean they don’t need to jump at the first available candidate.
6. Are there factions and conflict in the church? Sometimes the negative vote has nothing to do with the candidate. It could be one group in the church trying to get back at another group in the church. Such situations are sadly common.
7. Were there internal candidates who did not get the position? This scenario is too common. Instead of getting an outside person to fill the pulpit, the church let the executive pastor and the student pastor alternate. Both of them eventually decided they wanted to be considered as pastor. The search committee affirmed neither of them. So when an outside candidate was presented to the church, factions for each of the two internal candidates voted negatively. It had little to do with the candidate himself.
It is not always clear cut that a low affirmative vote is a rejection of the candidate. And though that could very well be the case, it helps to ask these seven questions before declining.
You just might be glad you said “yes.”
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on January 16, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and nine grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.