I was a little under two years into my first pastorate when one afternoon, as I was driving in my car, I happened to drive past the sign for a certain church in our area. It was a sign that I had driven past many times before, but this time it created a strange feeling inside me. After driving past it and glancing at it, I suddenly felt the strong impression that the church the sign represented would be the next church that I would pastor. I didn’t know precisely when this would happen because the church did have a pastor at the time, but it was clear to me that it was God’s will for me to pastor that church sometime in the future. I just needed to wait on His timing.
I assumed that the waiting would be just common, garden-variety waiting, but God had other ideas. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, He began to pour out to me, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, His vision for how He wanted me to lead that church. Here, there, and everywhere as I went about my life, sometimes during the day and sometimes during the night, He would provide me with little pieces of that vision.
At some point it all became so much that I began to write everything down in a notebook so that I didn’t forget anything. Pretty soon that notebook had in it: years worth of sermon series that I was to preach, the names of preachers that I was to invite to conduct revivals, the names of singers and singing groups that I was to invite to sing, the basics of the founding of a Christian K-12 school at the church, events for the youth, events for married couples, events for senior citizens, etc., etc., etc.
I don’t mind telling you that it was all downright amazing to someone who hadn’t been in the ministry that long. Mind you, though, that even as I filled up that notebook, I continued to do a good job at the church where I was serving as pastor. I understood that everything in the notebook was out there in the future somewhere, and I was determined to be patient.
During my waiting, I even turned down the opportunity to get elected as the pastor of another church. Admittedly, it was difficult to turn that church down since it would have been a step up for me from the standpoint of the ministry. The church was larger than the one where I was serving and had a nice parsonage. It was also a “name” church in our area.
An elderly, highly respected preacher friend of mine was serving as that church’s interim pastor at the time, and he had recommended me to the pulpit committee before even speaking with me about the situation. Being the man he was, his recommendation had all but ensured that the church would elect me. At his urging, I even met with the committee, a meeting during which everything was arranged for me to come and preach a trial sermon. But not long after that meeting I called the committee’s chairman and informed him that it wasn’t God’s will for me to pastor that church. You see, I knew where I was supposed to go next, and that church wasn’t it. It was, instead, the church with the sign.
Then came the day when I heard the news that the pastor of the church for which God had given me His vision had resigned. It had been approximately a year and a half since I had driven past that sign and been so strangely impressed by it, and I was now in a place where I had stayed long enough at my first church to be able to leave respectably. I also, of course, had my notebook.
Still, I wanted to be sure that God really was calling me to that new church. So, one night not long after I heard the news of that pastor’s resignation, I prayed to God and made a very specific request. The request was: “God, if you are really wanting me to become the pastor of that church, open a door for me to easily submit my resume.” Keep in mind now that during those days I was still young and green in the ministry. I didn’t know the exact protocol on how to tell a church that I was supposed to be their next pastor. That’s why I made the prayer request.
Well, the next day was Monday, the day upon which the weekly pastor’s conference was held in our county. I knew that our local Director of Missions would be there, and I figured that he was the man I needed to talk to about getting my resume to that church. So I attended the conference.
Following the conference, several of us went out for lunch at a local restaurant. In all my years of attending that pastor’s conference, that was the only time we ever chose that particular restaurant for our lunch. I thought that in itself was out of the ordinary. Things got even more out of the ordinary when, as we were walking into the restaurant, the Director of Missions said to me out of the clear blue, “I hear that you are thinking about leaving your church.”
To this day, I have no idea why that man said that. While it was certainly true that I was thinking about leaving, the only people that I had talked to about it were my wife, my brother, and my mother. Furthermore, I wasn’t just thinking about leaving in general. I was thinking about leaving to go to one church in particular: the church with the sign. And that Director of Missions definitely didn’t know anything about that. There’s no way that he could have.
Naturally, then, I took his comment as nothing less than God’s answer to my prayer request from the previous night. Excitedly, I replied, “Well, since you brought it up, I feel a real burden for…….(the church with the sign).” Then I asked that Director of Missions if he would pass along my resume to the church if I brought the resume to him. He agreed to do so, and that was the end of the conversation.
It was either the very next day or the day following that I handed the man my resume and began the process of waiting for a phone call from the church’s pulpit committee. Unfortunately, however, I was waiting on a call that would never come. I really can’t say for certain what happened behind the scenes. I don’t know if that committee considered my resume and unanimously decided that I wasn’t the pastor for them. I don’t know if it was just one or two members who took the committee in a direction other than me. Looking back on things now, I don’t even know for sure that the Director of Missions ever gave my resume to the committee. I always assumed he did. All I know for sure is that no phone call ever came and I never got the chance to talk with that committee and tell them about my notebook.
And so who did that church elect as pastor? After a relatively short time, they elected an elderly minister who had a lot more degrees and a lot more experience than I did. On paper, he was the logical “business decision” choice. His problem, though, was that he didn’t have my notebook full of vision for that church. So, not surprisingly to me, he only stayed at the church a couple of years, and during that time the church didn’t pick up any spiritually or numerically.
To make matters worse, the man’s wife stayed sick virtually the entire time they were there. If I’ve ever seen a case of a church having the wrong man in the pulpit, that was it. But what could I do about it? Absolutely nothing. All I could do was keep faithfully serving that first church of mine and keep minding the Lord as best I could concerning my own life and ministry.
Now, I’d love to tell you that this story does, at last, have a happy ending. I’d love to tell you that when that pastor resigned after those two years, I resubmitted my resume to the church’s new pulpit committee and ended up as the church’s pastor just a couple of years behind God’s original schedule. Yes, I’d love to tell you all of that, but if I did I’d be lying through my teeth.
Oh, I did resubmit the resume — this time calling a member of the pulpit committee personally and mailing him the resume. Again, though, as had been the case the first time, no phone call ever came. That second go-around the church elected a pastor who stayed there several years and had a pretty good ministry there. But what got lost in all of that was what should have been at that church.
And whatever became of my notebook? Well, after that second round of rejection, I was so disappointed that I threw it in the trash. For the record, God never once convicted me over that decision either. Obviously, all of that vision He had shared with me for that church was now just a memory, never to become reality.
Frankly, I have never fully gotten over that church missing it with me. Their wrong decision took both my ministry and the life of my family down a completely different road, a far less pleasant one. Make no mistake, nobody ever truly “wins” when God’s will is missed. As further evidence of this, let me add that the most recent report I got concerning the church with the sign is that it has fallen way off what it used to be. The pastor who is there now is a good man, and I believe he is in God’s will being there, but the level that God once had in mind for that church to reach is now long, long gone. Just as I have never gotten over missing out on that church, that church has never gotten over missing out on me and my notebook.
And now I’ll offer up a couple of Bible verses to accentuate this sad word of personal testimony. Each of these verses describes a scenario of “what should have been.” The first verse is Matthew 23:37, where Jesus bemoans the fact that Jerusalem, which was home to Israel’s ruling religious elite, would not accept Him as Messiah. You can hear the heartbreak in His words when He says of the city:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (N.K.J.V.)
The second verse is Mark 6:5, which gives the record of Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth. He wanted to go there and bless those citizens by performing miracles and providing teaching, but when He got there He found that those people were dead set against accepting Him as Messiah or letting Him do what He wanted to do in their midst. And so we get these fateful words:
Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. (N.K.J.V.)
So, in conclusion, I ask you, Can God’s will be thwarted? Can a group of people actually prevent God from doing a mighty work in their midst? Can a pulpit committee seek its own counsel rather than God’s and cause its church to elect the wrong pastor? Can the blessings of what should have been in a particular situation be lost for all eternity? I speak from personal experience when I answer each of these questions with a resounding: YES. Therefore, my advice to you is that you keep yourself fully submitted to God, in tune with His voice, and obedient to His will. Why? It’s because if you don’t, even though you might do some good things, you’ll never do the best ones, and you’ll never get to enjoy the pinnacle of blessing that God wants to bestow upon you.