The Baptist Pillar ©      Brandon Bible Baptist Church     1992-Present

"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Problem of the Empty Pulpit

James A. Maxwell

The Watchman Examiner, 1924

It is a serious thing for any church to face an empty pulpit. Wisely to choose a spiritual leader is a task for prayerful, careful people. If the rec­ommendation of a successor to the retiring pastor is committed to a committee that group should be composed of the most sane, most spiritual, most level-headed members of the church. Theirs is a responsibility that requires calm deliberation and clear judgment. Haste, rashness, sentimentality or self-confidence can work havoc here.

Connection must be made with the work of the previous pas­tor. Sometimes this connection has in it cor­rection, because few men have all the powers needed for a full, symmetrical development of a church. One's successor should supplement his work. One man is strong in organizing, edify­ing, solidifying a church, but while he has been pastor a harvest of unsaved has gathered in the Bible school and congregation. He is not strong evangelistically. Evangelism should be a prime consideration in the choice of a successor. A man is needed to supplement, not to supplant him. Strength is to be fitted into weakness. The extraordinary is to follow the ordinary. Quali­ties and inequalities must be evened up.

It does not follow because a retiring pastor is greatly loved that the church must have a man just like him to follow. The whole need of the church must be considered. Nor does it follow that the desirable man is the man available, at least on first sight. Desirability comes before availability. Churches must not be tempted by the fact that a man is easily available. Ability to carry on the work and supplement the retir­ing pastor is a thing for first consideration.

To discover the right man the church needs to take wisdom. It does not take much wisdom to discover a man who wilt accept the call, but to know the man who meets the needs, that calls for inquiry, care and judgment. That also takes time. Haste in choosing a spiritual leader may be disastrous. It takes time to find out where the man is who is doing the kind of work that the pastorless church needs to have done.

The securing of a stated supply, an interim pastor, one who has no designs upon the pulpit, has much to commend it in our present situa­tion. It gives time for the making of inquiry concerning the men from whom the church can make wise selection. It is a superior plan.

But running men through the pulpit Sunday after Sun­day, and then choosing the one who has made the best impression for a day - that is inferior, shamefully inferior, and in many instances disastrously inferior. It is a very poor man who cannot preach two good sermons and be desir­able for a day. This plan has not one thing to commend it, but has many things to condemn it. Many divided and wrecked churches bear witness against it.

To choose from a bundle of letters one whose recommendations seem to be the strongest has perils also attending it. This may mean that a man has marshalled his friends to write the church in his behalf. It may mean the effort of friends to locate one who wants to move. A church is bigger than a man. The interest of the smallest church comes before the interest of the largest man.

A church's need of a man comes before a man's need of a church. The locating of men, who wish a change, very often results in serious misfits. Would that all of us could work into our convic­tions that our strongest recommendation is the work we are doing where we are, work that we ourselves do not need to prove.

It must, however, be admitted that men are doing excellent work in obscure places, without receiving much notice. There is justification for some men to seek the re­commendation of others. But after this has been admitted the recommendation business is overdone. Churches are bewildered by the flood of letters that pour in upon them when they are pastorless. Some are even puffed up from the sense of their church's importance, which the many letters seem to prove. They lose their opinion that ministers are scarce. All this is confusing and misleading.

Responsibility rests upon those whose position of acquaintance with and knowledge of churches and pastors enables them to direct churches to the men they need. In our policy this is essential. But helping pastorless churches to choose suitable men is more than the locating of pastors who wish to move on.

Though we are in a restless pe­riod, yet every one of us should prove his minis­try right where he is. We must make ourselves desirable just where we are. We chase the rain­bow when we look to other places in which more easily to prove our worth. Difficulties are as many and as stubborn there as here. There are few peculiar fields. Human nature is full of same­ness.