Picture of a Pastor

Once upon a time.... many years ago......my wife and I were members of a cult.

I have documented elsewhere on this site how our great and merciful God allowed His glorious grace to shine upon us, and how we came to see that Justification really is by faith alone. (We are now in our 11th year after leaving the WCG).

I have also documented elsewhere how I commenced a theology degree shortly afterwards, culminating in a very good level degree in 1998. By now we considered ourselves Independent Evangelicals (which we still consider ourselves). Our full Testimony can be found HERE.

By 1997 I was preaching, mostly in rather neglected and pastorless congregations and mostly Baptist Union of Great Britain affiliated.

It was, as I recall, in 1997 or 1998 that I met the serving 'Baptist Union Superintendent' (at that particular time) for the South Wales area. I went to this man's home and we had a long discussion. He seemed (at least initially) quite impressed by me and told me that he felt I would make a good baptist pastor. He then explained the complications of my position. My situation was difficult because I did not have a long baptist history and no particular congregation had forwarded me as a prospective minister in the normal fashion.
This meant that I would need to start out as an 'unnaccredited minister,' but upon acceptance by a congregation, I was told that I could apply for "full accreditation" within, I think it was, about two years.
We also discussed the fact that not all Baptist Union congregations were Bible-believing evangelical congregations - indeed many were liberal - but that an appropriate congregation could surely be found for me.

My preaching regularity was very patchy: I can recall preaching three sermons on the same day on one Pentecost Sunday, but at other times I only seemed to be preaching once or twice a month which was highly frustrating. For about a year after my meeting with the Baptist Union Superintendent, he would suggest me to various congregations as a preacher who might consider taking up a pastorate.
In truth, many of these congregations had been seriously affected by liberal theology and I think that not a few of them were somewhat astonished at having a passionate, Bible-believing preacher! I soon found a typical reaction: the congregations loved me, but the leaders (by which I mean the deacons since many of these places had no serving pastor) were less enthusiastic. This did not entirely surprise me since the leaders of those congregations had presumably presided over that congregation's descent into the sad, lifeless and apathetic liberalism which I so frequently encountered! Some of these congregations were down to as few as ten people, while others were much larger. Constantly I found that the need for leadership was huge, but often a leading deacon seemed to hold back the possibility of taking on a new pastor because of what seemed to me as a fear of the fresh approach, impetus and challenge which any incoming pastor would provide. In truth, some of these places of worship appeared to be either spiritually dead, or perilously close to spiritual death and I found myself comparing many of them to the church of Sardis! (Revelation 3:1-6).

A few things really astonished me: Often I was the first one to arrive when due to give a sermon, quite often too the "leaders" did not even show up until two or three minutes before the service start time - and quite often two or three minutes after the start time! I also was somewhat amazed that a congregation in which fewer than twenty peoople were regularly showing up, very frequently actually had around a hundred plus "official" members! Some of these people hadn't been seen for years and, in some cases, I think had actually passed away.

After a while, such struggling little church congregations no longer seemed to ring me, but that was fine by me since - around the same time - I was beginning to see that God was just not calling me to pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain. I was again feeling increasingly Independent Evangelical, rather than specifically 'Baptist,' and the appalling watery indifference of the local leaders whom I came into contact with was a constant surprise and disappointment.

It was appearing that if a door ever opened to me to be an active pastor, the door would open into an independent Baptist or independent evangelical congregation, since the very constitution of many Baptist Union churches would prevent them taking on a non-accredited pastor. Nevertheless I made a determined decision at that time to withdraw from preaching in 'Baptist Union' congregations.
However, I decided to ask the local B.U. 'super' why he had apparently stopped recommending me, since new invitations had dried up (of course, I still regularly preached in a few non-BUGB places where I had become known), this man's reaction astonished me! This man had been (quite obviously) speaking to one or two of the deacons in some of the liberal congregations where I had tried very hard to raise a spark of commitment to Christ. He said, "I am told that you are just not speaking to some of these congregations on their level of understanding!" - the only way I could read this was that this was a euphemistic phrase which simply meant 'You are preaching Bible-believing type sermons in liberal churches!' But I was disappointed that he had formed a conclusion without even speaking to me when he had earlier encouraged me to look upon him as a friend.
Of course, as a local Baptist Union 'super,' he had to consider the needs of liberal as well as evangelical congregations. I have always been an intense, passionate and somewhat fiery preacher and I know that I have made a mark in many places - however, liberal places of worship undoubtedly felt disturbingly challenged by some of my sermons. The congregations in these places had enjoyed hearing me preach but, as already mentioned, the leaders did not seem to suddenly want the challenge of a preacher who pointed congregations back to a closer walk with Christ.

Around 2002 my health started to deteriorate and I had a mild heart attack in the Februrary of that year. About this time I started to wonder whether my health would really be up to pastoring a church. The final straw which made me withdraw from the 'pastor required' scene was when I was invited to preach in a struggling little congregation at Havant in Hampshire, England (in this case an independent 'Free Church' - nothing to do with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland). This was not (or so I had been assured) a liberal congregation. I drove down to Havant (a distance of around 125 miles from where I live) on a foggy and unwelcoming winter Sunday. I seem to remember that there was a problem on the motorway and I had to slightly change my route; meanwhile, driving in the fog was an absolute nightmare!

Yet I still managed to reach the meeting hall about 40 minutes before the service was due to start (I was always an 'early bird'), and I was so disappointed that the deacon, whom I had already contacted by both telephone and e mail, had not decided to come to the meeting hall a bit earlier because of the uncertainty of my arrival time; it seemed tough, and frankly very unthoughtful, that after driving such a distance in such poor weather there was nobody around to greet me! This just seemed so disappointingly inconsiderate.

My first view of the worship hall already made a bad impression: it was a 1950s/1960s modernish-type type building and the place was seriously in need of seeing a coat of paint. The window (surprisingly shaped rather like a typical British shop-front) looked very dirty, with no 'church notices' obviously having been placed there for some time. Here was a very bad impression to be giving to any would-be attenders; but it got worse: the hall had about four steps which had to be negotiated in order to reach the door, one of these had completely broken away so that any older person with a walking difficulty would never even be able to reach the door! I seemed to find such things constantly during this period: churches which were crying out for new people not being prepared to do just that little bit to make such people welcome!!

The deacon and his wife finally arrived with just minutes to go until the service start time (always a very bad sign, yet I encountered this so often during my 'prospective pastor' period). But I was surprised that the deacon and his wife were unfriendly towards me - this seemed very odd! Surely since we were all 'in the faith' and committed to the Lord Jesus I might have expected something like, 'Good morning my dear brother! Thank you so much for driving all this way in such awful weather in order to bring us the Word!' But I got nothing like that, just a polite handshake and the deacon's wife did not seem to want to talk at all. Already I felt that I knew rather a lot about this congregation.

The sermon seemed to go okay, though nobody made any comments on it, but I think it was possibly the strongest one I was giving at that time. Then I was invited back for a meal to a member's home at which the deacon was also to be present (I had already decided to only take the morning service on what I assumed would be just the first of other such occasions). But the deacon spoiled my meal by continually making remarks regarding what he felt was my unsuitability for the pastorate. I was a little annoyed about this since this was occurring at the dinner table in front of several people and I felt that his insinuations of my unsuitability were more suited to any future meeting between myself and the few leading members. So at a time when I expected just to be able to relax and enjoy a meal in pleasant Christian fellowship, I felt seriously 'under attack' with my credentials 'under fire' (although I honestly believe that those credentials were rather more than any tiny, struggling church could reasonably expect to find in any incoming pastor!) In fact, by this time the Lord had already clearly shown me that this pastorate was just not for me. This man's behaviour genuinely shocked me; he seemed to be treating me with the disdain of a man who believed himself in a position of strength. That is, the impression he was giving was that potential pastors were just forming a queue to be considered. The truth was quite the opposite: I think I was more or less their last chance - it is hard to believe that anybody would want to pastor such a place! As I recall, only a half-stipend, or half salary was even being offered which would probably rule out 95% of pastors from even considering it.When I had learned this my attitude was, 'Well, I'm not in this for the money anyway! I will still meet them and see if the Lord will open a door'- but this door wasn't only shut but the Lord had allowed somebody to drive a nail firmly into it!
Some others present at the meal also seemed a bit shocked and annoyed at this deacon's discourteous treatment of me, and he was finally quite openly challenged about his attitude towards me by a retired pastor who was present whom I had quickly established some rapport with. My! I was learning a lot about why this little congregation was struggling to survive!!

The truth, of course, is that this deacon knew he would have to relinquish some influence and authority once a pastor took over and it would have probably been a 'bitter pill' for him to swallow. On one level such deacons know a congregation will not survive without a new incoming pastor providing some fresh impetus, but - on another level - they fear it. This is not uncommon in many places where there has been no pastor for some while and I believe that many 'prospective pastors' witness it. But the coldness and rudeness was a genuine shock. I had expected to enjoy a pleasant meal in a relaxed situation, then to meet the two or three leaders for a private discussion. I was available as a pastor but there were certain problems which needed to be sorted out if they wanted me (their need of a pastor was desperate), so I was interested to know what 'goodies' they were prepared to offer me to enable me to consider them as a future pastorate; but instead of that, I was subjected to quite rude behaviour. Finally, I had had enough; I told all present that I needed to be getting home. I just politely shook hands with the leading deacon and his wife, but my parting from the retired pastor and his wife was very warm and loving. It is quite obvious that they were embarrassed by what had taken place. They didn't exactly say, 'We want to apologise for our deacon,' yet if body language and facial expression count for anything, they did - in a sense - apologise for him.

Anyone reading this account who is unfamiliar with the baptist/independent system of appointing pastors might be genuinely astonished at the treatment I was afforded, yet I happen to believe such things happen rather a lot within this particular system, and that many 'prospective pastors' have experienced such things.

There is a footnote to this story which perhaps serves to underscore that this day was not exactly the most successful day of my life! My travelling expenses were handed to me in an envelope. I had already agreed with this little church that my expenses would need to be in cash since I needed to fill my car up with petrol in order to get home. But when I called at a garage on the way home I made a discovery........they had underpaid my expenses by quite a big amount! Yes, I managed to get home but only by the very skin of my teeth with my petrol gauge on the 'red.' They contacted me about two days later with an apology for having underpaid my expenses (although I had not complained). I was told that a certain sum would be sent me to cover the remainder of the expenses, but only half of it was ever sent.

On that journey home I decided that I would never again preach anywhere as a 'prospective pastor' and I have stuck to that. I have often preached since, but only as a guest minister.

Yet despite everything which happened on my 'disaster day' trip to Hampshire, it might surprise some readers when I say that.....the Lord was very much involved in the events of that day on my behalf.
How can I say this? Because I had prayed fervently that the Lord would show me clearly whether it was His will for me to take up this pastorate! MY, DID HE SHOW ME!

But the Lord showed me even more than this. He clearly showed me that I should withdraw from the 'prospective pastor' scene since He wasn't going to bless it.


My prospective pastor period from 1998 until 2002 taught me several things.

I came to see that the independent/baptist system of appointing pastors is hardly biblical and is quite flawed. The system, I learned, could only really work where all the leaders of a congregation were actively walking with Jesus Christ, but where an apathetic and worldly liberalism had made serious inroads, the system could not work. I was given a copy of the rule book which baptist churches should apply when seeking a pastor so I was able to see clearly for myself that the rules were constantly either ignored or flouted.

When Paul told Titus to 'appoint elders in every city,' I don't read any indications of the flagrant cattle market consumerism which so often occurs; that is, that congregations can listen to several preachers over several weeks or months then take a vote which one they like best. At the very least, this is often completely insensitive to the feelings of those prospective pastors. My reading of what is supposed to happen is that (in the case of B.U. churches), the local superintendent should only put forward certain and very few names as prospective pastors, after much prayer, as being most spiritually needful for a particular congregation. But there should never be any suggestion of 'just pick the pastor of your choice - any shape, size or color!'

I also learned that, in practise, any pastors on some kind of 'short list' are normally never told how the whole 'pastor required' scenario finally pans out; sometimes a congregation decides to shelve the search for a pastor (very very common in liberal congregations), other times a pastor does get appointed but guest preachers who had been under consideration are not told. I cannot see anything biblical in this whole practise. Titus was to appoint - not allow congregations to vote for whoever they wanted! I finally endured four years involvement in the 'would-be pastor' circus (I hope I don't offend anybody by my use of the word, 'circus' but it honestly seems a pretty good word to describe what I - and others - have witnessed).
This does not mean that I would now support hierarchial episcopal-type church government which seems to me to be the opposite ditch. Perhaps overall the Presbyterian system is best. But I have an open mind, except that I have learned from experience that the baptist/independent system often just does not work. Nevertheless, we remain Independent non-denominational Evangelicals.

On two occasions during this period I probably came very close to pastoring a congregation:
1. I was invited to pastor in southern Ireland, but this was a while after my wife and I had become Foster Carers and we were fostering a little girl (whom we still foster at the time of writing this) and had come to love her very much. Since southern Ireland is a separate country, we would have had to relinquish our UK Foster Carer status and could not have taken this little girl with us, so we both unanimously rejected pastoring in southern Ireland.

2. The deacon of a baptist church here in the South Wales valleys really wanted me to become their pastor after I preached there about five times in four months; he seemed convinced that I was the answer to their problems (they only had about 30 members), and he was highly complementary about my preaching. This congregation, as I recall, was not B.U.G.B. - unfortunately, however, although he wanted me and I was certainly prepared to discuss the possibility of becoming their pastor, he could not get the other deacons to agree! Another odd thing I found during this period was that some of these congregations had a large number of deacons even with a tiny congregation! This effectively paralysed decision-making on many many occasions which I became aware of.

But the irony of all this is that, in a sense, everything which I wanted to flow from the theology degree has indeed occurred; I wanted to be fully involved in Christian ministry and since 1998 - but especially since 2001 - I have been involved in all aspects of ministry, yet I have collected a stipend nowhere. I have countless hours of involvement with my internet ministry; answering questions, offering advice, praying for the sick, and during the last year I have also shared the ministry in an independent baptist church two miles from our home. Again, I collect no pay, fee or stipend for doing this. I rather like this situation since I am answerable to no man, only to our Lord.
Robin A. Brace

"This is what you can expect when you get bold for Christ: You can expect trouble. I mean big trouble. But you know we are not called to please man. We're called to please God. Folks if we're a people pleaser and we're in the pastorate, we're in the wrong business. We ought to go to work for Avon ...."
Rev. Daniel D. Carlen - Columbia, TN, USA.

© This article is Copyright Robin A. Brace 2004 (apart from the quote by Carlen). It is forbidden to excerpt this article without our permission. Thank you. We really regret having to use copyright warnings but unfortunately a few unscrupulous people have already stolen our material word for word and claimed it as their own.


Return links to various Museltof Websites:



Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional