Going Neutral – Part II


Note: The Featured image today is the pulpit from Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, VA. The “ceiling” of pulpit is what’s known as a sounding board. It’s several layers of different density wood, with the grains in alternating directions. When sound waves bounce off the board, the wood vibrates and actually helps to amplify speech. It’s the only amplification on the pulpit to this day.

OK search committees. Yesterday I gave some advice to the folks behind the pulpit at a neutral site. Today, let’s talk about your roll in this process. You are, after all, more than disinterested spectators. Preparing well can help make the neutral pulpit experience a successful endeavor.

Come to Worship

Yes you are there to do a specific job, and that’s to evaluate a pastor you may potentially call to your church. The job, however, doesn’t supersede the call to worship with your fellow disciples. worship is the act of stepping into the presence of the vast, uncountable, multitude of God’s people – both in Heaven and on Earth. We gather to tell the story of our Savior, sing of the great works our Lord has done, repent of our sins, embrace Christ’s forgiveness, and even learn a thing or two about Jesus’ teaching. Worship is a mystical, and important, experience – never forget it.

If you come to the neutral site prepared to worship first and evaluate second the trip can be “successful” even if you feel the pastor with whom you met “doesn’t fit.”

Accept That the Host Church Is Not Your Congregation

Churches each have their own personality. Mine, as I’ve said previously on this blog, is The Land of Misfit Christians. I can’t expect every congregation to have a personality like ours 1 – we’ve gone through years of formative processes, good and bad, to become what we are at this moment in our journey. Other congregations will do things differently, because they are different. This is a good thing.

If the pastor has to preach to the congregation in front of them, and not to your committee, keep in mind the host congregation has it’s own habits of worship and service. Some will be more formal than yours, others will be more casual. If the preacher you are there to evaluate preaches a sermon which wouldn’t necessarily “work” in your congregation, that might not be a bad thing. What you need to ask yourselves is, “Did this preacher share a message which was appropriate for this congregation?” If the answer is “yes” you’ve learned the pastor it able to communicate in ways which fit their venue – this is a valuable gift for any preacher/teacher and is actually more important than whether your like that one sermon or not 2.

Let the host congregation help you

The key word in “host congregation” is host. A church which offers to host a neutral pulpit goes out of it’s way to make space for their brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s not a matter of having a space available for a reservation 3, they are expressing an act of love. Make use of their hospitality!

If the host congregation offers to have the visiting preacher come to the sanctuary the evening before worship, take them up on the offer! If the host congregation says it can record the sermon for you, by all means accept the recording. If you want to set up a camera to video the service, schedule a time come in early and see how the sanctuary is laid out. If you need space to chat after worship, make a request! Allowing people to show you hospitality is a great way to make friends.

Make space for others

People have made space for you and that space helped bring you closer to calling a pastor. When the opportunity comes, pay it forward. Help other churches on their journey the same way other churches helped you. If the pastor complains about losing “their pulpit” 4, or if congregations complain about the paying the pastor to “do nothing,” 5 be sure to remind them about how a neutral site helped you. Giving hospitality, after all, is second only to receiving hospitality for making friends.

  1. Nor do I think we’d survive the awkward-ocalypse. 
  2. A pastor’s preaching should really be evaluated over range of sermons. Over multiple message a pastor’s theological focus and philosophical bent will emerge in ways a one-shot sermon simply cannot do. 
  3. “Yes, I need a pew for 8 on January 18 at 10:30. And can we request Rev. SoAndSo as our preacher? We’ve heard such great things.” 
  4. Pastors who complain about this have lost some sight of their calling. 
  5. Yes, it happens.