One of the inevitabilities of working in a seminary community is that you’re likely to lose quite a few dear friends over the course of your tenure. It’s not because seminaries require vows of friendlessness, alongside those of poverty and humility. Rather, it’s because seminaries train pastors—reliable folks who pass along what they’ve learned to others (2 Tim 2:2). And, sadly, these others don’t always fall within the shadow of the training seminary. In about a month, our community here will lose another dear friend and, in this case, a valuable colleague. Our own Dan Winnberg has accepted a call to a senior pastorate near Boston, MA. In light of this, we thought it’d be helpful to have Dan reflect a bit with us on the transition and, particularly, the candidating process, since others in our own community and elsewhere will likely find themselves in similar situations. Here’s what he had to say.
Jared: For starters, why don’t you briefly describe your present post and the one you’ll be transitioning into shortly.
Dan: Sure. I’m one of the pastors for instruction and discipleship at Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI, a role I’ve had since 2005. My responsibilities include, among other things, shepherding our young married fellowship class and overseeing the church’s Information Technology. I’m also on the faculty of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, where I’ve taught a course on preaching for the last two years. Prior to joining the pastoral staff, I served for a handful of years in the church’s Christian day school, while I completed my M.Div. at DBTS. In fact, altogether, I’ve been working for Inter-City for over 12 years.
In February of last year I was contacted—unsolicited—by The Church of the Open Bible (COB), Burlington, MA. Their senior pastor had just retired and they were beginning the search for his replacement. This initial contact led to several months of discussion with their elders and a number of visits. This past February, I officially became a candidate and was subsequently called to be their next pastor. Lord willing, we will be moving in June, and I’ll begin my new responsibilities in early July.
Jared: Now tell us a bit about how you made the decision to accept this call.
Dan: Well, when the opportunity presented itself, I tried to evaluate it in light of biblically-informed wisdom. Three things in particular suggested to me that God was leading me to accept this call. First, while I’ve not been actively pursuing a senior pastoral position, I’ve had a steady desire to be engaged in this sort of work for the last several years (cf. 1 Tim 3:1). Importantly, my wife recognized this and encouraged me to pursue the opportunity as it unfolded. Second, the current elders at COB have shown themselves to be humble, teachable men who really want to know God’s Word. Their serious commitment to doctrine was evident in the questions they asked me over the course of our several interviews! And, besides their character (cf. 1 Tim 3), they also displayed true competence for their task (see, e.g., 1 Tim 3:4; 5:17), and we seemed thoroughly compatible (cf. Acts 15:25)—meaning: I think we can work together in ministry. Third, the people of COB have demonstrated remarkable servant-mindedness, remaining actively involved in the ministry there even during this interim period when they’re without a senior pastor.
Jared: I wonder if you could tell us about how you shepherded your own family through this transition.
Dan: Yes, very good question. I was concerned, of course, to shepherd my wife and three children through all this, regardless of the outcome of the church’s vote. One of the decisions my wife and I initially had to make was when to tell our children about the opportunity. We decided to let them know just prior to our first visit as a family (my third visit). We asked them to keep it in-house and, therefore, not to share it with their friends. We informed them of the steps involved in the process, including the possibility of more visits and that the church might eventually vote on whether or not to make me their next pastor. During our first family visit, my 6-year-old daughter, who was sitting next to me during the service, leaned over while I was being introduced by one of the elders and asked, “Dad, is this when they vote?” (Her innocent question calmed my nerves!)
Another way I tried to shepherd my family was through family prayer. Specifically, we routinely prayed together that God would give us and the church wisdom and, therefore, that he’d make his direction clear. This gave me the opportunity to talk with my family about how one finds and applies God’s wisdom. For this we looked at Proverbs 2. (Kevin DeYoung’s book Just Do Something was very helpful here.) We talked about how one gets wisdom by reading the Bible—by storing up God’s commands (v. 1). We also talked about how one gets wisdom by listening to sound advice, which is what Solomon means when he talks about turning your ear to wisdom (v. 2). Here I shared how I’d talked with other pastors and asked them to help me wisely think through the opportunity. Finally, we talked about how we needed to pray to God and call out for insight (v. 3).
Following the vote, we sat down with our kids and let them know how God had answered our prayers. Since we’d prayed that God’s will would be clear and, related, that the church’s response would be unified, I asked my kids how God had answered this. My son answered, “It seems that a 91% positive vote by the church is pretty clear what God would have us do.”
Jared: One thing I really appreciated about the way you approached this process was your commitment to full disclosure. You didn’t try to sell yourself to the church. Rather, you wanted them to know exactly what they might be getting themselves into. Could you talk about this?
Dan: Yes. This was a deliberate decision on my part. So, when it came to my communication with the elders, I wanted to be absolutely upfront about what I believed. I didn’t just want to give them “yes” and “no” answers. Rather, I wanted to go further and explain the philosophy behind my answers. While this did make for some longer conversations—in which the elders showed great patience!—it allowed me to clearly and thoroughly establish who I was and what I believed. I didn’t want there to be any surprises. (I remember, at one point, telling the elders that I was not a political candidate hoping to win their vote.) My advice for others who find themselves in similar situations is to be exactly who you are and to do it with humility. I told the elders that I wanted to learn and grow with them, but I didn’t hesitate to clearly express what I believed as well.
I also wanted to communicate very openly with the entire congregation. So, e.g., when I had completed a rather extensive questionnaire about my doctrinal views, I asked that it be made readily available for the congregation, both in print and online. Some of the elders will admit that they were nervous about putting all this information online. Yet, in the end, we all agreed that this served them and the congregation well. It showed the congregation just how seriously the elders were taking their responsibility and, as a result, increased the congregation’s confidence in them. And, it gave the congregation more than enough information to make the following public Q&A a rich and valuable experience. (On a side note, I found it very helpful that the elders had the congregation submit questions in advance.)
For some additional help, interested readers will want to check out the recent 9Marks Journal entitled “Pastoral Moves,” esp. this interview with Michael Lawrence. And, if you’ve had a similar experience and have some advice to share, we’d love to hear from you.