When the Rev. Gary Nave left Bethel Baptist Church for a job in Cleveland, the independent Toledo church formed a search committee to find his replacement. Through trial and error they learned that in addition to prayer and word of mouth, technology helps.
“The committee members really took advantage of the Internet and it probably improved their efficiency tenfold,” said Bob Hemsoth, chairman of the deacon board. “They could communicate with candidates much more quickly.”
The seven-member committee began its quest in October, 2000, and completed the mission in December when the church voted its approval of the Rev. Jay Williamson, who will be officially installed as senior pastor in a service at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
Finding the right pastor is one of the most crucial tasks facing any church, especially an autonomous one like Bethel Baptist which has no denominational headquarters to oversee pastoral assignments. The church is a member of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches and received guidance from that organization's state representative, the Rev. David Warren.
An average of between 125 and 150 people attend Sunday morning services at Bethel, which was founded in 1965.
“We were in maintenance mode during the search, although attendance held up fairly well,” Mr. Hemsoth said. “A few new people actually joined during that time.”
As head of the deacon board, he was responsible for arranging guest speakers to preach every Sunday.
Meanwhile, the search committee decided to focus on one pastoral candidate at a time, trying to avoid a “beauty pageant” approach, Mr. Hemsoth said.
The panel was looking for a pastor whose ministry lined up with GARBC's guidelines, which include having a belief in the entirety of scripture, a desire to impact the world for Christ and to champion biblical truth, and the goal of perpetuating a Baptist heritage.
Once the panel selected a candidate, that minister would be asked to come to the church for an extended weekend. In addition to preaching several times, candidates would attend meetings to get to know the church members.
The church body then would vote on whether to accept the candidate as its pastor. Bethel's constitution requires the candidate to receive at least 75 percent approval.
“Halfway through the process, there was a man that came. He seemed to meet the criteria that had been established,” Mr. Hemsoth said, “but he did not get that 75 percent vote.”
The committee was discouraged at first, but after re-evaluating its procedures it decided to lean more on 21st-century technology. The job opening and criteria were posted on the church's Web site (www.bethelbaptisttoledo.com) and new candidates were contacted by e-mail.
Ironically, despite the high-tech touch, Mr. Williamson learned of the job opening the old-fashioned way - through word of mouth.
A native of Toledo and a 1973 graduate of Whitmer High School, Mr. Williamson had been pastor of an independent Baptist church in Lansing, Mich., when the Bethel job opened up.
A relative attended a Sunday school class at Emmanuel Baptist Church (which is also a member of the GARBC) when someone prayed that God would send the right minister to Bethel. Mr. Williamson's relative then called and told him about the opening.
“I looked through a directory of churches and noticed that Dennis Chesser, Bethel's associate pastor, was a childhood acquaintance that I hadn't seen in years,” Mr. Williamson said. “I called him and we chatted on the phone and he said `We're still looking for a pastor.' We did most of our correspondence, probably 90 percent, through e-mail.”
Mr. Williamson first visited Bethel as a guest speaker and then returned as a formal candidate. The church members voted to make him their pastor in December when he received more than 90 percent approval.
While he had been happy in Lansing, Mr. Williamson said he wanted to “be open to whatever God wanted to do” for him and his family. He and his wife, the former Jill Nause, were childhood sweethearts who met at Whitmer High and have five children, age 10 to 24.
“Each time we visited here and each time we met with the leadership, we came away feeling more impressed,” he said. “I felt that this was a good fit for me. I think that's the key. Every church has its own personality and finding the right fit is good.”
“It was clear that he was the right man,” Mr. Hemsoth said. “Our church is very pleased and we know we put a lot of effort into it but we also know we wouldn't be where we are without a lot of prayer.”
Having learned some lessons the hard way, Bethel's search committee is eager to share its knowledge. The panel has compiled notes, information, and advice onto a computer disk that it is available to other churches undertaking a pastoral search.
Tomorrow's installation service begins at 10 a.m. at Bethel Baptist, 4621 Glendale Ave. Guest speakers will include the Rev. David Warren, the Rev. Charles Vermilyea of Emmanuel Baptist Church, and the Rev. William “Chip” Bernhard, Jr., of Pewaukee, Wis.