COLUMBIA — When members of Northside Baptist Church here called Ron Gleaves as pastor in January, they knew a little more about who they were calling than most churches do.
While search committees get to know the prospective candidate well, the congregation does not have that luxury.
Typically, a prospective pastor is brought to a church for a long weekend and is asked to preach on a Sunday morning.
Church members normally vote after hearing a pastor once or possibly twice.
At Northside, members had 12 days to get to know their prospective pastor before they took the vote.
Gleaves, who was pastor of The Church at Cross Point in Murfreesboro, already had tendered his resignation at the church, but was continuing to serve as pastor until he was called elsewhere or they called a new pastor.
When the search committee at Northside met with him, Gleaves told them he had one request — to spend two weeks on the church field getting to know the congregation and giving them an opportunity to know him.
At first Gleaves thought his proposal would be a “deal breaker,” but he noted the committee was very receptive to the idea.
Gary Baker, a deacon at Northside and chairman of the search committee, said they liked the idea. It gave both Gleaves and the church an opportunity to get to know each other, Baker said.
“It worked in both our favor and his,” he added.
Cliff Stanfill, vice chairman of deacons and a member of the search committee, agreed.
He noted that while he had not heard of a church that conducted such a process in calling a pastor, he was excited about it. When churches consider calling a pastor, it should be for a long-term relationship, Stanfill observed.
The church’s previous pastor, John Rushing had served there for 24 years before retiring in December 2010.
The process used by Northside gave both Gleaves and the congregation the opportunity to know each other better.
“We didn’t want him coming here if he didn’t feel that was what God was calling him to do,” Stanfill said.
The extended time allowed members of the church to ask questions that might not be asked in a short period of time, he continued.
While not foolproof, it could be helpful in cutting down on surprises six months after the minister is called, Stanfill said.
Gleaves spent 12 days on the church field at Northside’s expense. His desire was to be kept busy and Baker and the search committee did just that. Gleaves preached five times, visited in the hospital, attended a funeral, made numerous visits to members’ homes and met with various groups. He answered any and all questions.
The time invested apparently was well spent. After the vote was counted after Gleaves’ message on his final Sunday at the church, he was called with only one “no” vote.
Gleaves is pleased that Northside gave him the opportunity to get to know them and for them to become acquainted with him.
While he is aware that the process he and Northside took is the exception rather than the rule (when it comes to calling a pastor), he felt it was best for him.
Early in his ministry, Gleaves went to another church in view of a call without telling anyone at the church he was serving.
He noted that some of the members felt betrayed and he lost a dear friend because of how he handled his departure.
Gleaves said that he has seen how ministers have had to be secretive when contacted by churches about possible moves because they were afraid of losing their job if it didn’t work out.
As a result of his experiences, Gleaves has taken a different approach. Since that initial departure, he has served three other churches (not including Northside). At each one, he resigned before he had another church. And, in two of those churches, he remained on as interim pastor until they called someone or he accepted another position.
He actually had resigned at The Church at Cross Point about three months before he was contacted by Northside last November and began the process with their search committee.
“After 18 years in the ministry I have discovered that if you are honest with your people, they will overlook a multitude of mistakes,” Gleaves said.
“Complete transparency and openness about what the Lord is doing, for the church and for the minister, even though it can be difficult at times, need to be the goal,” he continued.
“The Lord honors and blesses the efforts on both parts.”