Every once in a while, I get an email from someone whose church has decided God is calling their minister somewhere else. My former student has taken the hint and needs a recommendation letter. Most of his seminary professors do not remember him and the ones that do have not offered to vouch for him, so I have to tell a church search committee how wonderful he is.
This is not as easy as it sounds. To write a good letter, you need to understand not only the attributes of the person you are recommending, but also the needs of the congregation. You want to say things the church wants to hear, but you have to be honest.
I am writing to recommend that my former student become your senior minister. He was in my preaching class quite a few times. As a preacher, he has left himself room for growth.
He is growing in the area of interpersonal relationships. He is getting over his nervousness around old people and young people. He does not know any Greek, which can be to the congregation’s advantage.
Some at your church might be uncomfortable if the senior minister were a teetotaler. No worries there. Many churches are afraid that their pastor is a workaholic. This will not be a problem. You would be fortunate to get him to work for you.
You have learned by now that he has been through some tough times in ministry. I hope you are not like his last four churches.
Best wishes, good luck, and know you will be in my prayers,
Recommendation letters are so goofy that it is disappointing that there is a biblical basis for the practice. Saint Paul writes recommendation letters for Apollos, a preacher, Phoebe, a deacon, and John Mark, a missionary. The system did not work for them either.
“Recommendation letters are so goofy that it is disappointing that there is a biblical basis for the practice.”
Paul worked hard when he was at the church in Corinth, but he could not fix their feuding factions and financial fights. They have church members who love to complain, show no signs of wanting to like the church, and are happiest when they are unhappy.
After Paul leaves to serve another church, strangers show up with a recommendation letter from Jerusalem:
Dear First Church, Corinth:
Listen to these people. We recommend them.
The Johnny-come-latelys with the fancy letter begin to criticize Paul: “Who is this guy Paul, and what gives him the right to tell you what to do? What credentials does he have? Did he have a recommendation letter?”
These criticisms are bizarre. When Paul first went to Corinth, they did not even have a church.
Word gets back to Paul that there are members of the church questioning him because he never submitted a curriculum vita. Paul is hurt by the suggestion that he needs to document his standing with people he loves.
Paul thinks a long time before he writes: “I don’t believe I need a letter from a former boss telling about the effectiveness of my work, because I have you. You people are my life. You and I share God’s love. The friendship we have is more than what we could write with pen and ink. The faith that we could describe on paper is less than what we have known in one another. The Spirit has written a love letter on your heart and mine” (2 Corinthians 3:1-6).
“The Corinthian church criticizes, whines and argues, but Paul says he knows God through them.”
This is an amazing thing for Paul to say. The Corinthian church criticizes, whines and argues, but Paul says he knows God through them.
We are God’s love letters to one another and the world. God loves us through the person who asks how we are feeling and listens to what we say, the former teacher who keeps telling us to call her by her first name, and the senior citizen who knows what we need to know, but is kind enough to wait for us to ask. Sometimes we seem more like God’s text messages than God’s letters, filled with mistakes, but even so the message gets through.
How would we respond if someone asked if we could recommend a church? If we were more like Paul, we could write:
You should come be part of our church. We have problems like every church, but I have experienced the church as a family that loves one another and those who are hurting. If you come, you will see that the church does not need a letter of recommendation from me. They are their own letters, written on one another’s hearts. They are the letters of Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. They are given to the way of hope, joy and love.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Paul didn’t pen 1 Corinthians 13 for weddings and Valentine’s Day celebrations | Opinion by Nora Lozano
The sacrament of not touching: a gift of grace made literally a matter of life and death | Opinion by Bill Leonard