February 21, 2019
Re: Lead Pastor Search Team
Recommendation of Rev. James Welch as the next Lead Pastor for First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale -
Dear Trustee Board, Deacon Body, Pastoral and Staff Team and FB|FTL Congregation;
Nearly three years ago to the date our team set out on a journey to find our next Lead Pastor, as a team we are pleased to confirm that we unanimously recommend Rev. James Welch to fill that position as God’s chosen man. You have heard our team discuss the procedure as being a three-stage process including Discovery, Development, and Delivery. As part of our final report and recommendation, we will provide a summary as to the outcome of each of these three stages.
Discovery – Our search team was appointed by a nominating committee and the team was asked to serve the process on a voluntary basis. After prayer and consideration of an acceptance of the call, the team held its initial meeting in March 2016. This was very much a spiritual journey for our team and one that was cloaked in prayer, fasting, and the study of God’s word together as a team. In addition, during the discovery phase, we all read through a book that guided our team to a process of research and analysis of not only our church (people, place, and programming) but also a deeper look at Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, and South Florida. Additionally, as a part of this discovery phase, a town hall meeting was held with the congregation to review, as well as get feedback on the analysis and direction the team was taking with regard to the search process. The outcome of the Discovery phase led us to the criteria that we shared not only with the church congregation but also with the candidates and potential candidates. During this Discovery phase, we met with local pastors and key faith-based leadership individuals to seek their advice relative to the search process. They were affirming of our process but did encourage us to utilize the criteria as guideposts but to be sure that we allowed the Holy Spirit to guide and confirm. We took this process and time to review of approximately 6 months. As part of the discovery process, it became clear to our team that what was identified as our “local predicament” was very unique. We had the opportunity to discuss strategies for the search and if we would utilize a 3rd party search firm, or to tackle the search on our own. We agreed unanimously to tackle the search process internally as our interview with 3rd party search firms did not provide a sense of confidence that they would completely represent the personal level of detail to share with prospective candidates. We did also agree that we would use a 3rd party to review the eventual final candidate.
Development – Building on our Discovery process our team began to collect and review as many candidates as possible. Our team was provided candidates from two avenues 1) resumes submitted and 2) referrals. The majority of the initial candidates that were reviewed were from candidates that submitted their own resume to our team for review. The number was approximately 70 resumes that we had in queue at the time when we officially started the Development phase. We reached out to those that had submitted a resume to confirm if they still felt called to have their resume reviewed considering the criteria that our team had provided. The second avenue was from a referral of a potential candidate who others nominated. These referrals came from a variety of sources including FBC Members/Congregation, other pastors, Southern Baptist Seminary Schools, and others. In both scenarios; resume or referral, we would first do a level of review of the candidate against our criteria and review any other materials available to determine if the candidate would be further pursued. During our Discovery phase, we agreed to use a project management software called ASANA that would allow us to properly track, review and catalog every candidate that was submitted. This allowed us to remain connected as a team in our review, see comments in real time as well as to give us the opportunity to go back at any time to review decisions that were made previously. If a candidate was recommended by the team for a further look and they submitted a resume, we would reach out for additional information to support their review including references and sermons. If a candidate was a referral, often many if not all of these candidates had no idea that they were being considered. Our team would reach out to gauge interest. Some of these candidates would express an interest to dialog further and others would not feel called. If a referral candidate declined to advance with our team, we also inquired of them to consider any other potential candidates. If after the second stage of review of a candidate the team felt led to continuing the dialog we would move to a higher level of interaction with the candidates. This process continued from the end of Discovery until present.
Delivery – If a candidate felt called and the team was led to continue the review process, we would continue to look for resources to evaluate the candidate. We would also invite the candidate and their spouse to have a video call with our team to get to know each other better. During these typically 60-90 minute video calls we would ask a series of questions as well as answer questions of the candidate. After these calls, we would again, through prayer and dialog confirm if the team felt led to move forward, simultaneously we would also ask the candidate if they felt led to continue. If the answers remained “yes” we would then either visit the candidate at their place of ministry or invite the candidate and family to visit us in Fort Lauderdale. If the process was continued to be affirmed, we would then develop a follow-up video call and request a vision document or findings document be provided from the prospective pastors. We also encouraged the candidates at this stage to interact with some of the local pastors and key leaders to get another perspective on FBC and also ministry in South Florida. After this, the candidate would be reviewed by a 3rd party for financial, background and social media checks. If these came back clear then the team would go back to the candidates with a sit-down interview of intimate questions on a personal and ministry level. This graphic illustrates the pastors that were reviewed in numbers at each of these stages.
The delivery phase culminates this weekend with the formal recommendation of Rev. James Welch as our next Lead Pastor. Through the process which is governed by our bylaws. This process includes a presentation to a joint meeting with the Deacons and Trustee Board, to be followed by a vote of affirmation from the Congregation. As a team, we shared with the congregation this past weekend in service that our search team has been blessed to be led by the Lord to the Welch family. We also shared the analogy of a mother carrying a child for 9 months has the opportunity to be a mother for those 9 months, but that as a father you might not truly feel that sense of parenthood until the baby is delivered. Our team has nurtured this process and is thrilled to deliver the Welch family to everyone for their embrace and support.
The following are individual testimonies from each member of our team.
Lead Pastor Search Team Testimonies
It has been a very special journey through these past three years. As a member of the Search Committee the process of the Town Halls and the investigation into the current situation of many facets of our South Florida community, most especially the Christian climate and opportunity, was educational and challenging to our team. As recommendations for lead pastor poured in from individuals, seminaries, and pastors, we realized the size of our task and how much we must stay so close to our Lord and seek his direction. All of the 200 or more recommendations were read and accessed with the list of requirements we had set out. It was exciting to see so many amazing young pastors doing such Godly work throughout the country. With conference phone calls, zoom interviews, traveling to sites away and visits to Fort Lauderdale by potential candidates and their wives, we began to see a pattern of direction by the Lord. Most important, we realized, was to see not only our being directed to a specific pastor but to see that God was directing that man to FBC.
As it began to come together James and Amy Welch, we realized, were God's choice and ours. Interestingly the recommendation for James came from a family whose grandparents and parents had previously worshiped in our fellowship. The Welch family will represent us well in all areas of our community and challenge us as a church to be visionary and caring as we minister. I pray all of us will support and encourage James and his family with Godly love and deep prayer. We are being blessed with an exciting and productive new day for our fellowship.
The more we spoke with James and heard his story, his heart for ministering to the lost, the cultural connections he has made in his own local environment, his passion for knowledge and reading, his quest to find experts in their fields and get advice and counsel from those experts, his dependence on the Lord and his love for Jesus, and his priority to go (only) where God calls him and where he is a fit, all of this, as well as meeting Amy (and eventually their kids) was key to my “yes” for the Welch family and the possibility of bringing them to FBC. James is not the “typical” Southern Baptist preacher from the “deep south”; because of his upbringing and experiences over the past 12 years, he can relate to all kinds of people and cultures and fit into many different environments.
When speaking with the three references that I called on his behalf, all were overly positive about his abilities, and the possibility of James coming to FBC as our Lead Pastor was not in any way seen by them as something he could not handle. All felt God was preparing him for a role like this in his 12 years at Harbor NOLA. All regarded him very highly professionally, and personally. When we went to New Orleans to visit James in his own setting and the church he planted, I was impressed with the same feeling. God had been working in him to prepare him for something “bigger”.
To hear this young man’s story is to hear a story of a man with a servant’s heart. He is very humble and is passioned about reaching the “unchurched” people and he follows the mandate in Matthew 28:19 with passion. He is a humble man of God (Romans 12:3-8) and seasoned in difficult circumstances. James meets the qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. He is a visionary and is extremely intelligent, well read and very well connected. I believe he has the leadership qualities that will lead the next generations of FBCFTL and South Florida in this fast-paced, quickly evolving environment and understands how to guide our Church in the local predicament. He will equip the Body to follow God’s will and desires and utilize our present and future resources very efficiently.
With great joy, I share with you my recommendation for Pastor James and Amy Welch. My support for James can be surmised by the following factors:
Urban experienced: New Orleans is an urban community and Harbor Community Church is at the center of the urban city with many parallels to FBC: The Welches have engaged their community and joined them at the place of their needs and understanding. For example, Harbor Community Church is fluid with its walls, for example, the pop-up church experience where they would take the church to the people in varying communities in the area.
Mission-minded: Planting a church in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is an extraordinary feat of faith few enter devastation when most are fleeing. Pastor James followed a call to go to New Orleans with three children under the age of five. This has been an unmatched factor for me. How one lives out their faith is more powerful than how you speak of your faith. Having personally experienced the destruction and loss of Katrina, as we housed a family from New Orleans for almost a year and grieved with them their losses. Pastor James had the faith and courage to enter a war zone to bring the hope and restoration of Jesus.
Planter and Developer: Pastor James developed and built every aspect of Harbor Community Church. He is a developer of spiritual resources. FBC has many untapped resources that need to be developed so that we pour the wealth of these resources in our community. Pastor James spoke to us how too frequently ministries are eliminated that need to be developed and evolved to meet the changing needs of the people it serves. So frequently we heard from Pastor’s words such as restructuring and eliminating. Pastor James explained that ministries serve and care for people, therefore, they cannot be eliminated without providing a replacement to meet those needs otherwise there is a great void.
A Shepherd: When seeking a pastor my focus was for a shepherd, not just a preacher. Our community inside and outside of FBC needs to be led, instructed, trained, guided and loved. Pastor James is a caregiver, teacher, and leader that desires to see people restored and renewed in Christ. I believe he can lead and nurture the flock at FBC to impact South Florida for Christ in ways we may not be able to currently imagine.
I’ve heard it said that “Most churches are looking for a 34-year-old pastor with 46 years of teaching experience”. That, my friends, is called a Unicorn! Many candidates were attracted to our name, FBC FL and I would also guess that some were quite enamored with the status of being a pastor of a large church in downtown Fort Lauderdale. But few were drawn by the opportunity. While some saw the global implications, few desired the challenge. Many understood the “urban setting,” very few were equipped to handle it. I believe all that James and Amy went through in NOLA has equipped them to take our church to the next level. I was drawn to Pastor James by the enthusiasm, energy, and passion with which he preached in the first three sermons I listened to. As I dug deeper, I found more sermons demonstrate how he has developed into an inspirational communicator who utilizes the Bible and technology to seamlessly deliver the Lord’s message. I learned that several churches consult him for church planting and growth strategies. FBC will not only have James’ gifts in this area but also access to other experts throughout the country, based on James’ sphere.
The Welches feel led to plant themselves and their family in one of America’s most eclectic communities. They declined the “safe” suburban church with a monochromatic culture. They love the tropical climate, the diversity, the culture, and the diversity of the culture. Pastor’s wives are notoriously difficult to please, and even Amy likes it here! I love James and Amy’s spirit of humility. When we approached James, he was surprised to have been referred, considered and called to THIS church. He already knew the Lord wanted him to serve in an urban setting. And I believe God opened the doors, our eyes, ears, and hearts to this family.
They were not looking for a job, they were searching for the right fit and answering the call. A call where they could leverage everything they know and have experienced where God sends them. When James and Amy visited Fort Lauderdale to meet us for the first time, he was one of - if not the only - pastor who walked the city talking to the people. He could have gone to the beach, but instead, he came back with ideas on how to minister to the lost, the homeless, and our growing downtown community. No one else did that! This small, but thoughtful act provided further affirmation for me. The Welches have embraced the urban opportunity with enthusiasm and excitement and which was a rare combination of qualities to find in other candidates and their wives.
James has a genuine warmth and interest in people. He’s great with connecting with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. His passion for people seems to drive him. He appears to understand how to build from the traditional church model. He understands the global opportunity that exists in Fort Lauderdale and how First Baptist Fort Lauderdale is positioned to change the world for Christ. 1 Timothy 3:2-7 is my ultimate affirmation that James is God’s man for our church.
Gary Cason – Guidelines for Selecting a Pastor
Step 1 -Decide whose thinking will be followed! - All thinking comes from one of four sources: 1. The world (culture, tradition, others, etc…) 2. The flesh (my needs, my wants, my feelings, etc…) 3. Satan or 4. GOD. Therefore, in choosing a pastor, The Scriptures should be the authority for decisions – because, “All Scripture is GOD-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness … (2 Timothy 3:16a) In talking with James Welch I discovered that Scripture is the basis for his thinking. This was a confirmation that he should be considered for the office of pastor for our church.
Step 2 Work with GOD! - The Scriptures repeatedly indicate that pastor/overseers are appointed by THE LORD. Paul instructs pastors to “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which THE HOLY SPIRIT has made you overseers.” (Acts 20:28) The pastor (and congregation) must understand that the church belongs to THE LORD and HE ordains the leadership. Therefore, the pastor/overseer is not “called by the church” – rather, the church is actively seeking the one GOD has “called” to pastor/oversee HIS Church. James Welch clearly understands that he is GOD’s servant, and the pastor’s role is to train and equip GOD’s people to serve CHRIST. (So CHRIST HIMSELF gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelist, the pastors, and teachers, to equip HIS people for works of service…) Ephesians 4:11a
Pastor Welch has implemented this principle in reaching and disciplining his church in New Orleans. I was told that he led his church staff to Christ and then trained them in ministry. This was a confirmation that James Welch should be considered for the office of pastor.
Step 3 - Serve where you are called! - Samuel was told that THE LORD looks at the quality of the person’s heart, and not at an individual’s exterior qualities. Therefore, extensive prayer is required to determine if the LORD has called a person to a specific position. JESUS prayed all night before calling his twelve apostles. Pastor Welch prayed extensively about THE LORD’s will for his life. In addition, the Pastor Search Committee prayed extensively about GOD’s will for the pastor of our church. The Welch family also prayed at length for GOD direction of the church and their family. The result was a conviction by all parties that THE LORD was calling James Welch to pastor our church. Pastor Welch also met the Biblical requirements listed in Scripture for the office of pastor. In addition, it is my conviction that THE HOLY SPIRIT is calling James Welch to pastor the First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale.
Upon reviewing credentials and recommendations of Pastor James Welch, then having the opportunity to meet and get to know him, his wife, Amy, and their three kids I am led to recommend a call for him to be the next Lead Pastor of our church. For me, James hits the mark in many ways. First, he models God’s desire for a husband to treat his wife as He commanded us to do in Ephesian’s 5:25. His family is a joy, and their tight-knit relationship is born out of their desire to serve others. This leads to my second observation; he is a servant to his people and his city as modeled in Matthew 20:26. I strongly believe that to lead, one needs to serve, and you get a strong sense of his servants’ heart after spending time with James. Third, he has great vision and a heart for the lost as Jesus instructed in Mark 16:15. Finally, he is smart, articulate and as comfortable with the homeless and hurting as he is with business executives, doctors, and lawyers. All qualities that we as a team felt are critically important for the next leader to possess.
His life and ministry experiences, leadership qualities, and openness to the Holy Spirit have given him an insightful look at our church and community. He immediately leans into his passion for ministry to lead people to Jesus. He has a heart for our city as he shared with the team, “the nations have come to South Florida and God has sent the nations to FB|FTL”. His heart is to lead this community to see multiple thousands enter a growing relationship with Jesus Christ in the years to come, being equipped to reach their family, friends, neighbors, and nations with the Gospel. I am very comfortable that James is well equipped for this mission and fulfills the definition of a Pastor in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.
Stephanie L Chen
When looking for a pastor over these past two and a half years, ideally, I wanted someone who was so successful in their current ministry, that they would almost never think of leaving and coming to us. On the other hand, we needed someone to be somewhat interested enough to come to Fort Lauderdale and entertain the notion of leading First Baptist Fort Lauderdale. Pastor James came to us via a recommendation of two Christians that I highly respect- and he was highly successful at his current church. He and his wife put Jesus at the center of every decision they make and bathe their decisions in prayer and scripture. Pastor James has a heart for the lost and the needy. He comes from a diverse community and from a “big city”. Pastor James and Amy have the vision that First Baptist Fort Lauderdale will grow and challenge them as Christian leaders. I believe Pastor James is the right fit for First Baptist Fort Lauderdale.
As a master plan and design professional, it is often our charge to look at projects from the macro and micro level all at the same time. We must look at not only the specific project details and site but also the influences on the project, as well as, the potential impacts a new project would make on the surrounding areas. James shares this approach when it comes to ministry and culture, both looking at the macro and micro components and ultimately seeking an approach to allow the Bride of Christ to intersect with culture in meaningful ways to allow people to follow, believe and obey Jesus. One of my favorite analogies that James has used to discuss how he would implement change is the picture of pruning that we see described in John 15:2-6. The idea that any branch that bears fruit should be pruned to bear more fruit. I believe James has a great appreciation for the legacy and place that we know as First Baptist, but also that he will challenge us to make the necessary changes to see additional fruit of the Spirit.
I have had the opportunity to dialog with James more than anyone as part of the process, from the first time we spoke his focus was on a fit and to be in prayer over Gods leading to a new place of ministry. We have prayed as a team that our next leader would be undeniably called to South Florida and First Baptist. We also prayed that God would protect the local church, HIS Bride, where this pastor would be leaving. Over the process and dialog with James and Amy, it was clear that they felt a calling. They eliminated all discussions with any other churches that were in pursuit or consideration well before our team was at a point of committing to them as candidates. Additionally, in following with the leading that God was calling them away nearly a year ago, James and the family were able to build a transition plan into the process. Gods timing is always perfect and even now as James prepares to relocate, their church is already set up to transition with a new Pastor so that the church will continue to be fed and grow. These were 2 of the many answers to prayers we have been witness to in this process.
There is no doubt in my mind that God has blessed First Baptist with some amazing resources and set the church at a pivotal location in downtown Fort Lauderdale. I also am confident to recommend James and his family as Gods chosen to lead the ministry and to guide the Bride of Christ. What is left to determine is how God’s people, the people of First Baptist will respond. This has been the biggest prayer that our team has held onto throughout the process and remains our prayer as we close out this search. Our prayer is that God would be glorified in the Faith put into action by his people. Proverbs 2:1-5 My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.