February 2019 - Recommendation of Rev. James Welch

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

Sandy Casteel

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.

Wendy Thomas 

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”. 

Steve Morin 

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. 

Ana Anselma 

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.

Claudette Pearson

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.

Damon D’Agostino

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.

Paul Weinberg

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.

J.R. Longstaff
October 2018 Update

Dear Church Family:

Thank you for your continued prayers, notes of encouragement, support and referrals. We have been receiving referrals from you, pastors, seminary professors and leaders from all over the country. We want to use this month’s update to share with you our process when candidates apply or are referred to us.

  1. When we receive a pastor’s name, it goes into an online tool where all our candidates, our research and our agendas and notes are stored.

  2. Some of our team members start the preliminary research of the pastor and his current church (if still actively pastoring) through online searches and tools to determine if the candidate has the minimum qualifications against our job criteria.

  3. If the candidate submits his resume, we review the resume and cover letter as well as their online sermons, podcasts, blogs, etc. We also reach out to valued leaders of the church community for referrals and insight on potential candidates as well.

  4. Your Search Team then discusses each candidate and determines whether the candidate meets the criteria to proceed in the process.

  5. If the team decides to proceed with a candidate, one of our team leaders reaches out to have an initial phone interview with the candidate. These notes are posted on the online tool for the entire team to review and discuss. Then, if all goes well, a video conference call is set up with the candidate and his wife with the full search team.

  6. If the search team determines a candidate who has applied and submitted a resume does not meet and fit the criteria, the candidate will receive a letter from the team. If the candidate is not aware that they were referred to us, then, obviously, we do not send a letter.

  7. We note in our database the candidate’s name, resources reviewed and the notes and reasoning for the continued review or decline.

  8. If video conferences go well, and the search team decides to proceed with a candidate we host a visit for the pastor and his wife. The team listens to more sermons, has several opportunities to dine and converse with the couple over a two-or-three-day span and then we request information that shows vision and leadership experience.

  9. On several occasions, a portion of our committee attends the church of a potential candidate as well.

We are confident that God has His perfect man for this job and that He is working all things out for His church. We know we are not qualified to find our next pastor, but through God all things are possible. (Philippians 4:13) Please pray for patience for us as a church, and for our Team, that we would not short-cut this process, rather wait for God’s timing.

Your Search Team

Paul Weinberg – Chairman, Ana Anselma, Gary Cason, Sandy Casteel, Stephanie Leonard-Chen, Damon D'Agostino, Steve Morin, Claudette Pearson, Wendy Thomas

Ingrid Salamanca
August 2018 Update

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” John 17:24

One of our precious brothers, a saint and a faithful warrior for the gospel, went to be “where Jesus is” this past month. Captain Albert “AJ” Tolbert, our fellow team member, is greatly missed. He was a vital part of our team and the search process. Our prayers and thoughts are still with Judy and the Tolbert family for the loss of such a great husband, father, brother, friend.

We are reminded again as we continue to trust in God’s timing, that all of life is in God’s hands and he is a sovereign, almighty God. We are also mindful of the many gifts with which He has blessed the Body of Christ. First Baptist, we are blessed! We are thankful for the leaders and staff who continue to seek new ways of sharing the Light of Christ with our city and our world. We are thankful for Bob and Rosemary, who continue in their commitment to us to teach and lead week after week until God brings the new Lead Pastor.

The Search Team continues to meet weekly and we are currently looking at a handful of wonderful candidates for the position. We have received several new recommendations to review. It is exciting for us to see what God is doing all around our country through these dynamic, godly pastors. Please continue praying, don’t give up! We know and trust that the God we serve is sovereign and is going to do amazing things here at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale!

Your Search Team 

Paul Weinberg – Chairman, Ana Anselma, Gary Cason, Sandy Casteel, Stephanie Leonard-Chen, Damon D'Agostino, Steve Morin, Claudette Pearson, Wendy Thomas

Ingrid Salamanca
June 2018 Update

Hello Church, 

We are excited and hopeful as we come off the past week of prayer and fasting! It was a special time of seeking God and praying for our church, for the leading of God’s Spirit and His timing for our next Lead Pastor.

For the past three Sundays, your Search Team visited the Bible & Life Groups and provided a face-to-face update on our progress. It was so exciting to see your support and feel your prayers during the update sessions. We fielded a lot of good questions and we have summarized them at the end of this update. 

Here are 4 words our group are focused on now: 

  1. David 
  2. Diversity 
  3. Devoted Team 
  4. Divine Timing 

1. We know when Samuel was searching for the next King of Israel he was thinking it had to be one of David’s older brothers and not David a shepherd boy. Even David’s father did not send him forward with the rest of his sons! We are constantly reminded that man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16. 

2. Our church is unique because of our multi-cultural and multi-generational members. Many pastors coming to us have no experience or exposure to the types of diversity we are blessed with here at First Baptist. We are looking for a man who has experience and vision for our particular and unique situation. 

3. Our team is committed to our task. We meet weekly for 3 hours or more, then we spend several hours during the week on “homework”: listening to sermons and researching the various candidates, traveling, and interviewing. We are committed and will remain enthusiastic until the job is done! 

4. We are not on our time but God's time. Not only are we waiting for God to bring to us the man and his family, but God must confirm to this man that he is called to come here. Most of the men we speak to are waiting to hear God's voice. This makes a search for the Lead Pastor different from other positions - and God knows the Perfect time. As we heard Pastor Jon Elswick say, He is accomplishing something in our waiting -the season between where we are and where we want to be. Let us not miss the blessing and lesson of this season. 

Join us in prayer to seek God's will and provision of His man - a man after His own heart. 

Your Search Team 

Paul Weinberg – Chairman, Ana Anselma, Gary Cason, Sandy Casteel, Stephanie Leonard-Chen, Damon D'Agostino, Steve Morin, Claudette Pearson, Wendy Thomas, AJ Tolbert 

Ingrid Salamanca
May 2018 Update

Each week we open our LPST meeting with a time of prayer, and a devotional time brought to us by Gary Cason. This past week Gary reminded us according to Acts 16 that the timing of the Holy Spirit is not always what seems to be logical to us. Paul and his companions were passing through the Galatian region, but were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” However, later the door would be open for the Gospel to be preached there. God had another plan than the one that seemed reasonable and right before them. Then this message was confirmed again by Pastor Jon Elswick as he taught us about Simeon waiting on the Messiah and how we all have experienced the tension of waiting. 

As we go through this process of searching for our next lead pastor, we are seeking God and want to wait on the Holy Spirit’s timing.  Please join us by praying for our church, our city, and the South Florida community.  Our team continues to trust God and His timing as we all wait patiently, pray fervently, and work diligently to seek the direction that God has for our Bride. We are encouraged by our current pastoral team and thankful for their leadership in this interim period.  We have new candidates coming to us weekly (via resume or recommendation). We know that God is perfect as we wait on Him.

These next two weeks, members of our committee will be attending your Bible Life Groups to provide answers to your questions and “in person” updates for you.

We are looking forward to June’s week of fasting and pray for 100% congregation participation.


Your Lead Pastor Search Team 

Paul Weinberg – Chairman, Ana Anselma, Gary Cason, Sandy Casteel, Stephanie Leonard-Chen, Damon D'Agostino, Steve Morin, Claudette Pearson, Wendy Thomas, AJ Tolbert 

J.R. Longstaff
March 2018 Update

Dear Church Family, 

Christ is Risen! We are blessed to worship a risen Savior. We are blessed to live in sunny South Florida where the waving palm trees remind us daily that even nature will cry out to praise Him if we do not. Luke 19:40 

This month we have spoken to over a handful of pastoral candidates. We are continuing in our process we set out upon two years ago of Discovery, Development, and Delivery. The Discovery phase led to the search criteria which is based on scripture. 

The Development and Delivery phase is where we are today, still seeking and pursuing recommendations from leaders and professors at Southern Baptist seminaries, our own former pastors, local South Florida spiritual leaders, and many other resources. We also have dozens of candidates applying directly to us - we are continuing to receive fresh applications weekly. 

We have an online tool we use to keep track of candidates that meet and exceed our criteria, and those who do not. The tool allows us to save resumes, resources, research, notes and comments on each pastor. 

On March 25th our Chairman Paul Weinberg and Damon D'Agostino provided an update to the Deacon body and requested that each of them become prayer partners and supporters of the search team and this process. We ask the same of each member of our church family. We know this process is time-consuming, but God's timing is never our timing, and we await Him and His man for the Lead Pastor position. 

Frequently Asked Questions: 

  • Have you offered anyone a position yet? 
    • No, we have not. We have had five candidates who were engaged in the process but eventually either our committee or the pastoral candidate did not feel called of the Lord to proceed to an offer. 
  • Will the Lead Pastor have authority over the staff? 
    • Yes. 
  • What is taking so long? 
    • We developed criteria and are using this as a guideline as we are looking at, listen to, visit, and host candidates. We have interviewed and conversed personally with dozens. We want to know with certainty and in unity that the man who comes will be spiritually fit to teach and lead us through this transition. This is taking time because God has not brought us to that point yet. 
  • How many people have you already looked at?
    • Approximately 145 pastors 


Your Lead Pastor Search Team 

Paul Weinberg – Chairman, Ana Anselma, Gary Cason, Sandy Casteel, Stephanie Leonard-Chen, Damon D'Agostino, Steve Morin, Claudette Pearson, Wendy Thomas, AJ Tolbert 

J.R. Longstaff
February 2018 Update


 Dear Church Family, 

We have promised a monthly update to you for 2018. The Search Committee has been working together to visit churches and break bread with pastors who meet our Lead Pastor criteria. There are many Godly pastors all over the state of Florida and our nation that are doing great things for Jesus Christ. We are looking for God's lead pastor for our church who is a visionary, and who is obedient to Him alone. We desire the Lead Pastor to be able to come and improve upon our church's long history and take us into the future of gospel sharing in South Florida. 

South Florida and specifically First Baptist has a unique opportunity to reach the world for Christ. South Florida has the diversity, wealth, education and growth in population to make this an amazing opportunity for God's Kingdom. First Baptist has real estate on the corner of one of the fastest growing intersections in the state and we desire the next Lead Pastor to be a leader of our current congregation but also the leader of the movement and revival of South Florida. 

Please continue to pray with us and for us as we consider and pursue the candidates that have come before our committee. Pray for God to bring to light the man to lead us to reach South Florida for Christ. 


What is taking so long? 

We developed criteria and are using this as a guideline as we are looking at, listen to, visit, and host candidates. We have interviewed and conversed personally with dozens. We want to know with certainty and in unity that the man who comes will be spiritually fit to teach and lead us through this transition. This is taking time because God has not brought us to that point yet. 

How many people have you already looked at? 

Approximately 135 pastors 

Have you gotten close to making an offer with any of the candidates? 

We have been in progressive conversations with some very gifted and visionary leaders and pastors around the country and South Florida. We have not made any “offers” but many who we have high regard for have not felt led by God to come here. 


Your Lead Pastor Search Team

Paul Weinberg – Chairman, Ana Anselma, Gary Cason, Sandy Casteel, Stephanie Leonard-Chen, Damon D'Agostino, Steve Morin, Claudette Pearson, Wendy Thomas, AJ Tolbert 

J.R. Longstaff
January 2018 Update

Happy New Year Church Family,
We have heard excellent sermons from our pastoral staff this year! On the first Sunday of the year, Pastor John Jones challenged us to be ready for change in 2018. Change will be inevitable when a new pastor comes, and we need to prepare our hearts for what God has in store. On the next Sunday, we heard from Pastor Jeremy Carlton that churches need to remain zealous and passionate about the gospel and must not become lukewarm.  Last week, Pastor Bob Barnes told us fasting is not optional and that it must be a part of our spiritual life. We have been challenged by our pastoral leaders to pray and fast. As a committee, we are accepting this challenge, and we invite every member of First Baptist to join us. Please take some time in the coming weeks to pray and fast as you are led, as we examine our hearts to be sure that our lives are in step with the Spirit of God, listening and obeying Him. This takes intentional and focused time with God and His Word. 
We are praying for our church to be a bright light for the gospel in South Florida, and to this end, we continue to work diligently reviewing and interviewing pastors for our open Lead Pastor position. We took a break during the holidays and now we have reconvened our meetings every Sunday morning. We still have quite a few candidates that we are looking at. We have some quality men that we are reviewing and still need much prayer as we search for the one who is to lead our church. Please, pray for us and pray for our church! Don’t lose sight of the exciting future that awaits us in 2018!
Prayer Request: Search us and know us, Lord, see if there is anything about us that is not pleasing to you and help us to change that. We desire to please you Lord. We desire your wisdom and the unity that comes from the Spirit.  

Your Lead Pastor Search Team

Paul Weinberg – Chairman
Ana Anselma
Gary Cason
Sandy Casteel
Stephanie Leonard Chen
Damon D'Agostino
Steve Morin
Claudette Pearson
Wendy Thomas
AJ Tolbert

J.R. Longstaff
December 2017 Update

Did you know that your Lead Pastor Search Team meets every Sunday morning from 8:00-10:00AM on campus? We discuss candidates, review the week’s progress, and pray over the selection process. We start with a time of devotion and prayer as a lead-in to our meetings led by our own Gary Cason. Your team is also actively listening to sermons and speaking with potential candidates weekly. Once a consensus has been made among the group regarding the candidate’s qualifications and meeting of our criteria, we have gone the extra step and have hosted potential pastor candidates at the FBFTL campus, as well as traveled to visit pastors at their home sites. This equates to nearly 100 combined team hours each week. We tell you this to let you know that we are taking this very seriously. We care a lot about the task that we’ve been honored to carry out on behalf of the Bride of Christ, First Baptist Fort Lauderdale.
Our team is encouraged by the quality and number of candidates that we are currently reviewing and in dialog with at this time.  We know that our timing and plans may not be God’s, so we also remain patient to wait as the Lord reveals his man to us.  We believe more than ever that God has a plan to utilize the kingdom resources He has blessed FBFTL with to advance His movement here in South Florida and beyond.  We greatly value your prayers and look forward to continuing along with you as we humble ourselves in prayer and ask for Gods wisdom, unity and guidance as we seek our next Lead Pastor.
Each month you will receive an email from our team similar to this keeping you updated on our progress as well as how you can pray for our team.  In addition, our team is planning a more detailed town hall meeting early in 2018. Please be on the lookout for those details. We are blessed and thankful to Bob Barnes, John Jones and the entire pastoral and staff team as they lead us during this interim period.
Paul Weinberg, Chairman
Lead Pastor Search Team


  1. God’s divine wisdom and revelation upon the team
  2. Give clarity and unity in decisions
  3. Provide health and endurance to each team member
J.R. Longstaff
October 2017 Update

A few numbers to share… 

  • 10 - Members meet weekly (Prayer, Devotion and Discussion/Development) 
  • 115 Candidates reviewed (typical CEO level search is 5-10) 
  • A few - the number of candidates that we have narrowed down to. 
  • 3 - Phases that we are working though Discovery, Development and Delivery. We are currently in the final stages of Development. This means we are seeking to narrow our candidates down to one so that we can enter the Delivery phase. 
  • A lot - of money that our team has worked to save (we meet on site, we bring our own food/drink, we have used the internet to save on travel, we have minimized the use of a 3rd party search firm)  
  • 1 - we desire unity and ONE voice to provide the man God has for this church 
J.R. Longstaff