The Call Process Primer

The best pastor is the one God has sent you.

The best pastor is the one God has sent you.

Calling a new pastor is a great and glorious occasion.  It can however be a hard time as well.  Your congregation is going through a lot of things after losing its pastor.  There is grief in many situations at his departure. There may be some who are glad.  To make matters worse everyone seems to get an opinion on what should happen next.

The following are some general thoughts/opinions/suggestions/clarifications about the Call Process.

First of all, you will want to be familiar with your congregation’s constitution and bylaws to see the procedure that needs to be followed.  It may be very specific, but could also be generic.  Whichever it is, you will want to follow it to the letter.

Your District President will likely want to be involved in the process.  The call process is your congregation’s call process.  It is not the District President’s process.  Follow your Constitution and Bylaws.  The Call List normally involves the input/counsel of the District President (and normally it should), but it does not always have to.  Here is the exact section of the LCMS Bylaws which spells out the congregation’s responsibility and also District’s in regards to calls (District Bylaws cannot contradict these).  Please note the only requirements are that you seek counsel of your District President (2.5.1) [the exact definition of “counsel” is not known] and that you call a man who is on the clergy roster of the LCMS (2.5.2) or follow the appropriate call process for calling from the seminaries.  That is the congregation’s responsibility to follow for its continued membership in the LCMS.  Anything else is recommendation or advice only.

2.5  Calling Ministers of Religion by Congregations

2.5.1       Congregations shall seek the counsel of their respective district presidents when calling ordained or commissioned ministers.

2.5.2       Congregations that are members of the Synod shall call and be served only by (1) ordained ministers who have been admitted to their respective ministries in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth in these Bylaws and have thereby become members of the Synod; (2) candidates for the pastoral ministry who have satisfied the qualifications and requirements for assignment of first calls by the Council of Presidents acting as the Board of Assignments; or (3) ordained ministers who are members in good standing of church bodies that have been formally recognized to be in altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod when agreements for such calls are in place.

2.5.3       Congregations that are members of the Synod shall call only (1) commissioned ministers who have been admitted to their ministries in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth in these Bylaws and have thereby become members of the Synod; (2) candidates of LCMS colleges and universities who have satisfied the qualifications and requirements for assignment of first calls by the Council of Presidents acting as the Board of Assignments; or (3) commissioned ministers (or those holding positions comparable to commissioned ministers) who are members in good standing of church bodies that have been formally recognized to be in altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod when agreements for such calls are in place.

2.5.4       Congregations that violate these requirements and persist in such violation shall, after due admonition, forfeit their membership in the Synod.

(the LCMS Handbook can be found at lcms.org or a PDF copy: 2013 LCMS Handbook_January_12_2015_v2)

There are really two directions which a call can go out to – the field and the seminary.  The process changes based upon which type of call you want to pursue.  Calling from the seminary involves an application for a candidate (a man ready to be ordained) and follows the bylaws involving the seminary and the Council of Presidents placement procedures.

Calling from the field will follow more of what I describe below with nominations, sorting through the mix, and finally calling.  Calling from the field indicates that the man you want to call is already ordained and on the roster (Minister of Religion – Ordained [we use IRS language]) of the LCMS.  This man could already serve a congregation or could be on what is called “candidate” status.  Much has been written on Candidate (formerly CRM) status, but to put it simply – a “Candidate” who is already ordained is a man ready and willing to serve an LCMS congregation.  The rhetoric used about “damaged goods” or whatever about a Candidate is a violation of the 8th Commandment and should be rebuked.  There are many reasons men may end up as candidates, but their official LCMS status says they are ready, able, and willing to be actively serving congregations as pastors.  If such a man was unfit for the ministry he would be removed from the roster (which is the job of the District Presidents).

There are different things which may be brought up in the way of counsel from District Presidents.  These things are I believe brought up with the best of intentions, but may not serve the best interest of the congregation – getting a regular, faithful pastor sooner rather than later.  Also, they tend to increase the length of pastoral vacancies (and in general the shorter the vacancy the better).  Things like Intentional Interim Ministers might be brought up.  In my opinion they are not a good option because of the temporary nature of their call, which is rather muddy when considered against the lifelong nature of a Divine Call (here is a good presentation paper on the topic of Interim Ministry).  If there is reason to try an interim, why not just call a pastor who can help and stay rather than a man who is there for a bit and then gone?  Having a regular, faithful pastor is the best (and simplest) option for any congregational situation.  Similarly there are numerous self-studies or inventories or surveys which can be done in the congregation.  This may provide some information as to the condition of catechesis in the congregation, but not much more.  In my opinion they delay the best thing for a congregation – a regular, faithful pastor serving among God’s people.

Usually there is a time when the congregation takes nominations from its own members.  This can be a very good thing.  Some members may ask other pastors for input or names.  They may be familiar with pastors from their travels. They may be familiar with pastors from the internet.  The #1 quality you want in any pastor is faithfulness to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions.  Sadly, in a Synodical situation such as ours, some research about candidates may be necessary.  The internet can very helpful in seeing the kind of pastors that are faithful shepherd types.  Do a search for each pastors name and read some of his writings (Google Tip — put quotes around his name to find the specific pastor if it is a common last name).  These names may be submitted to the counsel of the District President (remember it is still the congregation’s call process) and often will make it onto the official Call List for the call committee and congregation to consider.  If the District President removes names from the nominations it is permissible to ask why the names were removed (sometimes reasons may be that the pastor has just taken another call, sometimes it may be an arbitrary rule like a pastor has to serve 3 years in his first parish [an unwritten rule which by no means has to be followed if the congregation desires to call a rostered clergyman with less than 3 years parish experience]).  If he adds names to the ones nominated it is permissible and a good suggestion to ask why the names were added (in my present parish situation, the District President added some excellent names that had not come up from the congregation).  In the end, so long as the congregation follows their constitution and bylaws with regards to process, consults the District President and then calls a man who is on the clergy roster of the LCMS, they can call anyone.  Remember, it is the congregation’s call process.

Usually a formal Call List will be established with the help of the District President.  When you start getting official information about pastors, each one will have two documents, one will be called a SET (Self-Evaluation Tool).  This includes a number of questions and answers on hot topic issues in the LCMS (worship practices, closed communion stuff, women and men, etc.).  These answers will vary greatly.  Plain speech is good to read, but often answers are not so plain.  Some pastors will fill every space with their beliefs/practices, some will be brief.  Some specific, some generic.  Some theological, some political.  It can be a hard document to read, and even harder to read between the lines.  An opinion on the SET – The SET is a sad piece of evidence to the diversity of beliefs and practices allowed in the LCMS.  It should be unnecessary, but since there is such diversity, it is necessary to be able to try to ascertain the beliefs and practices of the man you want to call.

See a blank SET form here (PDF).

The second document is the PIF (Personal Information Form) which is usually completed by both the pastor and his own District President.  This has more basic family and living situation information with some theological/practical commentary by the District President.  The commentary (often in the form of rating) is usually on strengths and weaknesses of the pastor.  There is also some commentary (rating) on worship and preaching.  The commentary (rating) is very subjective to the individual District President’s own views of things (or possibly another District President’s view if it has not been updated), which can be helpful if you know that District President, less so if you don’t.  The PIF comes from the candidate pastor’s District President, which of course may not be the same as your own.  Some tips for dealing with the subjectivity of the ratings could include asking the District President how many times he has heard the pastor preach (sometimes they may not have heard a sermon but still have to give a rating), what his last sermon was like, what does he mean by rating him as “liturgically flexible”, etc.  Clarifying questions like those can help get a sense for what the District President really means (after all, that way of rating things isn’t exactly fair to them either).

In more recent years, interviewing has become another way to sort through the candidates for a call.  Interviewing in my opinion should be unnecessary, but in such an environment of the LCMS today it may indeed be necessary.  This and the SET (and section of commentary on the PIF) are things that testify against us and we should grieve over their need to be used.

From these things and your requirements for the call process (from your congregation’s constitution and bylaws) the Call meetings should proceed.  The best result for any Lutheran congregation is to extend a call to a faithful candidate and have him accept it and work to begin his new pastorate serving God’s baptized people in your congregation.  Some things along this:

After a congregation extends (or issues) a call after the appropriate procedure, that pastor will need to be notified and information will need to be sent (Call Paperwork, other information [the sky is the limit here, newspapers, school information, extra congregational information, Constitution and Bylaws, anything to help in the deliberation process]).  The pastor will begin his deliberations of the call (using prayerful reason).  If he serves a congregation already he will need to notify them (this can be a time of anxiety in his current congregation).  It is also an anxious time in the pastor’s family (if he has one).  In the era of facebook and so forth, it is best to keep the call private until it has been publicly announced to the congregation he currently serves.  He may set a deadline to his deliberation, but he may not (there is no hard and fast rule).  If he accepts the call, he will begin his transition to your congregation (wrapping up at his current congregation, moving, installation dates, etc.).  If he doesn’t accept it (returns the call), your congregation will have to have another Call meeting to extend the call to another pastor.

This process is one that is a great and glorious, although as you can tell it has any number of opportunities for sin and temptation as well.  Work together as a congregation, knowing that the Lord God who sends out laborers into the harvest is going to send a man to serve Him in your congregation.

Here are some other tips while this process is ongoing:

Pray.  Prayer is essential to the call process.  God has commanded us to pray in all situations, and even better, He has promised to hear our prayers.  We expect God to provide pastors for His flocks (having a pastor is a need of the baptized, God supplies our needs).  We are tempted to become anxious or despair.  Prayer teaches us who is in control.  It is an exercise of faith and piety.  It helps us guard against the evil one.  Pray for your congregation, your future pastor, his family, his congregation (if he is currently serving), your District President and Circuit Visitor, your congregational leadership, your vacancy pastor and whoever else is involved in the process.

Love each other.  The call process can quickly bring up divisions in congregations.  Love covers a multitude of sins.  Forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you (see the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism).

Study the Scriptures.  The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy; Titus) are a great resource when thinking about pastors.  The texts about the pastoral office are also a great read.  Here are just a “few” that you will likely hear at an ordination (a pastor’s first call) or installation (at any pastor’s subsequent call):

Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 9:35-38; Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 22:24-30; Luke 44-49; John 10:11-16; John 20:21-23; John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 3:4-9; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 2 Corinthians 10:17-18; Ephesians 4:11-12; Philippians 1:3-8; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Timothy 4:6-7; 1 Timothy 4:14-16; 2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:20-21; 1 Peter 5:2-4; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 20:1-2; Psalm 27:1, 14; Psalm 84:7-8; Isaiah 6:1-8; Isaiah 40:9-11; Isaiah 42:1-9; Isaiah 52:7-10; Jeremiah 1:4-9; Jeremiah 15:19-21; Ezekiel 33:7-9; Ezekiel 34:11-16; Daniel 12:3.

Study the Catechism.  Here two parts are very important (study it all – its very short and even the most “mature” Christians ought to study it regularly).  The Fifth Chief part on the Office of the Keys and Confession (absolution) and the Table of Duties on Preachers and Hearers.

Prepare yourselves to receive your new pastor.  Yes, this means planning for helping with the move and settling in.  Yes, this means congregational celebrations.  Yes, this means being a big help to your pastor’s family wherever you can (in the ways they would receive help also in mind).  Yes, this means helping your pastor get settled and encouraging him as he settles in (he will be going through a strange “bitter sweet” time as he has left people dear to him and is glad to be now serving you).  Perhaps you would want to help him by having some of the congregation’s current traditions and practices written down so he can know those things that are free (for an article on this click here).  The absolute best way to receive your pastor is to attend Church (including his installation) and Bible studies.

Augsburg Confession, article V

1 So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. 2 Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. 3 This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.

4 Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.

Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 33.

 

Augsburg Confession, article XIV

Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.

Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 39.


Comments

The Call Process Primer — 19 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article–it will be very helpful for calling congregations. I was curious after the most recent article on the task force (or lack thereof) to help candidate pastors, so I contacted the Augustana Ministerium.
    They told me: “The Augustana Ministerium assists Confessional Lutheran pastors in need of calls — and Confessional Lutheran congregations desiring to be served faithfully — by making referrals of known candidates to a calling congregation for consideration. Contact TAM’s Dean of Pastoral Care via the contact form at TAM’s website: augustanaministerium.org.”
    This is one possibility where members of a calling congregation can seek a name for nomination. This is good for two reasons: it is very true that a pastor without a call is more likely to accept a call, and also because it helps that pastor and his family out. So everybody wins.
    My congregation just installed our new pastor yesterday–he was without a call because he was coming back from the mission field. Our call process lasted in total about six months, and our new pastor is a very faithful man. We are overjoyed. God bless!

  2. Something to be aware of is that sometimes erroneous information creeps into descriptions of pastors, just like in credit reports. It’s important to verify information received, particularly if it is negative or doesn’t seem credible. Everybody makes mistakes at times, no matter how much people of good will try not to do so.

  3. Agreed, and this is where interviews can be useful. If a pastor is on candidate status, it is helpful for the call committee to know a little more about what happened and to get his side of things. Our interviews were very helpful in determining who would be a good fit for our congregation (and probably helpful for the pastor as well to know who’s calling him), however it’s true that we must keep in mind that a pastor is not interviewing for a job.
    @Carol Broome #2

  4. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    This is a very helpful article for everyone, not just those congregations considering the call process at the present time. Thanks very much to Pastor Scheer for offering it to us.

    Some folks may wonder about whether they can trust the counsel of their District President. We need to remember that it is his duty to look after the welfare of both congregations and church-workers, so if the DP has that duty in mind, you can trust his counsel. In my opinion, you should assume that your DP does have this duty in mind, unless you have clear evidence to the contrary.

    If a DP is recommending to you certain names that you are unfamiliar with, it may because those pastors could use a change. They may be in a problem situation where they are completely innocent, and have been exemplary in every way. Deyling talks about “laying down the office because of irreconcilable hatred on the part of the listeners [in the congregation] or other persecutors and [or] because of continued denial of support so that the poor servant of the church finds no way to nourish himself and his family” (see CFW Walther, Pastoral Theology [New Haven, MO: Lutheran News, 1995], 280) Leaving in such cases is always a last resort, not the first solution, but sometimes it comes to that. So if you trust your DP, you should seriously consider the names he recommends, because they are often excellent, faithful pastors.

    I trust my present District President, the Rev. Dan May. He is a faithful and conservative guy, and he keeps the duty of the welfare of both congregations and church-workers in mind. We are blessed to have him in Indiana!

    But I don’t trust every single DP out there. I wish I could, but I have had some bad experiences in the past.

    The most recent happened within the last year, and I only found out about the incident after the fact. A congregation was in the process of calling, and some folks who knew me from years ago submitted my name to the DP for their call list. When they got the call list from him, my name was not on the list, nor any data about me.

    One of the members of that congregation, who has known me since I was in junior high school (ca. 6-8th grade), and who can vouch for my character from first-hand observation over many years, was upset that my name was dropped. He asked the DP directly, in their meeting, why my name was excluded. The only thing the DP would say was that he would not give my name to them, or any information about me, “for cause.” That layman became so upset about what he considered high-handed behavior that he has left the LCMS altogether.

    While I am glad that the DP did not say anything specifically negative about me, I would like to know what that “for cause” is all about. I think I have a right to know when I am being defamed or black-listed behind my back. Or maybe I don’t have that right in our present system. I did not do anything about this incident, because I try to be at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18) and because that would have put me into the Dispute Resolution System with that DP, and that system always favors the DPs–it is a losing proposition for an average pastor like me who has no clout.

    As I have said before, I always consider it a privilege to serve the church and have no complaints about my present call and situation. The Lord and the church have provided sufficiently for me and my family, so I cannot complain about that.

    I just don’t think it is right that a DP should put the black-mark of “Rejected for cause” on my name, when I have no idea what I have done to deserve that. It particularly is galling to me and my wife, because I was “terminated” at CHI, but they never told me what I had done to deserve that either.

    I would like to clear my name before I get to heaven, if that is possible. If I can’t do that, my children and grandchildren will always wonder what I did to deserve such treatment by some of the officials of the LCMS.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  5. Pastor Noland that ought to be a violation of some sort. Surely the synod has procedure that allow the blacklisted party to at least be told of his offense. If not then it SHOULD. I know of the “dispute resolution” issue but I’m not suggesting that – just sharing of information.

  6. “One of the members of that congregation, who has known me since I was in junior high school (ca. 6-8th grade), and who can vouch for my character from first-hand observation over many years, was upset that my name was dropped. He asked the DP directly, in their meeting, why my name was excluded. The only thing the DP would say was that he would not give my name to them, or any information about me, “for cause.” ”

    It was because you are a confessional pastor and a good one. You are not the only pastor to have this happen to him. I pray with the influx of new DP’s that this sort of behavior from the DP’s stop immediately. These are sinful actions of the district presidents to remove suitable candidates from call lists because they are don’t like the bands up front.

  7. Despite the imperfections of parishes, pastors, and
    district presidents, the Lord is still in control of
    the one holy, Christian, and apostolic Church. He is
    able to work through the human mistakes to accomplish
    His divine will in the placement of pastors.

    A pastor will serve the Lord faithfully, when he believes
    that God called him to his current parish.

  8. I too would encourage caution when it comes to the forms. My DP had been after me for about 10 years to update my SET. Finally there was a time when I actually needed something from the District and my SET arrived in the mail to be updated. I got the hint – you want our help, update your SET. As I started reading the SET I thought the writing was not my style. When it got to a question on worship “I” had answered in a favorable manner toward contemporary worship. Then “I” said that I didn’t spend much time in sermon preparation because my years as a Lutheran Educator so equipped me with God’s Word I didn’t need to study very much. (At this point I asked my bride if I had ever been a Lutheran School teacher in a previous life? She didn’t think I had.) Then “I” learned that I grew up in Chicago (wrong – Minnesota) and was used to city life (not). This SET had been in the District’s file with my name on it for over 10 years. I called the District Office to tell them that it wasn’t me. I then said, “So if anyone was considering me for a call they got the wrong information.” To which the assistant to the president said, “Don’t worry. No one has considered you.” I’m almost wishing they had. Thanks be to God my current congregation called me without an interview and has faithfully supported me and received the Word and Sacraments from me. They are more than I deserve.

  9. That’s a good reason for periodically updating your SET. When I last served on a call committee, some of the SET’s were so old they really didn’t help a whole lot.

  10. @J. Dean #10

    HA!! Indeed. Your and other comments bring to mind something I learned from my thesbian bride, regarding actors: no one, she’d say, should ever become an actor just because they want to or someone convinced them they would be good at it. Rather, the only reason a person should ever consider becoming an actor, is because it is the only thing they can do, because every other work in life would be miserable to them. Due to the struggles and brutality of the actor’s livelihood, it is only properly entered into by those to whom it is given by necessity.

    I wonder if more pastors should approach the ministry in just this same way. Forget all the advertising and marketing of the seminaries, the statistics of how many or how few are needed, the relative honor or disdain the Office is held in by the public and the Church, the scandals of false doctrine, the corruption of bureaucracy and the deceit of brothers. No one should seek the Office unless he must by divine compulsion, for nothing but divine grace in the midst of absolute necessity could endure faithfully the ardor of such labors.

  11. The SET and PIF are lousy. He’s right, they convict us of our lack of confession. Good article.

  12. Thank you Pastor Scheer for this article. I am sitting on a call committee [21 months vacancy] and this is very useful. When the call committee was first gathered, I had not picked up a Small Catechism in years, yet now it comes to every meeting. I wish I had read this article before reading my first SET/PIF.
    SET/PIFs are the way the call process works, whether we like it or not, and our sinful flesh bases our decisions of whether to consider a pastor or not. I encourage Pastors to confess Christ crucified and his means of Grace throughout their SET/PIF.
    Again, thanks be to God for Pastor Scheer’s article, the commentators for additional insight, and all Pastors in the Ministry.

  13. Get a copy of the LCMS Circuit Visitor’s handbook (pdf). Much of the background paperwork stuff is in there. An entire chapter on the call process.

    Also read the accompanying notes when your District President sends you the call document pdf file. Some congregations miss the little things, like how you’re supposed to print the pastor-elect’s Diploma of Vocation on parchment paper, not typing paper.

  14. Our dual-parish extended a call in our third call meeting on Tuesday evening. It is our second call to the field since February as we had requested a delay vicar in April and those men had already been assigned. Not being on the call committee I am not privy to all of the information available to the congregation. Instead we the voters receive a two to four page summary from which to consider our vote. As we have only been in vacancy since November, it is not yet time to be discouraged! We have been blessed with a rotation of three retired ministers to serve us in our time of vacancy and they have done so in good cheer so I feel we are being blessed while the Lord prepares us for the pastor who He has chosen to serve us when the time is right.

  15. Great article Pr. Scheer,

    Having just gone through the process a while back for Good Shepherd, Leadville, CO; and again more recently at Gloria Christi, Greeley, CO; I would offer a couple more suggestions:

    1. Congregations may choose to participate in the “Self-Study” that the district wants to take every vacant congregation through OR they may politely decline. (Be advised that in some districts the so-called self-study is a manipulative instrument designed to guide traditional, liturgical congregations into more “Missional”, “User-friendly”, contemporary styles of worship, and or governance structures.)

    2. If a District Pastor refuses to provide information on candidates on your call list because you won’t the self-study, you CAN contact the men on your list directly and have them send you their SET form directly…the sooner, the better!

    3. If you receive a SET form or a DP evaluation with a man marked as “Rigid” or “Inflexible” with respect to worship, he is exactly the guy you’re looking for if you want a liturgical, traditional man and if you don’t want a liberal guy then by all means avoid men marked “Evangelical” and “Flexible”. When, oh when will the COP get rid of their stupid, inaccurate evaluation forms and start telling congregations the truth!

    4. You can tell a whole lot more about a pastor from his congregation’s website then you will ever know from a DP’s evaluation. Examine them carefully! (Note: In the 30 years that I served as a pastor in the LCMS I never once had a DP present for any sermon, any meeting, or any class I ever taught which means that the evaluation was based completely on hearsay.)

    5. One last piece of DP leverage that can be used to stop a congregation from issuing a call is the need to have the District Office provide you with a Synodical portal code in order to get a set of Call documents. My suggestion is that you get out an old set (or borrow one from a neighboring pastor) and write your own. A lot of the information on the “official” documents is really not applicable to many congregations but might prove helpful. It’s better if you customize it for your own situation anyway.

    6. Remember who’s call process it is! It is your congregation’s call process and call, not the District’s!

    7. Warning! If you do everything that most districts make you do for issuing a call, you will need at least nine months to a year before you get a new pastor. At Gloria Christi is was less than two months.

  16. Where is the list of “candidate status” ordained LCMS pastors? Who is the keeper of that list? Does each district have their own list? Or is there one master list? How do calling congregations get that list?

  17. @Judy #18

    This is a bit late in replying to the previous post, but the candidate status ordained ministers are listed in each Synod or District convention workbook. For that matter, so are the active, inactive, and retired ministers.

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