In my daily readings using Google Reader I came across this comment about the Call Process from the Pastor’s viewpoint. I’ve been involved in my share of Call Committees over the years, and like the first commentator on the Wild Boar site, have always thought that there has to be a better way. I thought this needed publishing to make more laity think about the process in their own churches. Be sure to visit Wild Boar From the Forest for more interesting comments!
Once upon a time, a pastor would amble out to the mailbox, expecting only to find his telegraph bill, and instead return to the house with a large envelope marked “Call Documents.” As time went on, it became customary to inform the callee immediately after the call meeting – using the new telephone technology. Again, this would be the first time they had heard anything about it. When I was a young forestboar, such was the common practice.
By the time I was ordained, it was fairly typical to precede a Divine Call with what is called among pastors a “Divine Feeler” : A phone call that asks the pastor if he is in a position to consider a call. After all, there is no point in leaving his name on the call list if he is not able to consider it. (For example, he just accepted a call to another parish, urgent demands of his own parish preclude considering a call for the time being, or his family has health issues.)
In my few short years in the parish, a new custom has arisen between the Divine Feeler and Divine Call. It is called by some, rather crudely, a “divine grope”. Parishes want to interview pastors. Now, parishes certainly have a right to know more about pastors before issuing a call. And the jargon of the clergy, used in SET and PIF forms, while informative to us, may mean nothing to a congregation. A congregation could want to call a CFW Walther and, thanks to vague statements on the official “information sheet” end up instead with a FDE Schleiermacher. Or, they may want a Karl Barth, and end up with a Robert Preus. After all, the PIF anf SET act as a sort of Resume. Pastors are every bit as honest as there members when it comes to filling out Resumes. (It turns out congregations are as honest as pastors about filling out the congregational “Self Evaluation Tool”. The difference is that pastors know what code words to look for and so can generally decode them; congregations generally don’t and can’t.)
So, interviews are lawful. But are they good? This forestboar thinks not, for the following reasons :
1) It doesn’t really increase your chances of getting the “right” pastor. My evidence is anecdotal, but I have seen several cases where a congregation does extensive interviews, just like in the business world, and gets a pastor that lasts less than 18 months. Or gets a pastor that is later “encouraged” to leave. Sometimes by the voters removing him. (Whether justly or unjustly isn’t the point of this post. I’m jsut saying that the intervies didn’t work.)
Of course, this is anecdotal. Perhaps a scientific study could help. There was a study in Britain a few years ago. I’ve lost the citation, but they found that interviews actually decreased the chance of hiring the right person. Why? Because interviewers don’t know what questions to ask, or what answers to look for. A job interview becomes more about “do I like you”, than about “are you right for the job.” According to this study, they found that in certain circumstances, you were better off picking names out of a hat than interviewing.
I maintain that pastoral interviews are much this way. Why? Because an interview is unlikely to tell you what sort of theological outlook he has, unless you ask (interviews generally don’t do this). Instead, in the interviews I have done, the congregation is usually more interested in how you write sermons and what sort of delivery style you have (utterly insignifcant), how often you visit shut-ins (every 4-6 weeks, not that it matters because that is the standard in our synod), what your view of evangelism is (I’m in favor of it) and various other things that matter not one bit to the actual performance of duties.
Many congregations are compounding the problem. In addition to phone interviews, they will often do follow-up in person interviews. Why? To see if the pastor is pretty, I suppose. There is no practical or theological reason for it.
2) The pastor is looking at this process differently than you are. You are assuming that you are conducting job interviews with applicants. The pastors have applied (they haven’t), and you are conducting job interviews (you aren’t) to find the right man for the job (you won’t). I have seen several cases where a congregation does several interviews with a man, issues the call, and then is bewildered when the man declines. “Why did this happen?” they say. Well, what happened was this : The pastor did an interview, because he is open to the idea that maybe God wants him to serve in a different location. You wanted a follow up in-person interview. The pastor, being the likable and amenable sort, agreed. You assumed “He wants to be our pastor!”. He thought, “They are really interested in me. Gee it’s nice to be liked and wanted.” When you met him the second time, he spoke of possible plans for the parish, should he be elected as pastor and accept. This is because he is thinking about what would happen if… You are assuming he is talking about what he would like to see happen.
While he may play with the idea in his head, pastors have drummed into them in seminary that you only consider a call after it is offered to you. In other words, the whole time you are interviewing him, he hasn’t given any serious thought to accepting your call. He does not actually begin to actively consider the call until it is offered. And then, as likely as not, he turns it down.
3) It may decrease the chances of him accepting. Just trust me. He is evaluating you this whole time as well. Familiarity does not necessarily breed contentment. I have had interviews and said afterwards, “I hope they don’t call me.”
I have actually told congregations during the interview, “You can call me, and I would consider it, but I am unlikely to accept it.” That usually finishes the conversation. Why did I tell them this? Because, even without seriously considering it, I know that it is not right for me. But I have never been on a “call list” of a congregation and gotten more positive about accepting a call than “utterly ambiguous” wihtout call documents in hand. In other words, A pastor will fantasize about the green grass on the other side of the fence (we are, after all, sinful). But during the interview process, he will not seriously consider accepting it, until offered. He may, however, seriously consider not accepting it.
So let’s review :
You and the pastor have totally different ideas about what is happening
May actually increase the chance of the pastor declining.
It’s just not a winner of an idea.
So what should you do to make certain your next pastor is the ‘right man’? Look online for his sermons. Read or listen to them. Sermons matter more than anything. This is what you listen to every week for the next few years. Do his sermons reflect the kind of church you want? Are they doctrinaire? Are the too practical, with no doctrine? Are they simply a collection of stories? Is he trying to be the latest Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, or whomever? This will let you know who he is, and what he is about better than anything else. Then you can make an informed decision.
And remember, it’s still our Lord’s church. You are not “choosing” a pastor. Nor are you hiring one. God is calling one. He is using your system to do it. So, yes, attend to your duties on the call committee. Pay attention to the names on the list. And then trust that God will take care of his church.