Great Stuff Found on the Web — What takes so long. . .

Another great post by Pastor Peters found on Pastoral Meanderings:

 

vacancymanualI read with amusement a letter in the current issue of The Lutheran in which the writer laments:

So the lead pastor (pope) of the Roman Catholic Church, with more than 1 billion members, resigns and 13 days later his replacement is chosen, installed, and at work… Our 70 member congregation went through nearly three years of hoops before we welcomed our new pastor… what is wrong with this picture?

I understand the frustration.  Four months ago I got word that my own name had appeared on a call list.  I got a phone call just recently that said they have yet to elect someone and send out a call.  I also know of congregations whose process to a new Pastor has taken years — literally!

The situation is not exact analogous.  There was no call committee to pick and choose.  There were no interviews with the candidates.  There was no District or Synod office sifting through names.  There was no timetable for election that spanned months and had specific requirements about the time between call meetings nor was there a method that had to be used to contact every member (no matter how delinquent) to make sure all had a chance to weigh in on the process, show up for the call meeting, and cast a vote.

We have made the call process into a much more elaborate series of hoops to jump through but the reason for that cannot simply be assigned to the desire of bishops or district presidents to manipulate the process (as some complain).  No, the issue is far more complex.

Congregations approach the call process more with skepticism and fear than with joy and confidence.  We almost presume that there are few competent clergy out there and plenty of duds that we have to sift through.  We act as if we are a hiring committee and so the criteria for calling becomes more like business criteria than a churchly act.  We want volumes of information so that we can predict how a prospective Pastor might act, preach, lead, etc…  We interview them as if the key to the whole thing were to find a Pastor who matches us (like eharmony.com).  In this way we emphasize less the duties and responsibilities of the call documents and emphasize more things like mission statements, strengths and weaknesses, personal characteristics, temperament, and the ever present “pastoral style.”  We vote not as people who trust in the Lord of the Church but as people who fear they will make a mistake unless they get the “right” match and as people whose confidence lies more in the wisdom and perceptions of the call committee who has met the candidates than the Spirit’s work of discernment and guidance.  It is as if we might be happier if we could cohabit with a prospective Pastor before we actually tie the knot!

Pastors, on the other hand, have considerably more issues than in the past — not in the least of which is the housing issue.  Can I sell my house?  For how much?  What does housing cost at the site of the call?  How fast can I buy a house and move in? Etc….  Pastors have the careers and employment of wives to consider and how it impacts the decision to go or to stay.  Pastors consider whether the new place will be close to family and how it will impact relationships with in-laws and families, children, grandchildren, etc… This all comes before the prayerful discernment if the Lord is calling them to this new place.  Sometimes Pastors must also consider medical accessibility for family members.  Pastors consider the theological climate of the district and the history of the congregation (is it a clergy eater).  Pastors face the reality of cost of living and compensation. There are many more but this gives a glimpse into the other side of the call coin.

Now, I am not saying Pastor and parish are evil in thinking of these things.  What I am saying is that we have all lost sight of one thing implicit in the selection of a new pope in 13 days.  The cardinals in the room doing the voting and the Roman Catholic Church at large generally believe that man chosen to be pope is God’s man — even when they disagree with him.  That is the core problem today.  Neither the congregations calling nor the clergy they call have confidence in the Lord working in this process.  Instead of welcoming and trusting the people and the places, we begin with skepticism, we continue with some cautious concern, and we wait and see after the process is complete to see if we like or dislike, support or do not support the end result.

Let me make a confession.  I have accepted two calls in my life and one was pretty much done for me through the placement process of our church body.  In both cases, I accepted the calls thinking it was God’s will only to find myself caught up in doubt and fear when I actually showed up in both places to begin my ministry there.  Yet, the Lord has shown me His hand in this process and I have come to know and believe that both placements were by His hand.  I did not express this fear and trepidation with my parishes or even my family until after I was convinced that the Lord’s hand had triumphed and His will was done.  So I do not speak as one who was immune from the pitfalls of the call process.  Yet, in neither place did I interview and neither place had a clue whom I was until I showed up.  What has allowed me to serve in both places has been the trust in the Lord that the place was His will and the person.  It was not automatic and it was not without some angst but both places and people are more confirmed than ever that the Lord was in this mess we have termed the call process.

How we do it is not a divinely established process.  Luther had no call in the sense that we use that term — no congregation, no committee, no vote.  Some Lutherans use an episcopal process.  I am more inclined to believe that some know better than me and so the judgement of others has not been incidental to either place or process.  But it is the process we have in the LCMS.  As long as we do not abuse it and make it into a head hunting group and goal, it will serve us well.  As long as we do not lose sight of the will and purpose of God and control it as a merely human endeavor, it will serve us well.  As long as we do not over manipulate the process with pre-call interviews and machinations and follow the call with prayerful trust in the Lord, it will serve us well.  It need not drag out years but it will hardly happen as quickly as it did in Rome a few months ago…

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Great Stuff Found on the Web — What takes so long. . . — 7 Comments

  1. Just a thought….Given that many states have passed laws requiring “background checks” on church called workers in the wake of clergy sexual abuse cases, what affect might that have on the speed of the process? I don’t really think the Church in Rome went though police background checks on their candidates for the Pope when Benedict resigned…….

  2. Let me tell you a true story I heard a month or so ago from a pastor (not my dad, but one with a relationship to my family):

    This semi-retired pastor (Who I will call Pastor X) was contacted recently about performing a one time service at a congregation that was part of a “dual parrish” relationship, but that had just split from the other church and needed a pastor for one Sunday. After performing the service, the pastor and his wife decide to drive over to the “other” congregation that was in the dual parrish just to see if they had someone (they had not been contacted by the other church, but decided to go “out of curiosity”) performing the second service. Pastor X arrives, goes into the second church, and discovers about 20-25 people there and some ushers and elders not knowing what to do.

    Pastor X offers to perform the one service for free, but tells them they would have to make arrangements for the future. With the pastor’s wife still sitting in the car, Pastor X performs the second service. After the service is over, the congregation is so grateful they offer to pay him more money than the other congregation did to come back on a regular basis (even though they are the smaller of the two congregations and were the ones dumped because they were perceived as not pulling their fair share of the costs in the past dual parrish relationship.). The arrangement is agreed to, Pastor X still performs the weekly services there, and attendance as grown by 3-4 times the original service (between 60-90 per week, which is the largest attendance that congregation has seen in years……).

    No call meetings, no delays, just a one time offer combined with good confessional Lutheran preaching (You would know that to be true if you know the name I am talking about…..).

  3. “good confessional Lutheran preaching” that would be nice, indeed! Thank you for sharing the story, R. Hasbargen….it is uplifting, and I hope the same opportunity presents itself in my neck of the woods.

  4. Rahn Hasbargen :
    Just a thought….Given that many states have passed laws requiring “background checks” on church called workers in the wake of clergy sexual abuse cases, what affect might that have on the speed of the process? I don’t really think the Church in Rome went though police background checks on their candidates for the Pope when Benedict resigned…….

    When I applied to CTS, one of the things they did before accepting me was a background check. I gave my admissions counsellor the information first thing in the morning, and he had the results before lunch. Yes it is an additional step, but no one that should extend the call process.

  5. @David Hartung #4
    Actually, the amount of time to “run the background check” is about as long as it takes to apply for 501(c) 3 status with the IRS these days (if I can use an analogy from today’s news)–It all depends on who is applying and who is doing the background check. I have seen it last half a day, and I have seen it last months, both for the same person…..

  6. @Rahn Hasbargen #1: “I don’t really think the Church in Rome went though police background checks on their candidates for the Pope when Benedict resigned…….”

    What would a background check for the position of Antichrist involve?!? 😀

  7. From the main post: “Yet, the Lord has shown me His hand in this process and I have come to know and believe that both placements were by His hand.”

    I was surprised to read of this personal revelation, given the Lutheran conviction about the Holy Spirit working through means. I had also thought that among Lutherans the Divine Call was always considered to be “by His hand,” rather than something established by the pastor himself after the Call begins. Could you elaborate on what you experienced and how you came to your conclusion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.