Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Fitting a Pastor to a Congregation & Shopping for Clothes that Fit Right
Unfortunately, lay people shop for congregations the way they shop for clothes. Instead of being concerned about what the clothes are made of or whether they will wear well over the long haul, we tend to fixate on how they feel and how they look and feel at the moment. So there are many folks who choose a congregation based on such burning questions as "do they sing hymns I know" or "is the preacher "exciting" or "did I have a good time" instead of the burning issues of what they believe, how they practiced this faith, and is this faithful to the Lutheran Confessions.
Congregations look for Pastors in much the sane way. Guided and goaded by their likes or dislikes (usually in relation to the last Pastor), the congregation looks for a Pastor to fit them like Goldilocks looked for a bed. We want somebody who is at last as good as our last Pastor was in his strengths and much improved over our last Pastor in terms of his weaknesses. Often this is as much a gut feeling as it is something concrete. We want a good fit and nothing ruins a good fit like a pair of pants that bits at you the whole time you have them on. Likewise for Pastors; a "good fit" means a Pastor who feels good as well does well.
Pastors are not immune from the pressure either. Clergy have a sense of what they are good at (translate that in terms of what they want to do or enjoy doing) and they look for a congregation in which they will be asked to what they want, lead in the direction they want to go, and one that feels good (not just for the man of the cloth but also for his whole family). Hence, the very Pastors who complain about endless interviews and questionnaires designed to help the congregation get to know them, use them (and some other methods of super sleuthing) to find out what the congregation is like.
In the end we struggle for that illusive "good fit." The problem with that is that we spend so much time trying to get to know the Pastor (or the congregation) and we work to hard at trying to predict what the Pastor (or congregation) will say or do, that we end up being disappointed or shocked when our predictions prove inaccurate and we are "surprised" (make that disappointed).
When I was a kid, my mom took my brother and I shopping for school clothes and a pair of shoes. We had little input into the whole process though we complained loudly about it (during and after). In particular I recall the shoes. My mother had a thing for shoes which would wear well, big enough so that there was some growing room, and solid enough to support a growing foot. She also had a knack for choosing the most uncool shoes known to man. I have in mind a particularly ugly pair with something called a sharkskin patch sewn on to the area over the toes (which the salesman promised would prevent them from scuffing or wearing through). They did wear well (much to my disappointment). We did not have a lot of money and my mom was not going to spend it foolishly on stylish things that did not last.
Maybe we should call Pastors using some the same criteria as my mom used buying those shoes. Maybe people need to pick congregations the same way. They wear well (make that they are Lutheran and will continue to be Lutheran in identity, confession, and practice). They are big enough to have some growing room (they have a lot going for them right now but they are not finished products and are searching to be more faithful and more fruitful in being God's and in doing His work). They were solid (not flashy types married to the moment but enduring -- the classic that does not go in or out of style because it is not tied to the current trend and yet neither is it married to one particular snapshot in history). I don't know. I do remember those sturdy clothes and shoes my mom made us wear and I have forgotten most of the trendy stuff I bought with my own money (and foolishly wasted my hard earned money). I think we could do far worse then following my mom's example and often that is exactly why Pastors and people and congregations are disappointed by the fit and keep on shopping for the perfect one (if it can be found).