Tuesday, May 28, 2013
What takes so long. . .
...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...