Monday, December 21, 2009

Lets Call a Pastor and Hire a CEO...

When I was first placed from the Seminary into my first call, the Bishop told me that he had wrestled with this placement, at first placing me in one parish and then, finally, in the one which I ended up serving. As "Bishop," it was his role and place to know the parishes of his district and know the people being called to their first place. The first time my wife and I drove through town to find where we would be living, I was convinced he made a mistake. A big mistake. The first two years there I was depressed for what we left behind in a marvelous home parish (Redeemer, Ft. Wayne,) chapel life (CTS, Ft. Wayne), Pastor (Charles Evanson), and many friendships. Plus my new parish was a congregation divided over the charismatic movement, without confidence in or an identity rooted in the Lutheran Confessions and our liturgical life that flows out of those Confessions.

I was wrong.

We stayed there almost 13 years. The congregation flourished (not because of me but because of a window of opportunity which the Bishop saw and I only saw in retrospect). We moved from non-liturgical worship to the Divine Service, restoring first TLH to the pews, then introducing LW, weekly Eucharist, the chalice, chanting, and a wonderful musical program of choirs and instrumentalists. We went from no mission support to a credible amount for the work of the kingdom beyond our locale, to a food pantry that fed some 2,000 people annually, to clothing distribution, jobs placements, and a host of other services to poor in our county (of which there were many, and still are). We reviewed the catechism, the Augustana, we moved from "what do you think" Bible studies to "what does it say" and through it all grew and grew.

I had many interviews over those more than a dozen years. I also had a number of calls. I detested the interviews. I felt uncomfortable selling myself like a cheap commodity but that is clearly what the interview was designed to do. I found most of the questions impossible to answer (if you were Pastor here, what would do about...). I suspected there were conflicts or issues behind many of them (Are you comfortable with the Synod's position on women -- yea, I think they are good and we ought to have a lot of them... but I am not so sure about the men... ha ha).

When a congregation called me out of the blue, with nary an interview or contact with me prior to the call, I dismissed it because it was in Tennessee and I was in New York, and, well, nothing against Tennessee, but nobody moves from New York to Tennessee -- it just ain't done! A little over an hour north of the city, I could not even imagine myself in Tennessee. But just before sending a letter that said, "God said no, so sorry," I felt guilty for not even visiting. So I went. And it revealed the painful truth that this might be the right place and the right time.

No one in Tennessee was prepared for a liturgical Lutheran. We started all over again with introducing the hymnal back into usage, teaching for a weekly Eucharist, introducing chanting, reintroducing the chalice, etc... Now 17 years later the congregation has grown and expanded in countless ways. Though it still leaves me wondering how I got here, I know it was the right time and the right place.

I have had a few phone interviews since coming here and I hate them. What does a children's sermon have to do with who I am as a Pastor? What does whether people call me Larry, Pastor Larry, Rev. or just Pastor have to do with knowing me? Several attempts at moving to substantive issues were left with silence. After it was done, I felt like I had sold myself short in the interview but then I did not want to sell myself at all.

So this Lutheran Pastor is proposing we ditch them and the process whereby we seek out a Pastor like we would a CEO. I am proposing that Bishops know their parishes and the people on the call lists well enough to speak opening and forthrightly with the parishes. I am proposing that we go back to putting some trust in the Holy Spirit and the Church and less in our questionnaires and (phone) interviews. I am proposing that parishes wait before making a judgment and give a Pastor a chance before deciding they like or don't like him. I am proposing that Pastors not have calls for at least two years into a new parish and that they focus their heart, soul, body and mind on that parish, on loving its people, on seeking its best for them and from them, before making a judgment about that parish.

I know it will never happen... but I would love to see it!


Anonymous said...

Dream On!

Anonymous said...

And, to be truthful, far too many congregations WANT a CEO--and get exactly that! And therein lies a root cause of many of our current problems.

Anonymous said...

The laity may not like it, but this is the truth that many pastors will not admit.

Anonymous said...

Well, there's at least one confessional Lutheran synod in the US that still values the call and doesn't do "interviews" of prospective pastors -- and I'm sure that's true of two others I don't have personal experience of.

But they are smaller than the LCMS and have a lot less … diversity … to deal with.

Our synod has an understanding (not followed in only very rare instances) that no pastor receives a call before he's spent at least three years in his current position. There's also an understanding that, as much as possible, at least six months pass before a pastor gets another call once he's returned one (otherwise certain pastors would be having to go through the process of considering calls almost non-stop, a significant drain on their ministries).

The DP prepares a list of candidates for vacancies - even attends the call meetings if he's able (though they're all parish pastors and can't always get away) -- and matches the list to the congregation's needs as best he can. The congregation is able to put forward their own candidates if they wish, but this is fairly rare since the DPs are for the most part trusted and also because the DPs have access to the appropriate information (like how long various pastors have been in their current calls, personal situations that might affect a pastor's ability to move, etc.).

The call list is usually presented to the voters without any kind of "call committee" intervening. The information on each candidate is not highly detailed in order to keep the decision-making process unbiased and to allow the Holy Spirit more "room to work" (rather than having the members of the call committee/voters assembly fixate on finding the "perfect" candidate among all those on the list).

I have deliberately not identified my synod (though I'm sure you can guess which it is) because my point was not to say how great we are, but merely to point out that the process you wish the LCMS had -- and indeed, used to have -- can be done and still is done, even in this modern age.