Calling a New Pastor

And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42).

I joined others for a breakfast Monday with the candidate of choice to be the next pastor at the church where I worship. We are very close to revealing the name of “Pastor X,” but cannot do so just yet. The other congregation deserves to hear the news directly from their pastor and not via “shared” posts on social media.

The call process is an amazing thing. This is the first time I’ve been on the searching side of it. I’ve been on the being interviewed side several times. The searching side has been both challenging and rewarding. Sometimes – but we know not all the time – the process works out so that the best pastor ends up leading the best congregation for that person’s temperament, skill set, passions, and experience. We pray it shall be so for our congregation.

A congregational call process is not unlike internet dating. The congregation puts down information designed to convince the perfect pastor to come to this congregation. The pastors put down all the most impressive information about themselves in hopes of impressing the perfect congregation.

In our Lutheran denomination some lucky synod (district) staff person then does the match making. Once papers are exchanged and reviewed we enter the vetting season. To keep costs down this usually entails Skype interviews initially. Eventually there is a face to face all-day marathon of ‘getting to know you’ conversation back and forth.

Along the way references are checked – both ways. We all know people greatly exaggerate, if not downright lie, on those blasted forms. Wise pastors ask about the congregation. Wise interviewers call references listed and one or more not listed.

Finally the Call Committees makes a recommendation to the council. The candidate meets the council, staff, and eventually full congregation. A vote is taken, and God willing and people approving, a new pastor/parish partnership is born.

The selection process is part gut feeling, part listening to what isn’t being said, part looking for any signs of potential trouble, and part hoping all those prayers to find the best person are answered.

Eventually the call process is complete, the votes are counted, and the pastor moves into the church office and a new home. Now starts the fun. A mutually effective relationship between pastor and people consists of hundreds of little things. Who can know what makes the difference between a new start that blesses all parties concerned for many years and one that leads to conflict, disappointment, disillusionment, bitterness, and in too many cases, a congregation in decline and a pastor in depression and despair.

I think the difference is the sum of many small things. Taking time for coffee chatter about nothing in particular. Playing a game with the kids. Showing up to wait with the anxious family until the doctor reports how the surgery went.

Sometimes it is really is as simple as offering a cup of water to one who is thirsty. Sometimes it is being patient with a wiggly, noisy, overly precocious toddler who always comes up for the children’s talk. Sometimes it is letting elderly Miss Smith tell the same story she told the last dozen times you stopped by for a visit.

We are about to introduce a new pastor to the congregation. Everyone who has met our candidate of choice has been impressed. Now we wait to see if the people agree with our conclusion. Stay tuned.

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