When I talk to people about starting to look for my first pastoral call, especially with folks who aren’t part of my particular Presbyterian tradition, I find myself using all manner of comparisons. It’s like a job search, but not really. It’s kind of like dating. It’s definitely circuitous and complicated, and it will make for some great stories about How I Met Your Congregation someday. Meanwhile, here are a few things I’ve noticed…
1. The Minimum Requirements for ordination are not minimal at all. Seminary education that includes internship hours, local judicatory oversight and (often) a requirement for clinical internships, ordination examinations, and the final examination to be certified ready to seek a call.
I am ok with the fact that we have pretty high expectations for our ministers. I am ok with having been asked to do all those thing, as I felt each step actually has been an important part of my preparation. But truly, this is not for the faint of heart.
2. The Call Process is not the same as a Job Search process. There are similarities, to be sure. Our “Church Leadership Connection” technology is roughly analogous to Monster.com, with the ability to automagically match opportunities and candidates based on self-described skills and needs. The Personal Information Form (PIF) includes content that is much like a resume, and the Ministry Information Form (MIF) is much like a job description and company overview.
But when you start adding in the Statement of Faith and questions about “areas of growth” and “recent successes” you’re looking at content that is not found on the typical CV. And you’re asking for a level of vulnerability and transparency that is rarely seen in a cover letter.
And that’s why the analogy breaks down, at least for me. What I am called to do is more than a job. There will be a LOT of meetings, appointments, phone calls, budgeting and tasks that look like a lot of other professions, to be sure.
But I am called to be a spiritual leader, just as the ruling elders and deacons of the church are. As a pastor, I am called to spend time in the Word, using all that theological training along with my relationships and observations of the current reality in our community to speak with a prophetic, encouraging, challenging voice. I am called to provide a presence of hope, healing and reconciliation for those experiencing pain, isolation, and brokenness. I am called to work alongside the leaders of the congregation to discern and relay God’s vision for the people God has gathered in a particular time and place to be part of the great cosmic redemption story.
3. The interview process can feel a bit like a blind date. So, how do I know if a church down this road or up that other highway or across the country is the one to which I am called? How do I know if they will “get” me? How can I tell if they are really ready for someone who is a change agent? How will they know whether I can moderate their session or teach their confirmands? How will they know if I am going to get along with that really influential pillar of the congregation and community?
I have to say, this is the part that feels least likely to succeed – unless the Pastoral Nominating Committee (PNC) really represents the congregation well. If they are more or less anxious, reflect only a portion of the diversity of views, had very specific issues with a previous pastor that they want to avoid or saw specific gifts that they really want every following pastor to have… they may not answer the candidate’s questions or make queries of the candidate that will help both sides know that they are a good fit.
As I read this brilliant post today, I found myself nodding in agreement about how hard it is to answer some questions that come from search committees. Indeed, it can be hard to read/listen to a question without assuming some kind of subtext.
Here’s why I think this is important: “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay.” That reference is good for more than marriage homilies. I want to know that the people with whom I hope to charge the gates of Hell (or at least lift up the name of Jesus!) are going to be right there with me, have my back, and be ready to tell the tales afterward. And I want them to know enough about me to trust that I’ll be there for them, too. Asking good questions and answering them honestly will get us a lot closer to ready to yell, “Charge!”
4. Most of us don’t really know how to lean into discernment. And I do mean us to include this me. I am still learning how to trust the Holy Spirit after (mumblingovertheactualnumberof) years of being a professing Christian who wants to do right by the God in whom I place my faith.
Because it’s hard work to be still, use Scripture, pray, and wait…. we lean back from discernment and lean into the processes we know and understand when weighing options for decisions (and jobs) that are not so spiritual. Weighing pros and cons, rating numerically, asking and answering very logical questions. Yes, the Holy Spirit can and does work that way, too. But only if we leave Her some space.
5. And yet, here I am, working the system. When my CPM certified me and asked me “so what are you going to do next?” all I could think was that I want to be faithful, in the practical and the spiritual. So, every few days, I check to see if there are new MIFs that look intriguing. I am readying answers for committee calls and videoconferences, and organizing samples of sermons and lesson plans. AND, I am praying for wisdom, listening for direction, and trusting that God really does have a place for me to serve.