Saturday, October 30, 2004

The candidacy of churches...

A meta-moment: It seems to me that there are candidate-pastors and candidate-churches, not simply churches and candidates. Does anyone else even think this way? To me, it is a no-brainer; the pastor is certainly candidating for a position, but the church is also candidating: for a pastor, called by God to care for and shepherd the people in their faith.

Let me clarify what I mean: pastors seeking a new position in ministry understand what it means to be a candidate (and if they don't, they soon will!). It means that they must show themselves to be right for the position-- demonstrating that God has equipped them with the gifts, abilities, and vision that are best for the ministry that they will lead and serve-- and then they must seek God's confirmation that they are the one for the position in question. What would it look like for a church to view herself in a similar way-- as a candidate for any particular pastor? The outcome would also be similar: she would need to show that she is the best fit for that pastor, because the make-up of the church in its ministry emphases and direction mesh well with his giftedness and vision. And she would see that the decision is not merely hers; rather, it is a decision between her, the candidate-pastor, and God.

If a candidate-pastor does not approach the process from this perspective, he undermines the significance of the calling given to him by God, and he will fail to examine the candidate-church carefully because he will not see the need for it. God, and God alone, calls a pastor to the ministry; he receives a specific call from a local congregation, it's true, but his calling should be certain and confirmed by others (hopefully by entire institutions-- his home church, a presbytery or synod, a seminary and its faculty, etc.) long before candidacy actually begins, so that he is not tentatively, cautiously hoping that someone--anyone-- will finally affirm this calling by giving him a job. God's calling on a man is significant; anything short of viewing a potential church as a candidate-church will shortchange that calling. This will lead to an inevitable failure to consider the many complexities of the church he is pursuing (or at least a failure to consider all of them, and fully), because he will begin to think that it will not matter anyway.

If a candidate-church does not approach the process in this way, she will not only strip the candidate-pastor's calling of significance, she will also threaten the actual success of the candidacy process. The latter fact is the great irony in the problem. Not only do churches who view the search process as little more than working over resumes and interviewing possible hires for a job either overlook and/or subvert the dignity of the calling of those they interview (it occurs to me that the same is true in secular vocations, but that is not my focus...). What is more, they set themselves up for potentially colossal failure, as they are ignoring the pre-eminent importance of God's calling in the process. If God is at work in the matching of a pastor with a church, then churches seeking a pastor must submit themselves to the candidacy process just as much as the pastor seeking a church. If they do not, then the process is an idol; the candidate-church has established some system or measure for determining who is the best pastor for them other than seeking the will of God through submission to Him.

On the other hand, what would happen if they viewed themselves as true candidate-churches? They would treat the candidate-pastor that they interview with dignity and respect, wanting to know his needs and desires, his vision and goals, and they would want him to find the place most well-suited for his calling. They would seek after their own desires also, but these would be secondary to their true needs. And, most of all, they would recognize the place of God's will in the process, shunning the idolatry of a more utilitarian, pragmatic system.

It seems like churches often miss this. They don't realize that either God is in the process or He isn't. They act as if they believe that God is concerned only for what they want in a pastor, not what they need. Nor is He concerned for the needs and desires of the man He has called to be a pastor. And the great shame is that, in missing it, they only hurt themselves in the long run.

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