Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How much information is too much? (part one)

I got an e-mail the other day from a seminary classmate; he's now on staff of a church that recently completed a Senior Pastor search, and he offered me some fascinating insight into their search process.

First, some background on the church: they are a PCA church, but they aren't hardcore PCA in the way that many seminarians are. This is vitally important to realize: they are committed to the PCA because they believe in the importance of associating with a denomination. They are biblically conservative, Reformed in their theology, convinced of the practice of infant baptism, and are essentially presbyterian in their government. So the PCA is a good fit-- but to them this means that they affiliate with their regional presbytery and attend General Assembly; they occasionally receive other support from the PCA's offices in Atlanta.

But here's a key take-away: their search team (and, as my friend said, about 98% of their congregation) has very little sense of PCA identity. This means that tossing around acronyms like MNA, RUF, RUM, and MTW* meant little to nothing in that setting. Likewise, although the church sends support dollars to both Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, when my classmate interviewed then his search team (a different one from the Senior Pastor one) was under the impression that Covenant Seminary was an undergraduate institution.

This is a part of the information exchange that many fail to consider. The key question becomes: What am I assuming about this congregation (in the language of my resume, Ministerial Data Form, etc.) that I ought not? A candidate must realize that a lot of this sort of information is not helpful to their cause of presenting themselves as THE candidate for this position. In many ways, it might hurt them.

It also begs a question of motivation: why are all of these acronyms (or even the names they stand for) cluttering up a resume or data form? In many cases, they may be there for valuable information: if you served for two years as an intern with Reformed University Ministries, then that is directly relevant to your ministry experience.

On the other hand, be careful not to let all of this stuff become what one writer calls "cruft"-- which is essentially the literary version of the stuff you scrape off your plate when you're done with a meal.

One scottish pastor commented about his sermons: "the last thing I do is go back over my manuscript and cut out all of the cleverness." We might do the same if we want to clear our resumes, data forms, and other documents of cruft.

Stay tuned for part two, where I talk about the rest of the insights my classmate offered me. Really good stuff.

*All of these are "agencies" of the Presbyterian Church in America: MNA= Mission to North America, RUF= Reformed University Fellowship, which is the local establishment of RUM= Reformed University Ministries, and MTW= Mission to the World.

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