Accepting a Call is an Act of God
When a pastor receives a call to a congregation, the deliberation process begins. It is an exciting, yet stressful time for the pastor, his family, his current congregation or ministry he is serving, and the calling agency or congregation. I have guided over sixty pastors through this process. The process was agonizing for some, and refreshing for others. There are so many factors to consider.
The longer you have served in a current church, the harder the decision becomes. Over time, you form a lasting relationship. You are part of the day-to-day lives of the people you have been called to serve. You watch the children you baptized, then confirm, go off to college, get married and start the process over again with their families. When a new call comes, it forces a pastor to make a life-changing decision in a matter of four weeks. The calling congregation wants an answer even sooner than that. The pressure on the pastor and his family is enormous.
Common Misconceptions in Calling a Pastor
On the congregation’s side of the waiting game, members are asking the call committee at every sitting, “What is taking so long?” “What can we do the sweeten the deal?” There is also the misunderstanding by many in the congregation that since the pastor agreed to be on the call list and do an interview, he is ready to leave his current ministry and come to our church. Some even erroneously believe he asked to be on the list for your congregation. The reality is many pastors do not know how they got on your call list and may not be seeking a call at all. As pastors, they teach us you respect the work of the Holy Spirit and let God guide your ministry steps. So, you go through the process to gain clarity. Is God saying to me and the family? “I want you to serve here, or stay and serve the people you have been serving all along?” The calling process helps pastors discern and confirm a call.
Here is where the real teaching and pastoral gifts come into play. Now, I instruct the call committee and the assembly of believers that just because a pastor has let his name remain for consideration for a call and even agreed to do an interview does not mean that once the call is extended, they will come. There is that hope by the calling church that as the pastor is at prayer about a potential move, his wife is packing up the house for a said move. However, receiving a call is just the beginning.
The Deliberation Period
An important set of factors goes into the decision-making process for a pastor and his family. While every congregation believes they are the greatest place on earth to serve, that may not be true for this family in their life and ministry. Several key assumptions believers struggle with during this time are: “So, why would a pastor not want to leave his current group to be their new shepherd?” If the church has received multiple declined calls, the uncomfortable hand-wringing begins. A quick side note here for pastors. If you decline a call, be honest, yet gentle with the reasons. It could help the call committee address issues that might prevent further rejection down the road. But that is not permission to give a call committee advice. This may be something you share with the circuit visitor, not in a letter that is read in public or published to the congregation.
It is in these times of rejection I am there with the call committee and body of believers to encourage the deflated spirit of the worshippers and remind them that there is nothing wrong with them. God has a plan, trust His plan. Rejection is hard to stomach; it dings the psyche of the calling congregation. The returned call documents send call committee members into a period of internal questioning and self-reflection on questions like, “What is wrong with us?” “What did we do wrong?” “Did we not offer enough money?” Or “Why would the pastor lead us on?” I assure call committees to practice patience and not panic.
The Final Decision
What goes into a pastor’s decision to accept God’s call to a new congregation, or to say “I believe my current congregation still needs the gifts I possess, and God is not done with my ministry to these saints here yet.” What the calling churches need to hear in this post is that it is hard for the pastor to say no.
A lot of prayer goes into that decision. Many things factor into a pastor’s final conclusion during this time of prayer, information gathering, and discernment. To elaborate, these are some of the questions pastors wrestle through. Some issues pastors have to discern through prayer are:
Is this call a place where my spiritual gifts and abilities give glory to God, His Church, and this new community?
Is this an environment that my family will feel comfortable in, grow and flourish in?
Can we economically afford this call? (This one is tough. I dealt with this in a separate post. Because I believe God provides, but some situations are just not healthy.)
Is my ministry work completely done where God has placed me?
What are the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead?
In conclusion, a call is a time for pastors to see things clearly. Also, they may have overlooked or taken for granted the impact their ministry was having on people in their current congregation. During this process, a pastor will hear from members and seek their input to evaluate the ministry they currently serve. Often during that observation period, God reveals things through a different lens.
God works through the people of God to carry out His ministry, but the question pastors ultimately ask is, “Am I the right person for this church at this stage in their ministry life?” If the Holy Spirit clearly gives us a resounding “yes,” usually we accept that challenge. If not, or the answer is uncertain, pastors take the call of God seriously to not move if they feel God is calling them to stay. Conversely, if you decline the call, and there are cogent reasons for concern, please share that information in a “speaking the truth in love” way with the congregation. It will serve them well.
A pastor once told me, “It would take an act of God for me to accept a call!” Every decision to accept a call is “an act of God.” He moves as he wills, and he guides pastors to say yes or no.
A final note to congregations. When you issue a call, let the pastor’s who you did not call know that you called someone else. The pastor is often waiting to hear the news and would appreciate knowing the outcome. May God bless you and may God bless his church and its shepherds.