Times have changed. Few argue the accuracy of that statement as it relates to congregations seeking and calling individuals for pastoral leadership. Congregations rarely receive multiple candidates to fill an opening for a pastoral leader. Congregations need to anticipate that it could take 12 months for a search process to conclude.
This can feel discouraging. However, it can also be an opportunity for congregations to dig into the important question of what it means to call a pastor.
We have the privilege of accompanying congregations on this sacred journey. This involves sharing about the process and getting items like a job description and congregational profile together. It also provides the opportunity to talk about discernment.
While this word is often interchanged with decision-making, we stress that discernment starts with a few different assumptions. For example, God is not neutral or indifferent about our mission or our choices. It is our belief that God is self-disclosing, revealing to a congregation the way in which God is at work. Discernment is not an abandonment of good decision-making skills, but an addition of prayerful reflection and engagement of the community along the way.
There are a host of reasons why there is not a lengthy list of people who are actively seeking pastoral calls and placement. There are fewer full-time roles. The costs of moving to a new community can be prohibitive. Ministry is rewarding and it is challenging work for which not everyone is suited or gifted.
To this sample of reasons why fewer people are entering ministry, we would add the hopeful note that it can be one of the best vocations available. Those who excel in this role usually have two common attributes in our experience:
- They have a sense of call—a motivation—that draws them into a space of hard work, caring presence and careful leadership.
- They were part of a community that knows them and their gifts, and that has encouraged them to step up and into the ministry God has for them.
Working with congregations, encouraging pastoral candidates and resourcing pastors along the way are ministry tasks we are fully engaged in as regional church staff people. We do this best in partnership with congregations that know the people in their midst and can speak in to people’s lives about how God is calling them to take their next steps of faith.
It has always been our encouragement that congregations not simply choose the best of those available for ministry, but that they identify the individual who is the best fit for the mission the congregation wishes to be involved in. When the number of those available for a pastoral role becomes slim, there is more pressure on these pastoral search committees to give into the temptation to not be as selective. A focus on discernment can be a helpful relief. It encourages the search committee to invite the congregation as a whole to be engaged in prayer and inviting people to consider ministry. The stress is also shifted to the expectation that, in God’s time, an individual will come forward who is called for this role. So, while times have changed, God continues to be at work in our midst, empowering congregations in calling gifted people to ministry.
Marilyn Rudy-Froese is the leadership minister for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. She works closely with pastors and leaders, and supports them in their calling, formation and placement as ministers and chaplains. She oversees the protocols of the regional church for credentialed leaders in ways that maximize strengths and skills for effective missional leadership.
Al Rempel, who serves as regional minister for MC Eastern Canada, walks alongside congregations, helping with pastoral searches, reviews and visioning. He works closely with pastors and congregations at strengthening the pastor-congregation relationship.
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