We believe, teach, and confess that the Call is Divine. This means that if a Congregation has issued a Call to a man to be their pastor, God has worked through that Congregation. So, what does it mean when a Pastor has 1 Divine Call at Congregation A, and Congregation B issues him a 2nd call? I would contend that it is *wrong* to assume that God really, really, really wants that pastor at one place and not the other. Rather, I would contend that in this case the pastor is free to either stay or go. If he stays, the pastor has a Divine Call to be the pastor at Congregation A. If he goes, the pastor has a Divine Call to be the pastor at Congregation B. Either way, there is a divine call, and things are according to God’s Will.
Many pastors don’t focus on this idea of being free to stay or go. There are many possible reasons for it. One might simply be you don’t want to hurt whoever you decide against. Instead of saying, “I have decided I’d rather be somewhere else,” you get to say, “Oh, I really feel God wants me over there.” It is almost as though we blame God to soften the blow. Another is that often people don’t handle freedom well. In America, especially in our religious climate, we don’t like really like the idea of freedom — people want to know God’s will for everything, we want the divine checklist, often neglecting our freedom. Sometimes, with a decision that involves possibly moving and saying good-bye to friends, even pastors can default to the Americanized thoughts.
ADVICE FOR PASTORS WHO HAVE RECEIVED A CALL
So then, if a pastor who has received a call should recognize this as a matter of freedom, what are some things that he ought to consider in approaching the opportunity (note: while I’m going to be addressing specifically a pastor getting a call, most of this applies to considering a change in any job or vocation). In consultation with the other members of the WE team, here is some friendly advice.
1. Consider where there are the best opportunities to serve. One of the first things to consider is what opportunities to serve God’s kingdom are present at both congregations. Different congregations and communities provide differing aspects of the ministry and different ways in which you can serve. Consider these. Also, remember that this will be you serving – where do those opportunities fit the skill and talents that you end up bringing to the table? Whichever congregation you are at, you will be serving – where can you best be of service?
2. Consider where you can best fulfill your other vocations. You are not just a pastor – you also have other vocations. You may be a husband, a father, a son to aging parents. Consider how moving would impact these vocations as well. There is nothing wrong with noting if a call might better help you fulfill these vocations. We need to remember that the Pastor-Congregation relationship isn’t a one way street. It is not simply that God provides for the congregation through the pastor, but also that God provides for the pastor through the congregation. This is why at installations, congregation make vows just as well as pastors. It is not wrong to consider these aspects – in fact, in your other vocations you really ought to consider them.
3. Make sure you are taking a call “to” a place and not just taking a call “away” from where you are. One of the greatest dangers for a pastor considering a call is that discontent with where they are at clouds their judgment. It is a simple fact that sometimes pastors aren’t happy where they are. It happens. However, a call shouldn’t be simply an opportunity to run away – there needs to be good, positive reasons for going. One need simply look at the Scriptures to see that running away from difficulties often ends up being neither good nor wise (I’m reminded of a big fish here). Make sure that there is a reason *for* you to take a call to a new place – that there are good things there that you are looking forward to. Otherwise, the old adage “out of the frying pan and into the fire” might kick in.
4. Make sure you aren’t just looking for “greener pastures”. Every congregation has warts (and just so you are aware of it, every pastor does as well). Don’t try to move to greener pastures or a “better” congregation. As a pastor, you are called to preach the Word of God to sinners — and they are going to be sinners at either place. If you go expecting to get a “better” place, then the reasons why the Church in this world are called the “Church Militant” might come up and smack you in the face. Besides, that only will end up setting unrealistic expectations if you do go, and that can lead to disappointment and discontentment.
5. Don’t be afraid to talk to other pastors. Don’t be afraid to talk to other guys that you know and trust, whose counsel you respect. Because they are on the outside, they might see some things you are missing or neglecting. The might raise up some warning flags you hadn’t seen, and they might even point out some things you’d be giving up that you hadn’t considered.
6. Pray. When I say pray, I do not mean pray, “Oh Lord, give me a sign that I can know you will.” I mean this – pray to God for wisdom, for forgiveness, for peace. Remember that whether you stay or go, you will be bringing the Word of God to sinful people who need it. For this you will always need God – pray that He be with you wherever you go.
7. Don’t be afraid to explain your decision. One of the frustrations I have with our call process is that the quasi-mystical nature ends up hiding congregations from the ways in which pastors think and make decisions. This doesn’t help them down the road. If you leave, you should be able to discuss why you have chosen to leave in a kind and loving way with your congregation (and as a note: if you can’t discuss things in a kind and loving way, you’ve got no business leaving!). Let this be a way in which they have things to think about how they might better serve their pastor and their communities in the days forward for them. Also, if you decline a call, don’t be afraid to explain why. Many times pastors put up with less than ideal circumstances – and congregations may not realize that while Pastor So-and-So was willing to not have ______, that doesn’t appeal to many other pastors. Often we as pastors don’t discuss with our congregations how they ought to treat and care for their pastors (it can seem too self-serving or greedy). This becomes an opportunity for teaching and training. As a Circuit Counselor (and thus an outsider) it’s something I get to do as an outsider in the call process – but sometimes the reinforcement can be very beneficial.
These are just some thoughts on the issue. Delight in freedom, make your decisions, and go wherever you go trusting in the love that God has for you in Christ Jesus.
Rev. Eric J. Brown
Zion Lutheran Church – Lahoma, OK