Note: This brilliant idea comes from a colleague who doesn’t want to be identified. You know who you are, my friend. Thank you. I will refer to you as The Ingenious One. (TIO)
In my pontiff-less, Cupich-less denomination, pastors seeking new calls complete a Personal Information Form (a PIF) and congregations seeking new pastors complete a Ministry Information Form (a MIF). It’s not exactly e-Harmony for church but that’s the basic idea.
Here’s the gaping, sabotage-creating problem: pastors express their hopes of serving a congregation that wants to make a difference in their communities and in their souls. They have energy for “growth” and “change.” And maybe the congregation says that they, too, want “growth” and “change” but there is no evidence that the congregation has ever made the effort to do so. They say it, but in their heart of hearts, they don’t really mean it either consciously or unconsciously. It could be that they don’t know how or it’s too painful or it’s too much work or they simply cannot imagine a different way or they have forgotten that the church is about Jesus.
But this will become the flash point in their future ministry with their new pastor.
One of the questions a pastor is required to answer in the PIF is this: Describe a moment in your recent ministry that you recognize as one of success and fulfillment.
My friend TIO wants to know why this question is not also asked in the MIF. The answer would tell all potential candidates a slice of the real story about that congregation. For example, consider these answers.
Describe a moment in your recent ministry that you recognize as one of success
- We redecorated the parlor two years ago after receiving funds from the estate of one of our beloved members.
- We celebrated the 17th anniversary of our Christmas Elves program last December.
- We had several cottage meetings about worship and selected a new hymnal.
- We added a new Sunday School class called The Newspaper Class.
- We installed a screen in the sanctuary which we use occasionally for praise songs.
- After talking with local school officials about the issue of teenage depression in our community, we partnered with a cafe near the school last summer to offer a gathering space for high school students after school and on Monday nights. A committed group of our members offer presence, mentoring, and a weekly informal God Talk which offers the opportunity to discuss Meaning of Life topics. The God Talks have connected 8-15 students each week and it seems to be making a difference.
See what I mean? The answer to this question would speak volumes on where the congregation truly is and what their DNA might be.
Too often congregations seeking “growth” and “change” call a young pastor, let’s say, imagining that all they need to do is have a younger presence in the pulpit. “Other young people will flock to us.” Or they believe that calling a young pastor with young children will attract other young families.
Note to all churches who have ever thought this was The Plan: it does not work that way. It’s not about appearances. It’s about the energy and will of the congregation to commit to loving neighbors and making disciples – the marks of true growth and change.
The pastor – of any age – cannot be expected to be the only one who can “Describe a moment in your recent ministry that you recognize as one of success and fulfillment.” Not asking the congregations this question perpetuates the notion that the pastor – and only the pastor – is responsible for “success and fulfillment.”
And so – if the MIF doesn’t ask it – maybe candidates should ask it:
“What has this church done to make changes and growth in the past year?” The answer will tell a deeper story.