A friend recommended the book Search by Michelle Huneven recently. (Thanks L.) It’s the story of a restaurant critic who is also on her church’s pastor seach committee, and it’s a familiar story – at least to me.
Some of the Search Committee members have an agenda: some are serving to ensure that the new pastor is not a straight while male. Some hope to steer the committee towards a pastor under the age of 40. As the story goes on, it’s clear that their agendas are actually not so secret. Pacts form. Strategies develop. There’s an attempt to remove a couple members of the search committee when their agendas clearly don’t align with the agenda of the old guard.
Perhaps this story is familiar to you too.
Especially in Church World, we believe that The Holy Spirit has something to do with The Call to Ministry. There’s that initial call when a human being senses that God might be directing them towards a spiritual vocation. And then there are calls that come and go throughout a pastor’s life.* In my tradition, all Christians are called to ministry at the moment of their baptism. Some of us are called to professional ministry.
Do we, the members of the church, accept _____ to be our pastor, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead us in the way of Jesus Christ?
This is the vow church people make when their new pastor is called in the Presbyterian Church USA. We believe God speaks through discerning humans.
God can still work when people come to the table with secret agendas. But hidden agendas are divisive and when someone campaigns to be on the pastor nominating committee to ensure that the next preacher will love handbells, it can get in the way. In some circumstances, it can derail a search.
In so many aspects of life, we come with secret (or not so secret) agendas. Personal agendas have been derailing the Institutional Church since well before Constantine was the Emperor. Among my favorites:
- The leader who suggests that the church bakes cupcakes to give to the homeless as a new mission project when actually she wants to start her own cupcake business.
- The members who want to fill the Pastor Nominating Committee with bagpipers in order to call a Scot as their new pastor.
- The pastor who wants to put his own spouse on the governing board “because my spouse is so faithful” when actually the pastor just wants another elder on the board who will agree with him.
These are all true examples.
I have not-so-secret agendas too, but I’m constantly praying that my truest agenda is that we in the Church will do what pleases our Creator. Maybe it’s Build Affordable Housing. Maybe it’s Open an Emergency Shelter. Maybe it’s Add a Child Development Center. It doesn’t really matter as long as it pleases God.
*According to the PCUSA constitution “In Baptism each Christian is called to ministry in Christ’s name. God calls some persons from the midst of congregations to fulfill particular functions, so that the ministry of the whole people of God may flourish.” (W4.0401) The only laypeople in a Presbyterian Church USA congregation are the unbaptized.