Paul begins his full-time duties with us this month and Second is ready to, well, Rock.
But before I toss away files and start forgetting things about the process, I want to tell you what I found both right and wrong about how PCUSA churches select pastors. Maybe we can think about some changes.
First the good:
We emphasize discerning God’s will in the search versus just hiring someone. This takes patience and a mindset you don’t find in the standard corporate human resources office.
We give ourselves time needed for reflection about where the congregation is and where it’s heading. It can be time well spent.
We select PNCs that represent the whole congregation. At least that’s the goal. And I think it worked in our case. When you get a unanimous decision from such a panel you know you’ve got something.
In the end, we trust the judgment of the PNC. It’s one more example of how representative democracy is supposed to work and, in fact, often does work in our polity.
We work with the broader church through PCUSA headquarters and the local presbytery. This is a necessary reminder that we are connectional and not congregational — necessary because lots of members of PCUSA churches have come from different traditions and don’t yet understand ours.
With all that going for us, what could be wrong with our pastor search system? Well:
The process is too slow. Nine months — count ’em, nine — elapsed between our previous pastor’s last day on the job and the election of the PNC. Whole babies could have been conceived and born in this time.
The PCUSA paper and electronic forms used in this process need revision. We were allowed 1,500 characters — not words, characters, including spaces — in a few sections of the Church Information Form to describe our church. To compensate for this silly stricture we prepared a five-page, single-spaced, illustrated document that gave a much fairer and more complete look at both our strengths and challenges. The limited information on the CIF was like telling a prospective blind date only that you have a pulse. And the Personal Information Forms pastors use often aren’t much better.
The secrecy required by our process leads PNC members and candidates to be deceitful. Confidentiality is one thing. Deceit is another. Pastors lie to congregations about whether they’re looking to go elsewhere and PNC members lie to members of their own churches about where they are in the process. Oh, I know, I know. Lie is too strong a word, but that’s what it feels like sometimes.
I don’t know how to change it, but as even our new pastor told our congregation at the start of his candidating sermon, it’s “weird” that at the end of this one-hour blind date a marriage proposal will be voted on.
We are thrilled with our choice of a pastor and now we will begin to learn to live and work and pray together as we respond to the leading of God’s spirit.
But going through this process (it was my second time) makes me want a radical relook at how we educate and select our clergy.
That kind of re-examination will require not just fixing the problems I’ve identified but also asking again about the purpose of ordination itself and what should be required of those who seek it.
If we aren’t willing to see where the spirit might be leading us in this area, it means we are disciples of our church’s constitution and not of our Christ.
BILL TAMMEUS s is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his new book at www.theywerejustpeople.com. E-mail him at [email protected].