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Prolonged Presbyterian procedures

When the chair of our congregation’s associate pastor nominating committee announced the completion of the search this spring, one of our elders asked what he thought of the process.

I was a little surprised to hear him say that, on the whole, it worked well. Oh, he said, there were some stumbles — but mostly those had to do with deciding that candidates who seemed viable on paper weren’t so in person or via phone or Skype interviews.

What he liked about the process — which took well over a year — was that it gave committee members six months to know one another deeply and to identify the tasks an associate would need to undertake. He called those crucial steps that allowed for a happy consensus at the end of the search to call Kristin Riegel, who will join us in mid-July.

All true, but I think our denomination’s pastoral search process (though recently adjusted so it can begin sooner) is still too long and cumbersome. I’m not suggesting that nominating committees don’t need to wait for the Lord, as we say, or do careful discernment.

But in our case, being without an associate for more than a year put an unnecessary burden on our senior pastor and on other staff members and lay leaders. And it kept us from moving ahead full steam in certain programmatic areas. We’ve adjusted pretty well to this hole in our lineup, but it has taken its toll.

Sometimes I hear people say that, at least in terms of finance and personnel, churches should be run like businesses. I’m all for financial transparency, accountability and best practices in terms of human resources. But if you run a church like a business you get Christianity, Inc., not a collection of disciples committed to being transformed by Jesus Christ so they can help transform the world.

Still, there simply must be better and faster ways to fill pastoral vacancies than the PC(USA) system currently in use.

When I last served on a pastor nominating committee six or so years ago, we recognized the inherent sluggishness of the system and determined to play what we called “ready golf,” a way of playing on the links that allows for whoever is ready to hit next, even if protocol would require waiting.

That meant we moved ahead on several fronts at once instead of waiting to complete one task before beginning another. It worked out well, and the unreasonably optimistic timeline we created when we started turned out to be right on target — even though we also spent well over a year on the job and even though the time between one senior pastor and the next was closer to two years.

We’ll know in a year or so whether our newly called associate pastor has figured out who we are and how to help us get the best from ourselves and herself. But I wish that process for her and for us had begun six or eight months ago.

Bill TammeusBILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Missouri, and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. Email him at wtammeus@gmail.com.

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