How do we fit in?


There are a few Presbyterian churches in our area looking for pastors. We have a call process that doesn’t depend on bishops or placements. For the most part, the pastors and church decide mutually if God has called them, if they can work together, if it’s a “good fit.” These searching churches are all about 500-1000 members, in the black, basically healthy, free of major trauma (no murders or massive sex scandals), but they’re having a difficult time finding pastors.

I wonder why. I’m not intimately related to any of these churches, I just hear the whispers that float my direction. They say that there’s just nobody out there. No good candidates. No one they would consider hiring. A couple of churches are going through the entire arduous process a second time, because they couldn’t find anyone the first time.

Could that really be the case? Really?

I mean, I can point to a couple of odd birds floating around when our local governing bodies meet. I won’t name any names here, but we all know who I’m talking about.

The pastor who could not make eye contact with a parishioner if her very own life depended upon it.

Or, the one with a fuse so short that you duck under a table anytime something combustible comes up in a conversation.

Or, the one who loves the process, the polity, the prayers, and the position much, much more than the people.

Or, the one who is always saying something almost inappropriate, and you leave the room thinking, “Did that guy just hit on me?” There’s nothing you can put your finger on, exactly. But it’s the fourth time you’ve asked yourself this question, after leaving his presence.

We all know the characters. But, for the most part, we’re pretty good pastors. As far as IQ, we fall into the top twenty-five percent range. Most of us have a Masters degree, and many of us have Doctorates. So what’s going on? Why are churches having such a difficult time finding the right person?

I know what it’s been in my case. I have a really odd education for a progressive pastor. As a bona fide graduate of Moody Bible Institute, many churches that I apply for simply don’t look at the second page of my information. I hear hilarious stories from the nominating committee at Western, who did make it to the second page.

For instance, my husband was the moderator of Presbyterian Promise, an LGBT advocacy group in New England. But, somehow this fact got confused, and it was relayed to the committee that my husband was the President of Promise Keepers. It was almost all over for me at that point. Instead, they persisted in interviewing me, but they kept asking, “Now, can you explain that organization your husband’s the head of again?”

And I kept wondering, “Why is this church so concerned about what my husband’s doing in his free time?”

So, what is it? Is it that some pastors are like me, and just don’t look great on paper? Are congregations expecting too much? Are churches wanting the wrong things (good teeth, skinny wife, perfect children)? Are we hoping too hard for a flawless fit? Is it because churches are having such a difficult time with the gender issue that they reject half the qualified applicants from the get go? Are women pastors less willing to accept larger churches? Is it that good pastors are less mobile? Do we interview poorly? Are the sermon tapes bad? Could it be the odd, computer-generated, dating-game call process?

What is it?

photo’s by Wes Craft

6 thoughts on “How do we fit in?

  1. Could it be that they are looking for a white, male of about 45-55 years of age? Or they may be looking for their former minister. I was in an interview were I knew the previous minister. The entire interview were questions of me in comparison to him. When I proclaimed, “I just want you to know that I am not going to be Joe, I won’t work on the roof” I heard an audible gasp.

  2. My favorite interview memory was: We want someone dynamic. Well, they called me, and I was. After I left, later, howling, I wanted to ask them: Remember what you wanted? Do you know what dynamite DOES?

    PS later it was discovered that the dynamite really went off before I got there — an elder abusing boys in the youth group — I am glad to say it stopped on my watch, not that I knew it was going on — but believe me, that church smelled rotten. My point — most churches want a pastor to make everything and everyone feel good about themselves — which I don’t believe is our job description!

  3. I am not clergy of any kind, so my answer will be based on my experiences with the various ordained people I have encountered throughout the world. Ok, now that, that, is out of the way.

    Someone who is personable and can communicate in intelligent terms as well as simple non complex explanations. Someone who appears approachable and can find comfort in times when there seems to be none. A person who can be a leader and lead. Someone who seems to care when no one else will care.
    Someone who can be trusted.

  4. things that make you go hmmmm…. the problem where I am, I think, is that there are so many pastors of my denomination who think they want/or need to be here. Creates really high expectations. I sure wouldn’t mind interviewing at some of those places where they “just can’t find someone.” just curious. because I think I am a pretty good pastor.

    I do think Brian has a point. As my colleague once famously said, “most people still want a man.” with a few exceptions.

  5. There are an abundance of pastors here too. Not as many as there were in New England (very high pastor to low church ratio), but still… I think you’ve hit on it: the expectations may be unrealistic. All the important things that Wyldth1ng mentioned, plus the wife, teeth, kids, lifespan, and the dynamite! (Great story, Ruth!)

    Throughout seminary, we’re often forced to think about our expectations and verbalize why we want to become pastors. I wonder if the church does the same self-reflection. Do they wonder why they want a certain kind of pastor?

    I once read a Church Information Form that said they wanted someone like Paul, Mary, and Jesus, all put together. I thought that was cute. Until I accepted the call, and then I found out, they were serious.

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