Last night, I was reading over a church information form, the document that we use to match up pastors and congregations. Do you know these forms? Do you have them in other denominations? We peruse them when we’re looking for jobs. Although that’s not why I was looking over it, I was reading one for a friend.
There are a whole lot of seminarians right now, sorting through these forms, wondering where they’ll end up.
It’s interesting. When I’ve been looking for a call, there are certain forms that convey a warm acceptance, and others that don’t. There are always certain things that immediately turn me off when I read these. It’s like a primal gut reaction that cries out, “Ugh. I’m not going there.” Which becomes a prayer, “Oh, dear God, please don’t make me go there.” Here’s a sampling (not from my friend’s form!):
A rural church of less than 100 members needs an applicant to have four years of experience. Someone forgot to notify them of the clergy shortage.
Descriptions like “Bible-believing.” I know at this point that they’re not talking about me. But why? I believe in the Bible. Who in this profession doesn’t believe the Bible?
Referring to the Bible as capital “T,” The Word. When this is a red flag for me, does it automatically prove that I’m not sufficiently Bible-believing?
When they refer to the pastor as “he.” They’re leaving out half the candidate pool. Do they really want to do that? Oh yeah… I guess they do.
When they refer to God as “He.” I’m perfectly happy to let this one slip. But when it’s constantly repeated, then I begin to wonder.
Then there are declarations like God’s people are called to holiness in all aspects of life, and His standards for holiness do not change to accommodate contemporary culture. I’ve got to put that one down because… well… I’m not sure exactly what they’re talking about. But I am sure that I’m not holy enough to be their pastor. And, I’m confused. What’s so bad about contemporary culture?
Then there’s that tough one… when there’s a juxtaposition of these two sentences:
It would be great to have a pastor who could help us to attract more young families into the church. We have an older congregation who expects pastoral visits. These two things certainly don’t have to be mutually exclusive. But to do the first one, there will be less time spent on the second one. I wonder if they understand that. “Expects” is a strong word. Are they willing to give up some of their pastor’s time in the living room so that s/he can work with young families? Because young families don’t usually expect home visits, but they take time too.
It seems like churches either want an exact clone of the last person, or the exact opposite. Often, their forms reveal a larger situation. I love the succinct sentences that hint to something much larger looming in the past. For us, that’s usually disclosed in the “Characteristics Needed” section. Here’s a sample:
Our next pastor will be a strong leader with enough confidence and compassion to be able to listen without feeling threatened. Listen without feeling threatened? Wait just a minute, what will s/he be listening to, exactly? Perhaps the church might want to have a discussion about why their pastors might feel threatened in conversations. It might not be all the pastor’s fault.
Characteristics needed: Someone who trusts that his personal needs will be met by the church. Really? All of them? Wow. That must be some kind of church! It’s just a small sentence, but it’s like a tiny window peering into a hugely dysfunctional home. I wonder what happened to make that a needed characteristic. My writer’s imagination is taking off now….
What’s a red flag for you when you read these forms? What are the things that set you off personally? What should churches know not to put on the form? What do you look for?
photo’s by Shay