Thursday, October 27, 2005

How do we select our Pastors?

The following is my response to a letter I received expressing concern about some research that I am doing with my fellow intern. The premise is that we are going to look at the personality of the pastoral candidate and the expectations of the congregation to help the congregation make an informed choice when calling a new pastor. The objection related to the use of anything but scriptural guidelines in this venture.

Mr. (Name withheld),

Thank you for taking the time to express your misgivings about this research.

I agree that finding a Shepard who is willing to feed his flock from the bounty of the Gospel of Christ is the ultimate concern for any call to ministry. The scriptural guidelines about what kind of man should be called as a minister should be followed as divine imperative. I agree with you that many congregations are far too concerned about growth and looking to the world’s criteria for success (big buildings, broad reaching “ministries”, etc.) than looking for a faithful servant of the Word and sacraments.

Consider however what happens when a church is operating as it should, as a body of believers under a faithful Shepard and then the beloved minister decides to retire or dies. The congregation does not disperse, but as a body with affection for one another, tries to find someone else who can lead them. There are plenty of candidates with the proper credentials who profess the faith, who subscribe to our confessions, and who preach sermons full of the gospel. How then do you choose? Do we cast lots? Do we pray and wait for God to give us direct revelation for this choice? Do we ask for a sign? As a Lutheran influenced by Dr. Veith’s understanding of calling, I think that it is our duty to begin with the scriptures and also to apply whatever other tools we have available to make a wise choice. Some churches will look at a candidate’s financial records as an indicator of how faithful he is in his stewardship. Some do extensive psychological testing to see the pastor’s likelihood for extra-marital temptation, etc. When a congregation chooses to do an interview with a candidate, they are looking at personality variables, the research that we are doing is simply making these personality variables more quantifiable.

This study is based on a five-factor model of personality that measures the traits of Emotional stability (those low on emotional stability are more prone to anxiety and distress), Extraversion (an outgoing quality versus someone who needs more time alone and does not necessarily enjoy crowds), Openness to Experience (someone high on this factor would enjoy being widely read and intellectually oriented), Agreeableness (the tendency to trust versus a more skeptical approach, extremes in either direction can become problematic) and Conscientiousness (a quality of an individual in which a sense of duty is the driving motivator for their behavior). The five factors have been shown to be relatively stable over the life span, people do tend to become less Open to experience as they age for example, but not much.

Whether a pastor is high or low in Agreeableness (for example) probably wouldn’t affect his ability to preach the gospel and properly administer the sacraments, but it may affect how he gets along with the other leadership in the church. People who are extremely high in Agreeableness are trusting to a fault and are likely to be taken advantage of, whereas those who are very low on Agreeableness are stubborn and may insist on their own style rather than accommodating to the congregation’s expectations at all. People would be much more likely to approach the high Agreeable pastor in times of need and request visits. Those who have a pastor with low Agreeableness would have to learn how to ask for the care that they needed.

We can talk about what level of each of these factors is ideal, but I don’t think we will find a Biblical proposition about that. We know that Jesus did not trust people fully because he knew what was in the hearts of men. We also know that He is approachable and kind. We will not find pastors who are perfect. Our research will not be aimed at “trying to make Congregations feel good about their choices” but to look at pastor’s strengths and help congregations to make wiser choices.

I don’t have numbers for Lutherans, but one study showed that a full quarter of pastors have been forced to resign, fired or pressured to leave their congregation at some point in their ministry. We are thinking from a perspective of avoiding ‘burnout’ for pastors who are trying to accommodate congregations that they are not well suited to deal with. From a vocational psychology standpoint, a match between person and environment equates to job satisfaction and retention. In a church, the congregation largely constitutes this working environment.

Lutherans have historically been pretty open to science, being ‘earthy’ as we are. When we apply science technology to the church herself, we get nervous. I too struggle mightily about my calling as a scientist and a confessional Lutheran. I have set up a website on which I post thoughts about this. If you are interested, it can be found at

Your citation of Paul is interesting to me in that it seems that Paul had a completely different personality than did Peter and both were chosen for God’s work albeit in different settings. I think this is the question we are seeking to answer, “what setting is ideal for what pastor?”

Your comparison of Saul and David is also very powerful to me. One of my early Pastors would glory in his squeaky voice because to him it was an example of God using a weakness to display His Glory. I agree. God does use the weak things of this world to put to shame the strong. He was also a careful scholar and he preached in an exegetical style. He came to the ministry because these strengths could be used effectively. Should we as Christians choose vocations for which we are distinctly disadvantaged to do well in the name of God using our weakness? I think Dr. Veith talks about the chosen cross not being a cross at all. We are guaranteed to suffer in our vocations, but we should want to do well in them, to love and serve our neighbor in the way that we are best equipped to do so. I think this applies to ministers when they must choose how they will serve the people of God, wither it is as pastor, chaplain for the armed forces, missionary, etc.

Finally, I thank God that you have a Pastor who teaches the scriptures faithfully. Perhaps it is my ecclesiology that needs to be refined, but I feel that a congregations should grow together to love and serve one another and develop as a family. I do not think that a Church family should be abandoned if a pastor whom we select begins to appear a bit too….legalistic, pietistic, “relevant”, etc., but that it is our duty to encourage him to preach the gospel. This is another area of great blessing that God has given the Lutheran church, that we know the Pastor to hold a divine office, but to struggle in his vocation as we all do. He is pressured on every hand, from the synod, from well-meaning factions in the congregation, from the world at large, to sacrifice the gospel in the name of other values. The danger for any individual who is looking for perfection is that he or she could end up constantly in search of the perfect Pastor rather than being led by an imperfect Pastor on this side of eternity to know the One who is our true Sheppard.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write to me. I have appreciated the opportunity to wrestle with legitimate concerns and clarify my own thinking.


Blogger HereISit said...

Context: Having just been on a call committee AFTER our church had a pastor who was/is a great preacher but some people didn't care for in other contexts; AFTER our church having an interim pastor who was great in other contexts, but whose sermons just didn't catch peoples' interests because they were long and repetative, even though they were Biblical......

So some questions have been in my mind through these months.

Do we want a pastor who preaches the Gospel but only in a feel good way? What about Comforting the aflicted and aflicting the comfortable? Should we just hear about Grace? Should we be challenged to live as Jesus challenged us to live? What if these challenges are counter to our culture? Such as against materialism, divisions between people, and possibly anti-war or against government policy?

What if God is calling a person to this ministry because the congregation is too comfortable? What if the congregation has been like a club and perceived as excluding some segments of the community? What if God wants a pastor there who isn't really a good fit with the present congregation?

What if God has placed a strong call to ministy on a woman for this particular church?

4:55 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home