I'm in the middle of searching for a new call, and am wondering what to do when a church loves you but you're not entirely sure they're the right fit for you. If a search committee tells you that you are their top choice (or one of three), but you have hesitations, how do you proceed? It's so hard to get a good read on them only from written material or from phone conversations (especially if it's one where the committee passes the phone around the room to speak, so they're hard to hear too!), and I want there to be plenty of room for the Spirit to move...but do I agree to visit a church I have reservations about?
And the follow up, of course: when a church wants you, but you don't feel called there, how do you let them down? What words are appropriate, how should it be handled, etc?
(yes, this is my first search process...help!!)
Martha, blogging at Reflectionary, writes:
A good friend went to an interview with a church he had some doubts about, and during the discussion he asked a question about church leadership that left the committee dumbfounded with its perspicacity. He had picked up on something that made them as uncomfortable as it made him curious.
He did not get the job. He really didn't want it. But he tells me he concluded he had been sent there to ask the question.
I think it's important to interview in person as many times as you can, especially when searching for a call is a new experience. We have no idea what work God might be doing in the process until it's over, and sometimes not even then.
I tell the story about my friend for a second reason: in searches at various points in his career, he talked to any church that wanted to talk to him. I think most male pastors do this. Many of them keep a profile (or whatever it might be called depending on your denomination) out there floating around all the time. I find women clergy more inclined to play for keeps, as if we're betraying some ideal of perfection just by having a conversation. I encourage you to have as many interviews and site visits as possible. The more churches you see, the more pulpits you stand in, the more towns you visit, the more church members you meet and get to know, the more you'll learn about the difference between existential hesitations, badly written church profiles and actual red flags -- and the better able you are to discern where God is calling you.
And Jennifer responds:
I think it’s necessary to visit with a search committee in person. Go, with your questions, and listen for the Spirit’s surprise or confirmation of the sense that you’re getting from afar. I don’t think a visit implies that you would accept the call, if offered.
If you get further along in the process, and still have reservations, be sure you voice them in such a way that the committee, or their references, can speak to them so that you can make the best choice.
Calls should be mutual. I think it’s appropriate to say that, to share what you like and appreciate about them, and also what it is in your life that is not confirming that sense of call. Genuine, faithful conversation should allow for such dialogue, so that the Spirit can truly speak in your midst and in the midst of the congregation.
And Muthah+ offers:
I think that being very open with the congregation is very important. If you do not feel called to a place, tell them that. But be sure to tell them that it ISN'T about them. However if it IS about them, such as you see real difficulties in the way that they run their church that is not in keeping with how you do, tell them. Do it in a kind way. They deserve to know if there are things that they are doing that do not proclaim God's message.
If there are issues that are particular to you, share that too. They are not just trying to fill a place--they are trying to incorporate someone into their family. Slowly we will be able to help congregations understand that they cannot use the business model of employment when they call a pastor.
I am thankful that you have been able to recognize that this is NOT a place where you are being called and are saying so. You aren't falling into that "I have to have a job" trap that so many of us often devolve into.
You continue in my prayers as you discern your call.
Thank you, Matriarchs, for your wise words! What about the rest of you? What have you learned along the way about how to handle this? Please join the conversation in the comments section. And, as always, if you have a question for the matriarchs to respond to, please send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.