PSD Call Manual
THE PROCESS OF CALLING A PASTOr
From time to time, in the life of every congregation, there arises the need to call a pastor, whether for a sole pastor, assistant, associate, senior or other pastoral role. Be comforted by the fact that yours is not the first parish to do so. The District President, Circuit Visitor, and other District staff are here to help you through the calling process.
The help and wisdom available to you as you begin this process has been memorialized as part of the bylaws of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:
Bylaw 2.5 Calling Ministers of Religion by Congregations
2.5.1 Congregations, school associations, agencies, auxiliaries, and recognized service organizations of the Synod shall seek the counsel of the appropriate district presidents when calling ordained or commissioned ministers.
(as amended at the 2019 convention)
The following process is a highly recommended call procedure, developed and refined over time within the Pacific Southwest District based on the experience of many hundreds of calling congregations. Confident in the Lord’s presence and provision, commit to follow through the process prayerfully and deliberately. Take the time and do the sometimes challenging work of earnestly seeking the Lord’s will for your congregation - go thoughtfully...go carefully...and go in prayer.
When Your Pastor Leaves: A Significant Time of Transition
The time of pastoral change is a significant time of transition within the congregation. Transition can be a very emotional and anxious time. But, under the Spirit’s guidance and blessing, this transition time can be a growing and strengthening experience for your congregation and its mission. This is why deliberate, earnest, ongoing prayer is not optional – it is essential.
Change is taking place. We are often not comfortable with change, but we know it happens. The transition typically has three phases:
an ending - letting go, saying “good-bye” in positive and healthy ways.
a transition period - an in-between time, a time for conducting self-study, assessing your future in mission and for creativity in lay leadership.
a new beginning – welcoming the new pastor and a new phase in ministry.
This transitional time can be one of great blessing and opportunity as the congregation reflects on the past and plans for its future mission and ministry. However, this does not minimize the emotions and feelings of loss which ordinarily occur when a pastor leaves. Most members in a congregation are in a state of surprise when their pastor decides to accept another call. They may anticipate being all alone and without help that they had counted on. Often there are natural questions:
Why did our pastor leave?
Didn’t he like us?
Who will take care of my family if someone dies?
Who will teach the confirmation class?
Can we continue as effectively as in the past?
What about members who seemed deeply attached to the former pastor? Will they continue their association with the congregation now that he is gone?
What will happen if our pastoral vacancy lasts longer than a year or two? Who will help us?
What about that practical member who says “Without Pastor ______ we’re going to splinter apart!”? (No matter how often they say it, it does not have to happen!)
As those and many other questions arise, it is easy to be discouraged and anxious. But remember several great truths! You were all drawn into the relationship of faith by the One who sows the seeds of faith, God Himself. He will never leave you or forsake you. In addition, your brothers and sisters in your circuit and in the Pacific Southwest District will contribute their influence and effort to bolster you and supply your needs for pastoral service. We will not abandon you, and are here to help lead you through the transition.
Also keep in mind that the decision to accept the call to another congregation, retire, or resign, generates many feelings and memories for your pastor. Regardless of the circumstances of his leaving, a grieving process begins for everyone. To help make the departing transition as pleasant as possible, an exit interview with your pastor may be appropriate. This could be conducted by the Board of Elders or other group assigned to this responsibility. Such an interview can provide information valuable in future planning as well as helping to determine the gifts, abilities, and strengths of the pastor to be called to fill the pastoral office.
You probably have no real idea how strong you are as a congregation. Just because you haven't done certain things does not mean that you can't! Trust the One who has never failed you and begin the calling process confident that this process, surrounded by God's gracious care, will help you discover your next pastor as you move into the wonderful future God has in mind for your congregation.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
Call Process Steps
See Appendix B for a Call Process Checklist based on these steps.
NOTE: If your congregation’s constitution and/or by-laws stipulates a specific call procedure different from what is provided below, follow what is stated in your constitution/by-laws.
Additionally, note that the following guidelines are written with the understanding that most congregations are served by one pastor. They may need to be modified to meet the needs of calling a pastor to a multi-staff position.
STEP 1: NOTIFY THE DISTRICT PRESIDENT, THE REGIONAL VICE-PRESIDENT AND THE CIRCUIT VISITOR AS SOON AS IT IS KNOW THAT A PASTORAL VACANCY WILL OR HAS OCCURRED
This should be done in writing as soon as you become aware that the office of the pastoral ministry in your congregation will be vacated. The chairperson of the congregation or Board of Elders usually sends this letter.
If a pastor has received and accepted a call to another congregation, he should:
Notify the president of the District he is in and the District to which he is going (if different) of his decision.
Ask the congregation for a peaceful release in writing from his call.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:16
STEP 2: MANAGE THE DETAILS OF CLOSING THE PASTORAL-CONGREGATIONAL RELATONSHIP: EXIT INTERVIEW, FUTURE RELATIONSHIP, FINANCIAL ISSUES, APPROPRIATE FAREWELL
Exit Interview: The pastor who is leaving or retiring should not take an active role in choosing his successor or in directing the call committee in its work. It is wise, however, to seek his opinions on the strengths and challenges of the congregation before he leaves. Your Circuit Visitor can assist you in developing an appropriate exit interview with the departing pastor.
Future Relationship: When a pastor departs or retires from a congregation, it is especially important to clarify his relationship with the congregation and with his successor. Going forward, it is proper and beneficial that the departing pastor is not to be involved in the ongoing mission and ministry of the congregation.
Financial Issues: When a pastor leaves, there are often financial issues which need to be addressed. Is there a down payment loan or other loan which must be repaid? What conditions are attached to that? Is the pastor due compensation for vacation time? Has an orderly transition been planned so that health benefits will be covered by either the old or the new congregation during the transitional period? In certain cases, when a pastor is not moving to retirement or immediately to another call, a transitional compensation package is appropriate. Generosity is encouraged concerning the transitional care of the pastor, especially where no other support system exists. These and other financial issues need to be discussed and acted upon before the pastor leaves.
Plan an Appropriate Farewell: When your pastor leaves, an appropriate farewell event or service of thanksgiving can give people the opportunity to express their appreciation of his ministry and to wish him and his family God’s blessings as they leave. In the case of a pastor who is retiring, a more elaborate farewell may be planned and a special service of thanksgiving in recognition of his years of ministry is very appropriate.
Communication: Clear, open and frequent communication is critical during this time. The Barna Group provides important perspective and research on this topic – search or click the following: “Communication Is Key In Periods of Pastoral Transition.”
STEP 3: SELECT AN INTENTIONAL INTERIM MINISTER, VACANCY PASTOR OR PULPIT SUPPLY PASTOR, DEFINE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF HIS WORK AND NEGOTIATE HIS COMPENSATION PACKAGE
As soon as the District President and the Circuit Visitor receive notice that your congregation will be needing a pastor, one of them will make arrangements for a meeting with your congregation’s governing board or council. Consult your congregation’s constitution to see if it designates a group to handle this responsibility.
The District President will work through the congregation chairperson to arrange for a meeting with your congregation, the Circuit Visitor and/or the Regional Vice-President. Depending on the circumstance, this meeting may be held before your present pastor transitions. This meeting will outline procedures, provide background information, and discuss your concerns.
At the meeting, there should be discussion concerning pastoral services and procedures during the pastoral vacancy. The Circuit Visitor or Regional Vice-President president will describe three levels of interim pastoral services as well as compensation for any vacancy pastoral services. Briefly stated the three levels are as follows:
Intentional Interim Minister (Divine Call): It may be recommended that your congregation consider calling an Intentional Interim Minister. Increasingly, congregations are deciding to intentionally delay the calling of the permanent pastor and take time for self-study, healing following conflict, review of mission, etc. In these instances, the services of an Intentional Interim Minister are strongly recommended. These are pastors who have special training and certification which enables them to provide not only full-time pastoral services during a vacancy, but skilled guidance in effectively working through the transition, including guiding you through your self-study period, developing a congregational and pastoral profile, and more. An Intentional Interim Minister is arranged for through the District President and is divinely called according to the manner specified in your congregation’s Constitution & Bylaws. It is District policy that the person who serves as Intentional Interim Minister is not to be considered as a candidate for the call. For more information on intentional interim ministry, visit interimministrylcms.org.
Vacancy Pastor: This is a pastor who is engaged by the congregation to provide pastoral services and coverage for worship on a regular basis. That basis may be either full-time or part-time, depending upon congregational needs. Very often the Vacancy Pastor is an active or retired pastor in your area. Specific responsibilities and compensation for the vacancy pastor should be clearly defined in writing. Your Circuit Visitor will assist you by recommending Vacancy Pastors and appropriate compensation guidelines. It is District policy that the person who serves as Vacancy Pastor is not to be considered as a candidate for the call. See Appendix A for a sample vacancy pastor agreement.
Pulpit Supply Pastor: The Pulpit Supply Pastor is one who confines his ministry to preaching at services or performing other very limited functions. The Pulpit Supply Pastor is not to be involved in church governance. Frequently more than one supply pastor serves the congregation, meaning that several pastors may take turns in a schedule of preaching duties. This is not recommended under ordinary circumstances. There are many drawbacks to this arrangement since it does not always provide the stability of a regular pastoral presence. At times, however, this is the only option available. It is also used as a temporary option to fill the pulpit until the congregation makes a decision regarding ongoing pastoral services during the vacancy. Your Circuit Visitor will assist you by recommending Pulpit Supply Pastors and appropriate compensation guidelines. It is District policy that the person who serves as Pulpit Supply Pastor is not to be considered as a candidate for the call.
It is also important to note that any pastor serving your congregation must be in good standing on the Clergy Roster of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Congregations calling a non-LCMS pastor can be expelled from Synod.
STEP 4: ESTABLISH A CONGREGATIONAL CALLING PROCESS (UNLESS THE PROCESS IS ALREADY SPECIFIED IN YOUR CONSTITUTION) AND A CALL COMMITTEE
Some congregations have the calling process clearly outlined in their constitution. If so, follow it. If not, determine whether there should be a special call committee, or whether the Board of Elders or the church council will serve in this capacity. Appendix C is a sample resolution that can help address this important matter.
As part of the process, your congregation will want to answer certain questions like, “When will meetings be held?”, “Who may vote at call meetings?”, and the like. Subsequent to the first meeting, the process for calling will be offered to the appropriate congregational group for adoption. Procedurally, from that time on, the congregation should be guided by whatever process its governing body has chosen. Spiritually, the congregation should be consistently and continually in prayer for God’s divine guidance through the whole calling process. Calling a pastor is not to be taken lightly but must be approached with the deepest level of spiritual conviction and fervor.
Assembling your call committee is one of the most important parts of your call process – be very prayerful for and mindful of whom you select. It is strongly recommended that the call committee be representative of the congregation (male, female, variety of years in membership, seniors, youth, attendees from different services, etc.). The call committee should not be comprised of a majority of present leadership, generally speaking. Ordained and commissioned workers may serve on the call committee provided they are not potential candidates and present no conflict of interest, and whose service will not impede your goal of representing your congregation as a whole. Your call committee should not include more than 9 or 10 people.
Be very wary of those who eagerly volunteer to serve on the call committee – they may have a hidden agenda that is not conducive to thoroughly and prayerfully going through the process. See Appendix D for tips on how to form your call committee, along with a sample questionnaire for prospective call committee members. See Appendix Q for sample communications related to forming the call committee.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
STEP 5: COMPLETE A SELF-STUDY OF YOUR CONGREGATION'S LIFE, MINISTRY & MISSION, AND A PASTORAL PROFILE
Congregations normally desire to move toward calling a new pastor as quickly as possible. It is critical that the call process move according to God’s timing, is bathed in prayer and is not rushed. An important part of this deliberate, thorough effort is conducting a self-study process, which should be initiated at the beginning of the pastoral vacancy. At a minimum, the congregation must complete the “Congregational Profile” form – see Appendix E and "Desired Pastoral Skills and Abilities" form - see Appendix R. This profile MUST be completed prior to calling for congregational nominations (see Step 6) and prior to sending your list of nominees to the District President. This information is critical to enable the District President to match potential candidates with the gifts, skills and attributes needed by your congregation.
Taking the time to do a thorough, honest self-study, however, will benefit your congregation in multiple ways as you conduct the call process. Your self-study should include the following elements (samples are available in Appendix F):
Your Context – Gain a current understanding of the neighborhood, community demographics and context in which your congregation has been called to do ministry.
An incredible, free tool to help you easily access powerful information on your context is Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s (LCEF) MissionInSite. MissionInsite’s PeopleView System™ uniquely integrates information about your congregants with demographic information to determine the best opportunities for advancing your ministry. To gain access to this information, simply contact Gail Kanneg in the District office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Congregation – Discover and come to a mutual understanding or affirmation of your congregation’s history, mission, vision, values, strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities. Congregational surveys, staff and leadership interviews, congregational focus groups and other methods are important ways to compile this information and ensure your congregation is heard. Ensure you study includes your school ministries, including preschool, K-8 school, etc. Also provide information about any preschools, schools or other entities to whom you rent space of facilities.
Pastoral Profile – As part of your survey, interview and focus group efforts, collect congregational feedback on the attributes needed in your next pastor. Themes will emerge from this data that will lead to a pastoral profile, essentially a description of the type of pastor your congregation needs to effectively fill the role as defined in a position description.
Desired Pastoral Skills, Abilities and Attitudes Profile – Found in Appendix R, this required form includes ratings on a scale from 1-5 on various skills and attitudes of the pastor you are seeking, and the top preferred attributes from those ratings. This provides a critical summary for the District President as part of the overall pastoral profile.
All people, including pastors have been uniquely created and gifted by God. In addition, each congregation has a unique context in which it does ministry, along with a unique body of members. Thus, it is important to align congregational needs with a pastor who has the specific gifts, talents, abilities and specialized skills your congregation requires. The self-study enables you to clearly identify what is needed for your ministry. Appendix F includes samples of self-study templates and reports.
Does your congregation have an assistant or associate pastor who is a potential candidate for a lead/senior pastor role? If so, there are special steps to take in order to preserve congregational unity and treat the pastor sensitively and appropriately. See Appendix G for more information.
Consult your Circuit Visitor for advice and assistance with your congregational self-study. Once completed, share the results of the self-study with the congregation. The self-study results should be submitted to the District office before the call list is compiled by the District President.
See Appendix Q for sample communications related to the self-study.
STEP 6: RECEIVE CONGREGATIONAL NOMINATIONS FOR THE OFFICE OF PASTOR
Unless otherwise stipulated in the constitution or bylaws of your congregation, all communicant members have the right to nominate any pastor in good standing on the Clergy Roster of The Lutheran Church―Missouri Synod. See Appendix H for a sample nomination form. (Other members of The Lutheran Church―Missouri Synod may also submit nominations for your congregation to the District President.) It is to be noted that though a pastor may be "in good standing on the Clergy Roster of the LCMS," there may be circumstances known to the District President's office that would preclude a pastor's name from a call list. For example, pastors who have served less than three years in their present parish are generally not considered as viable candidates.
Establish a deadline for the congregation to submit nominations – a two-week period is recommended. (Additional nominations may be made at any time during the vacancy but they will not necessarily be considered for the call list if they are received after a published deadline.) After the nomination period ends, send a letter to each person who submitted a nomination acknowledging receipt and include the name(s) of the nominees they submitted. See Appendix Q for sample communications.
IMPORTANT - Please be sure to instruct the members of your congregation to nominate only those pastors who possess the qualifications and experience necessary for the pastor of your congregation, as determined by the Pastoral Profile and the Congregational Self-Study. Nominated pastors also must be in good standing on the Clergy Roster of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This means that nominations from the members of your congregation should be neither requested nor received until AFTER Step 5 of this process has been completed and the results of the self-study have been shared with the congregation.
Nominated pastors must be in good standing on the Clergy Roster of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Congregations calling a non-LCMS pastor can be expelled from Synod.
STEP 7: FORWARD ALL NOMINEE NAMES RECEIVED
TO THE DISTRICT PRESIDENT'S OFFICE
Upon receipt of the list of nominees, the Pastoral Profile and the Congregation's Self-Study, the District President will request a Pastor’s Information Form (PIF) from each out-of-District nominee's District President. This form, completed by the nominee's District President, is returned to the Pacific Southwest District President and contains basic information about age, education, previous areas of service, family size and health. The Pacific Southwest District President will also request a copy of the Self Evaluation Tool (SET) completed by each nominee. For nominees currently in the Pacific Southwest District, the information described above will normally already be available to the Pacific Southwest District President's office. The District President will normally add additional qualified candidates to the congregation's call list.
NOTE: Any congregation wishing to consider calling a candidate from an LCMS seminary or church bodies in fellowship with the LCMS must contact the District President for special instructions.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
STEP 8: RECEIVE YOUR CALL PACKET FROM THE DISTRICT
After an evaluation of all the nominees, with the assistance of the other District staff, the District President will prepare the call list. This process can take from 4-6 weeks. The length of time is determined by a number of factors, many over which the District President has little or no control, e.g., the length of time it takes to receive information about pastors from other Districts or how long a pastor takes to update his PIF (Personal Information Form) or SET (Self-Evaluation Tool) if it is out of date.
After it has been reviewed by the District President, the call list, along with the PIF, SET and current congregation statistics for each nominee, will be sent to the congregation through the Circuit Visitor. In some cases, the Circuit Visitor may direct the call list to be sent directly to the congregation. (The PIF and SET documents are confidential and for the call committee's use ONLY. They are NOT to be duplicated for the whole congregation or distributed electronically. All printed copies should be collected and destroyed after a pastor accepts a call to fill the vacancy. The call committee is encouraged to write and publish a summary in preparation for the call meeting. See Appendix I for a sample summary.)
As mentioned before, men who have served less than three years in their present parish are not considered as viable candidates. Candidates may not be placed on the call list submitted to your congregation for any one of a number of reasons, ranging from personal problems, to service in a critical ministry, to personal desire, to evaluated inability to serve the unique ministry of your area, etc. Remember that if a name is not returned, it is only because the District President feels there are good and sufficient reasons, based on the needs of the congregation, the pastor involved, and the church-at-large. The District President will be happy to communicate such matters to the call committee and will provide information on individual candidates, at the committee’s request, as long as such information does not break confidence nor defame the man involved.
It is not acceptable to place the name of the Pulpit Supply, Vacancy or Intentional Interim Minister on the call list, although congregations sometimes feel the desire to nominate him. Two reasons this is the case:
Being the pastor in that place at that time gives this pastor a distinct advantage over a pastor who is lesser known and/or who lives at a greater distance, even though he may be very suited for the call.
A vacancy pastor may treat the congregation differently if he thought he would be a candidate for their pastor than if he knew he would not be. By the same token, men currently serving in your circuit or in a neighboring circuit will ordinarily not be placed on your congregation's call list.
When the District President returns a list of candidates for the office of ministry to a congregation, the first reaction may be disappointment at the modest amount of information apparently available. Every congregation desires substantial facts to aid them in the consideration of candidates. Answers to questions such as "Can we be sure he will understand our needs?" or "Can we be sure our congregation will like his style of ministry and preaching?” are simply impossible to provide. Pre-call interviews and onsite visits are recommended to give you more of that type of insight and understanding. See Appendix I for more information on handling interviews and onsite visits.
As a call list is prepared, factors considered include:
The candidate has met the standards of academic preparation, has faced and successfully responded to the minimum emotional, psychological and theological standards of his training, vicarage and practice as a pastor prior to his ordination and initial placement.
The candidate's health, the number and ages of the members of his family, his length of service in a given congregation, how many congregations he has served and for how long, are part of the information you receive and may wish to evaluate.
Each pastor on your list has been evaluated by his current District President in a number of categories. It is assumed that most of our pastors have more than average capability in all categories. Significant strengths or weaknesses, whether in character, ability or theology, will be included in his District President's report to your District President. This includes comments on family health, personal abilities and potential for different kinds of ministry in different kinds of places. Your District President evaluates this and, where it is appropriate, sends it on to you through your Circuit Visitor. We are very careful that, at this level, the Spirit is not impeded or that information that might be injurious to the candidate's good name is not broadcast. However, sincere and honest attempts are made to ensure that all important information is always given to the congregation.
Non-PSD candidates on your call list have been contacted by their District by phone to determine whether there is anything going on in his life or ministry that would make it very difficult for him to seriously consider saying ‘yes’ to your call if the Lord leads you to extend it to him. The Call Committee may wish to phone PSD candidates to ask the same question.
All candidates on the call list have had an opportunity to complete the Self Evaluation Tool (SET), a comprehensive questionnaire enabling the communication of a man's pastoral and theological beliefs and practices. Your call committee will receive and should thoroughly study the SET of each candidate for whom it is available, understanding that some men, for a variety of reasons, elect not to complete the SET. Likewise, when asked, some pastors may or may not agree to complete personality or other evaluation tools. A decision not to participate should not be used to prejudge a candidate.
STEP 9: PRAYERFULLY EVALUATE CANDIDATES
AND KEEP YOUR CONGREGATION INFORMED
When the call packet is received from the District office, ask the congregation to pray for the call committee as they evaluate the candidates towards the ultimate goal of narrowing the list to three or four names. Provide the congregation with a preview of the next steps you’re taking towards bring the congregation together to vote on whom to call as your pastor. It is important, however, that the full list of names of candidates are NOT disclosed to the congregation at this point. If names were disclosed, others in the congregation who are not part of the call committee will likely begin to do their own evaluations and make premature decisions in the absence of the information and discussions the committee has. This short-circuits what the call committee has been tasked to do.
A recommended process for evaluating candidates is available in Appendix J. Your Circuit Visitor is also ready and available to provide consultation in this area. The major steps in the process are:
1. First Contact: Availability and Willingness
After completing your initial evaluation of candidates based on PIF and SET information, agree on the initial list of candidates you want to contact. The goal for this initial contact is determine their availability and willingness to engage with your congregation at this stage in the call process. It is proper to ask “Is there any reason why you could not, at this time, give serious consideration to a call?” and “Are you willing to be on a call list at this time?”
This initial contact should include a letter and some brief information on your congregation. See Appendix Q for sample communications with candidates.
For candidates that respond that they are unavailable or unwilling to participate at this time, send a letter thanking them for their consideration and blessing them in their future ministry.
2. Follow-up: Detailed Information and Scheduling Phone/Video Interviews
For those candidates responding that they are available and willing to participate, provide them with a second packet of detailed information about your congregation. Provide materials such as your self-study report, history of your congregation, vision/mission/values, descriptions of your governance board, staff position descriptions and profiles, information on your community, relevant web links, etc. Along with these materials, communicate your next steps and timeframe to the candidate. This will include scheduling phone or video interviews with candidates.
Your District President strongly encourages pre-call interviews. Make use of phone calls, video calls and face-to-face visits – these are tools available to help in seeking the Lord’s will. Pre-call interviews are encouraged based on the account of the filling of an apostolic vacancy by the first group of Christian believers as described in Acts 1:15-26 and on the basis of the successful experience of many congregations who have chosen to follow this suggestion.
NOTE: Not every LCMS pastor will consent to a pre-call interview. This should not disqualify the candidate from consideration.
The goal of the phone/video interviews is to give you a fuller picture of the candidate, how he communicates and personally relates, his experience and perspective on ministry, success and challenges, etc., all leading to the development of your short list of candidates to bring on to your campus for visits. It’s also an opportunity for the candidate to learn more about the congregation, mission and ministry. See Appendix I for information on the propriety of conducting pre-call interviews and guidelines on conducting interviews.
It is very important that the call committee debrief as soon as possible after each interview, discussing their impressions and personal evaluation of the candidate. A written summary of the interview should be prepared and used as a basis for providing information to the congregation about the candidate if they are on your short list.
4. Onsite Visits
Once your call committee has conducted interviews and arrived at a short list, you will likely want to bring them to your campus for visits. These are important opportunities to meet staff, tour facilities and communities, and engage in conversation and Q&A with your congregation. Publish the names of the candidates who will visit and their biographical information. It is important that visits do not include candidates being asked to preach. See Appendix I for information on pre-call visits. See Appendix Q for a sample onsite visit agenda.
5. Background Checks
See Appendix P for information on conducting background checks.
Be led by the Holy Spirit
Remember that the historic position of The Lutheran Church―Missouri Synod on the question of calling pastors is a theological position. We believe God has a pastor for our congregations and that, through the Holy Spirit, He will guide you to find this person for your congregation. For this reason, we always extend calls in the context of prayer for God's guidance. People of God have constantly recognized the limitations of their own human abilities to choose ministerial candidates correctly and have joyfully lived within the boundaries of that limitation, expecting God to act and speak through the minds of His people. Place no artificial barriers in the way of a Spirit-led process! Place no limitations on God's power to act!
Use every means available to develop as clear an understanding as possible of each candidate's unique qualifications – yes, the Holy Spirit works through means! But remember that even with computerized facts, psychological tests, in-depth personal interviews and the like, apparent failures may occur. This at least suggests that these methods are not infallible.
Even a study of past performance leaves much to be desired, for there is no assurance that the same conditions exist that will permit a repetition of that past performance. Nor will you always know the reason why, at another time and place, a man did very well, or failed rather miserably. The facts of the past and face-to-face interviews are extremely important, when approached with the prayer that God will speak to and through the congregation in the calling process.
STEP 10: ESTABLISHMENT OF COMPENSATION
AND CALL DOCUMENT PREPARATION
Prior to the call Meeting, the appropriate board or committee should establish the salary and other fiscal compensation, vacation, education benefits, specialized needs and expectations, and a ministry description. Questions of unique duties and other aspects should be considered before the call meeting as it applies to the respective candidates. There may be a need to make some individual adjustments, but the basic parameters should have been laid out. Appropriate allowances and provisions may be needed for specific areas of tenure and experience, e.g., Pastoral Leadership Institute (PLI), sabbatical or Post Seminary Applied Learning and Support (PALS). See the District salary guidelines available from www.psd-lcms.org to assist in determining appropriate compensation for church workers. Note that these are only guidelines for compensation – your particular context and situation may call for adjustments to the compensation package.
Call documents should be completed before the call meeting. Prepare to have all signatories present at the call meeting, i.e. president of the congregation, chair of the call committee, etc. See Appendix K for information on obtaining and completing call documents. You should consider questions of salary, unique duties, and other questions before the call meeting as it applies to the respective candidates. These are matters for discussion and resolution during the vacancy period. The Circuit Visitor and the congregation should review salary guidelines from the District to assist them in providing appropriate salary, housing, benefits and expense reimbursements for their pastor-elect and his family.
It is strongly recommended that the Circuit Visitor reviews the call document packet before sending.
Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26
STEP 11: ESTABLISH THE DATE AND PROCEDURE FOR THE CALL MEETING
Once the call list is received, the process for evaluating each pastor’s qualifications is completed, establish a date for a call meeting and make this date known to the congregation, along with the names to be recommended and their biographical information. Please remember that any procedures outlined in your constitution take precedence for assembling your list to bring before the voters at the call meeting.
The call meeting may be a Call Service. In the context of worship, the process of calling is very meaningful and uplifting. This service should be developed in consultation with the Circuit Visitor. See Appendix L for a sample Call Meeting Worship.
Whether you call in the context of a worship service or a meeting, normally a written ballot should be used in the selection with the names of those being considered as clarified by your Constitution or agreed upon in Step 3. Voting by proxy is strongly discouraged. Absentee ballots should not be permitted. The basic intent is that the activity of balloting should reflect the latest and best information disclosed at the meeting. In addition, balloting takes place within the context of Scripture readings and prayers.
When one candidate has a majority, unless otherwise stipulated by the constitution of the congregation, the balloting is complete. If this is not achieved on the first ballot, the candidate with the least number of votes should be dropped and a second ballot taken. If a third ballot is required to achieve a majority, the congregation may follow the same procedure and continue until the necessary majority is achieved.
At the conclusion of the balloting, it is recommended that a resolution be requested to make the selection unanimous. The president may say (while not required by our Constitution or Bylaws), "I would be very happy to receive a motion to make the ballot unanimous." The failure of such a resolution, by the way, would not invalidate the election. It is intended only as a sign of unity and commitment to a common cause, and for the called pastor to know the congregation is united in calling him.
STEP 12: IMMEDIATELY NOTIFY THE PASTOR-ELECT OF HIS SELECTION
AND SEND THE PROPER CALL DOCUMENTS
The president of the congregation, chair of the call committee or the Circuit Visitor should attempt to notify the pastor-elect of his election immediately by phone while the meeting is still in session. If some unforeseen circumstance indicates that the pastor-elect cannot give serious consideration to the call, there would still be time to elect another.
Where others must participate in the call, as in the instance of financially assisted parishes, secure the proper congregational signatures on the documents and forward them to the other participants as quickly as possible.
Normally the pastor-elect should be sent the Call Document and other supporting materials, documents and information within a day or two. (See Appendix K.) Scanning and emailing a copy of the completed call documents after the meeting provides the pastor-elect an opportunity to begin deliberating the call right away but does not eliminate the need to send the hard copies in a timely fashion. In addition, a printed copy of the call documents should be sent to the District President.
Inform the pastor-elect that a background check will be done, with the call extended pending a clear report. Provide the proper forms for the pastor-elect to complete in order to conduct the background check. See Appendix P for more information.
Once the call has been issued, the pastor-elect and his family can be invited for a post-call visit with all expenses paid by the congregation. Keep your pastor-elect in your prayers and be prepared to do all within your power to assist him in his decision. Your District staff will do the same.
Contact those who were interviewed but not called
As a matter of courtesy on the part of the Circuit Visitor or the congregation, also notify the individuals who were under consideration, but not called. Send a very simple note to thank them for their patience, openness and willingness to participate.
Negotiating the call
A natural, beneficial part of the call process is discussion and negotiation between the pastor-elect and the calling congregation. You should maintain an attitude of flexibility, openness and transparency as you answer questions from the pastor-elect and his wife as they deliberate over the call. Provide sincere consideration to requests for adjustments to the compensation package, handling of moving expenses, potential dates and timeframes for the transition, etc.
Do not feel that simply because the pastor-elect is raising questions or offering options that he is minimizing the divine nature of the call. Nor should you feel compelled to fulfill any and all requests from the pastor-elect simply because he asks. As you engage with the pastor-elect in these discussions, strive to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement for compensation and other elements of the call. Working towards this goal helps to lay the groundwork for a lasting, fruitful relationship for the congregation and pastor.
STEP 13: NOTIFY THE DISTRICT PRESIDENT THAT THE CALL HAS BEEN SENT
Even though a copy of the call documents have been sent to the office of the District President, it's also helpful to phone or email the news to the president's office. Keep your pastor-elect in your prayers and be prepared to do all within your power to aid him in his decision. Your District President, Regional Vice President and Circuit Visitor will do the same.
Note for Pastors: It is important that you communicate well when you have received a call, especially if you are serving an existing congregation. See Appendix M for some information on how best to communicate that you have received a call.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
STEP 14: THE CALL IS ACCEPTED OR DECLINED
STEP 14a: IF THE CALL IS ACCEPTED, PLAN FOR ARRIVAL, INSTALLATION AND ONGOING MUTUAL MINISTRY
When your pastor-elect notifies you of his acceptance of the call which has been extended by your congregation, it is important that you be in touch with him to arrange for such things as moving schedule, transfer of responsibility for benefits plans, and a service of installation. Your Circuit Visitor and District office can be of help in planning these things. Authorization for installation must be granted by the District President.
Your incoming pastor usually is the one who plans the service of installation. They can, however, defer to the congregation. See Appendix N for sample installation and ordination/installation services.
Note that it is highly suggested that the words of installation are not printed in the installation service folder. This is to help ensure the congregation’s attention is focused on the rite of installation. Contact the President’s office at the District for guidance on installation services.
Building a Smooth Transition and a Good Relationship
Begin a process of transition by being flexible and supportive. There are many matters to address in his present ministry. This takes time. Don’t wait for them (him, his wife and family) to ask for assistance, offer it. Issues like schools, finances, banking, grocery stores, doctors, immediate housing, etc., are all needs to be addressed. Show them the Christian love and support that led you to call him to be your pastor.
It is critical that a good relationship is built between the pastor and the congregation. This is foundational to a beneficial, effective partnership in your ministry and mission together. See Appendix O for information on building that relationship.
A recommended resource that provides important guidance for congregations on supporting their church workers is Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands: Supporting Church Workers by Dr. Bruce M. Hartung. It’s available from Concordia Publishing House (cph.org). This book presents the challenges church workers face daily, along with positive and encouraging strategies for how you and your congregation can support your pastor and other church workers. Come alongside your church workers to support them in body and spirit as they nurture the body of Christ.
STEP 14b: IN CASE THE FIRST PASTOR YOU CALL DECLINES
It is entirely possible, as you might realize, that the first pastor you call may, after due consideration, decline to accept the Call. It is important to inform the Circuit Visitor, Regional Vice-President, and District President that the call was declined. The call committee normally then consults with the Circuit Visitor and District President to form a recommendation about continuing with the current list of candidates or whether to pause in the process to add names to the list. It is also important for the individual members of your congregation to know that names may be offered to the call committee for consideration and reviewed by the District President up to a stated deadline.
As you provide a communication to the declining pastor acknowledging his decision, you may wish to ask the reasons they declined. This can be valuable information and perspective for your congregation as you continue with the call process.
STEP 15: EXPRESS THANKS AND APPRECIATION
Once your elected candidate has accepted the call to become your new pastor and been installed, one person you should remember is your Circuit Visitor. He does not receive a stipend for his work as Circuit Visitor, unless he also serves as vacancy pastor, which involves separate responsibilities and appropriate compensation. Rather, he usually takes time away from his own work or from his family time to do the extra work of a Circuit Visitor guiding a congregation through the phases of the calling process. It is appropriate to plan some way of saying thanks to him for his ministry in your midst during the time of your pastoral vacancy.