If you haven’t heard, I have another call. In addition to the existing call to the Providence CanRC in Hamilton, I have received a call to the Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania. One of my friends from the Philippines asked me to write about this mysterious process of considering calls. I’ve only gone through this five times, so I’m not an expert. Moreover, I’m quite positive that there is not just one way to go about it. Other pastors probably have different approaches and I’m not judging them. So here I’m just going to outline my basic approach. It may give some ideas to other pastors in a similar situation and it may also give parishioners some idea of how (some) pastors reach a decision.
The first and most important element of considering a call is prayer. Throughout the process you have to regularly bring this before the Lord and ask him for wisdom and insight. The importance of this needs to be stressed. While I have a process that I follow, it is not a mechanical process where I leave the Lord out of it. No, if I’m going to honour him with this process, he needs to be involved from the beginning to the end. We have to acknowledge him in all our ways and that means proceeding in prayerful dependence, even while we use the mind he gave us to discern the direction to go.
There are two major steps in my approach. Sometimes it happens that after the first step everything is clear and the second step can be either skipped or abbreviated. Both steps involve serious and prayerful reflection on yourself, the existing call, and the call presenting itself.
First, I have what I call the “Obvious Red Flag” step. There can be signs in your existing call that you’ve passed the “best before date” and it’s time to move on. Perhaps your ministry isn’t as fruitful as it once was. Perhaps there are factors endangering the fruitfulness of your ministry in the future. You have to listen to what’s being said by the office bearers and congregation members. Sometimes the writing seems to be on the wall. But there can also be red flags in the new call. To detect them, I believe it’s very important to travel to that church and ask some very well-designed questions of the consistory and congregation. You need to spend time with the people, not only to become familiar with their needs, but also to discern whether there would be anything that would stand in the way of you working fruitfully there. Sometimes you’ll visit and afterwards it will be crystal clear that you’re the wrong man for that particular church. Then the decision could be clear. But it could also happen that the existing call has all the red flags and the new call has no red flags. Again, the decision could be clear, so long as other factors are not at play.
But what if there are no red flags in the existing call and no red flags in the new call? What if it seems that you could work fruitfully in either context? That’s where the second step comes in to play.
I’ll call the second step, the “Factor Weighing” step. You draw up a list of pros and cons associated with both the existing call and the new call. Not only do you have to list all the factors, they also have to be weighed and given priority. I assign a numerical value of 1-10 to each of the factors, 10 being of highest importance and 1 the lowest. The sub-total of the cons get subtracted from the sub-total of the pros. You’ll get a value for each call and that gives you some quantitative idea of what you’re facing. It’s not that this necessarily decides it in a final way, but it can help to give you some clarity. This second step of the process should be reviewed regularly during the time of consideration. New factors might present themselves and need to be weighed.
Throughout both steps, I would be in constant conversation with my wife and kids. They’re also a very important part of the picture and their needs and situation need to be considered.
Even though it’s sometimes hard to discern the direction, an answer will usually start to form. Once you’ve gotten there, it’s good to sit on it for a week or two in order to be sure you’re at peace with it. Of course, you pray about it and ask the Lord to give you peace of mind with it. Then it’s time to inform the churches. That can be hard too, because most likely you’re going to disappoint someone somewhere. It’s a gut-wrenching process, to be sure. But we need to trust that the Lord will guide our decision-making and have us where we need to be.