It’s been many years since homework, in the going-to-school sense, has factored into my daily life. And I confess that, back in those days, I wasn’t very diligent in its completion. I thought of it as unimportant busywork, and therefore not to be taken seriously. (In all honesty, much of it was busywork. But still.) There were always more interesting pastimes, like reading a book or helping my mother bake cookies. Homework was to be avoided when possible, rushed through with a “good enough” attitude when unavoidable.
In the course of administering the search and call process for the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Conferences, I correspond every day with ministers who would like their Ministerial Profile sent to a church or churches seeking a pastor. A profile includes a number of elements beyond the job history and formal education that might be found in a typical resume: a description of the candidate’s path to ministry; ongoing continuing education and community and wider church involvement; descriptions of key accomplishments and lists of specialized skill sets; written references; a detailed self-appraisal; and a series of self-disclosures regarding ethical performance along with a national background check. Many of these items must be supplied in the form of short essays. Preparing a profile certainly is a formidable task. Candidates strive to write engaging, informative text that fits the limited space allowed. “Good enough” isn’t good enough—their next pastoral call is at stake—so most candidates take this homework very seriously indeed.
Churches seeking their next settled pastor also have homework. In preparation for their search, they complete a lengthy and detailed Local Church Profile that requires a comprehensive inward-looking analysis of mission, activities, history, and finances. Completing the Local Church Profile also requires the church to look outwards, assessing its place and role in the community. Local leaders are invited to provide their own impressions of the church’s civic engagement. The church’s profile thus becomes first a tool by which a congregation understands itself and, then, a means by which it honestly reveals itself to a potential pastor.
When church and candidate come together in mutual consideration, and have reviewed one another’s profiles, the importance of their homework is revealed. These painstakingly crafted profiles become foundational to a careful exploration by each party of one another’s strengths and weaknesses, areas of fit and friction, and opportunities for synergy. Areas of concern are identified; questions about prior experiences, good and bad, arise; theological agreements and differences are highlighted. And then, the discussions begin. Good homework on both sides facilitates deeper, more thoughtful conversations and more careful discernment, which in turn leads to a greater likelihood of a fruitful joint ministry between a church and its called pastor.
Our regional Associate Conference Ministers guide the crucial homework that precedes the active discernment phase of search and call, encouraging churches and candidates alike to highlight their strengths, admit their weaknesses, offer their skills, and celebrate their unique characteristics. They encourage, cajole, criticize (constructively), and generally support congregations and ministers through the stress of pastoral transition. As they walk with our churches and candidates throughout this process, and in everything else they do, they model the God who walks with us, and they help us to remember that in matters of deepening our faith and helping make God’s love and justice real, God wants our best efforts, our best selves—not just “good enough.” God wants us to do our homework, too.
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