Tuesday, October 23, 2012

If you're going to do it, do it right.

Interviewing candidates for calls is here to stay. It's not ideal perhaps, but it's the reality. So, if interviewing is here to stay, we may as well do it right. Besides, pastors typically don't interview for posts they have no desire or inclination to take. Pastors interview because they're looking. So put your best foot forward. Take it seriously.

Interviewing, especially phone interviews, are awkward. They are like blind dates. Everyone is nervous, and no one gets a true picture of what the other is really like. However, you can help take the edge off, which makes you memorable, and even in some cases, likable. And when interviewing memorable and likable are important.

First, even though this may not be your default personality, try to be outgoing. And that means be conversational. You don't have to be outgoing Worldview Everlasting style, ala Rev. Jonathan Fisk, although it wouldn't necessarily hurt. Just use a tone that communicates interest and warmth. Greet them. Ask questions. Take an interest in who they are and what they've been through. And this may require a little research. Look at their Web site. Google the congregation. Find out if a classmate or friend is in the circuit. You're looking for information you can use to ask some questions that engage the people on the committee about who they are, how they see themselves, etc. This shows your interest and care, but it might also prove helpful to you if the call comes to you.

Second, pray with them. I know it sounds cheesy to pray over the phone. But from the circuit counselors I've talked to, the one thing that puts a candidate's name at the top of the list is praying with the committee after the interview is over. Pray that they would receive a pastor. Pray that they won't lose heart during the process. For there are a lot of Lutheran things that the laity of the LCMS don't believe anymore or have forgotten about, but they still believe in prayer. So pray with them.

Third, if you haven't already, review and update your SET and your PIF. Congregations and call committees are looking at them, and they care about what you've written. So take some time to know what you have written, and be ready to explain further any questions the committee may have about them

Then do what you might do for any job interview. Take some time to review interview best practices and how-tos. Learn what some of the top-asked interview questions are and be prepared to answer them. Have some questions of your own for the committee. But just don't ask them like this:


  1. I did not know that interviews were here to stay or that interviews were even being done by most congregations. So, when does something become the norm when many congregations don't communicate with the others?

    Every pastor we've ever Called was taken from a list compiled by our Call Committee, voted on, then issue a Call without being contacted. I was suprised to hear a member tell me a couple of years ago that her relative's congregation in the same district "doesn't have Divine Calls anymore...they have interviews."

  2. At the North Dakota District pastors conference, Pres. Brian Saunders talked about Loehe's concern with pure congregational calling—namely, that it had congregations calling pastors without knowing them at all. At the same time, he had the concern that (because they didn't really know the guy) they would call based on superficialities.

    It made me wonder for the first time whether interviews might actually be the more appropriate way. I had generally agreed with the "it'd be better if they just had 3 names they knew nothing about and just picked one" philosophy, I think because I had heard it repeated a lot. But which practice lends itself more to enthusiasm? An interviewing committee isn't going to go into a closet and wait for God to show them which interviewee they should pick. And don't the SET forms especially focus on the superficialities, namely, "preferences"?

    It was an interesting thought, at least.

  3. I find this very sad to read. Now, I have a question. If the LCMS and her congregations are going to treat the pastoral office like a job in any other industry, then, do the pastors have the ability to send out their "resumes" and make phone calls to seek a new "job?" Can the writers at Gottesdienst address this question please? Thank you in advance.

  4. And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

    We need to get away from men choosing to letting God choose. It certainly would reduce the political climate that comes with voting.

    1. Could Matthias refuse? And if a man is chosen by lot now, is he bound to go because it was by lot, and therefore, God's will?

    2. I've made many assumptions about how casting lots would be applied. One, your name doesn't go in the hat unless you put it there and are seeking a new placement from God. I assume that Matthias wanted to be included in the choice process.

      But, since you asked, yes, if God wants you to go and evangelize Ninevah, no, you cannot refuse, unless you want the special transportation to Ninevah that Jonah got.

      But, I am also assuming that you haven't put your name in the hats of places you will not go to. You must be on the list to get chosen, and on the roster in good standing. We're not googling pastors from the white pages of the world. Now, your last question.

      If you put your name in the hat for Great Jehovah Lutheran Church in East Podunk, Idaho, and you are selected by lot. Yes, you have to go by God's choice. No interviews and no votes. And, Great Jehovah must accept you as surely as the Apostles knew that they must accept Matthias into their midst as an equal.

      Or is your god perhaps traveling or busy and can't get around to being concerned about Great Jehovah Lutheran and you. He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He will give Great Jehovah with or without voting (an illusion of man's corrupt will)the pastor of His will. This pretend human voting causes nothing but mischief among us.

    3. So the casting lots replaces the voting not the interviewing. For how would one get his name in the hat if there weren't some form of communication? Or how would a guy know that he were willing to go, unless there were some form of communication? I actually think that this is how the interview process is meant to work. So, if a congregation then wanted to put the three guys names in a hat and pull one, I'm all for it. But I'm not so sure that the interview goes away. Though, it may be refocused.

    4. How do we know things? Do we trust God to make decisions for us? Has God told us to make the decision? Don't tell me that you didn't go straight to the webpage of Great Jehovah and read every letter and scaned (by eyesight) every image on it. You're looking to see if this is a Lutherans-in-the-middle church, a MethoBaptiCoastal Church, a Rock-n-Roll church, or the Vatican.

      We know that we are a challenged and compromised church when it come to our catholicity. But you also want to know whether you'll be doing mostly burials or baptisms. Has Great Jehovah grown any in the last 10 years? Will you be called upon to build a much larger new structure and buff up the school, or will you be closing down a dying church? Did you put your name in the hat?

      The congregation's questions are simpler, will he like us and will we like him, will he stay more than 2 years, will he get us to heaven? Will I be glad that he buried my father? Will I be glad he catecized/confirmed my children? Will he be a believer or just an adequate functionary? Will he be firm with our doctrines and practices or will he be loosey-goosey? Will he hear our confessions or will he prefer not to get too involved with knowing who we really are?

      Would God ever send one of his prophets to call the pagan city of Ninevah to repentance? I have to say, what would be the point; why should Ninevah get preferential treatment? Are we told any of this? Jonah was sure they would not repent and would laugh him out of town. I would expect that too. But to quote a popular comedian, "who knew?"

      Did God send Jonah to Ninivah to learn if they were deserving of repentance and whether preaching repentance to them was likely to be successful? No, Jonah went knowning nothing except the reputation of the place. God, don't you know that these people are not worthy of your forgiveness. Forget 'em. I certainly would. Maybe we all would rather take a ride in a big fish than to spend one month at Great Jehovah.

      There are congregations with the reputation of being man-eaters. They take all you've got, tell you it's not enough, then toss you out, just like a hired hand and they always have. They don't deserve to repent and be forgiven and called to treat their pastor as a special, God-chosen, God-given shepherd of this run amok flock.

      There are wolves out there and the Missouri Synod has promised that they will never send out wolves among the shepherds. But, they have and every congregation is wary. There is precious little trust in the synod's ability to avoid the wolves.

      That's why they want to interview you. Will the selection committee of the average Lutheran church weed out a wolf that CSL and CTS did not weed out? Or have we here a congreation looking for a wolf? Do our seminaries collect stacks of congregation questionairs to be able to send out whatever kind of Shepherd or wolf the market is looking for? Would you put your name in the hat for the work of changing a congregation of wolves into Jesus little lambs? They certainly wouldn't pick you after an interview, unless you acted at least a tad wolfish.

    5. Joanne,

      The Apostles cast lots to fill Judas' ministry. They also performed miracles. I don't see a specific promise in the NT that we can count on God's blessing for either thing for us today. We have the freedom to use lots if we want, but I don't think we could say that it is more likely to give the result that is God's will than any other method (voting, picking from a list that the bishop sends, or sending out resumes). There's just no Bible promise for that.


    6. Do Christians believe in chance, or accidents? Do Christians ever think that God has lost control or that He doesn't sweat the small stuff? Was it chance that the lot fell to Matthias; what miracles are associated with Matthias? Was it chance or a miracle that the Saints won their football game last week? That's a hard one. You didn't choose me, I chose you.

      We didn't choose you and you didn't choose us, but chance, miracles, luck, God has brought us together. Maybe our careers are all a pinball machine with each silver ball being each congregation you pass through. You went through the desert, on a horse with no name, and only stopped once to write on a stone, paso por aqui.

      Who sent out the apostles and how did they know where to go? Aren't we told that the Holy Spirit takes care of all the minor details. You can have your man-mediated decision making processes all you want. But, unless the Lord builds the house, they that labor, labor in vain. So, knock yourself out with job/interview techniques, but it's labor in vain. The Spirit of God will send you where he wants you to go.

      Out in the real world where I interviewed and hired lots of people. Read lots of resumes. Made some lousy decisions, some I lived with, some I fired in 2 weeks. Hiring is art and science. What we really want is some control, and God hides behind a cast lot. Maybe just the illusion of control is enough.

      There are promises galore about trusting God to take care of you, to send you out to the place he wants you to be. Trust me, and ask me. I will do right by you and the flock I give you. And when you open your mouth (write your sermons), the Holy Spirit will give you the words to speak.

      Ask the men at the seminaries who do the matching for call day if they ever make mistakes by sending the wrong man to the wrong flock. They pray, they pretend to have control, they work, but they let God build the house. I wonder if they have ever done a study to see if casting lots works any differently? I'll bet they use dice, an old set of ivory dice that CFW used to own.

    7. There was some narrowing down of the list of candidates to two names before the lot was cast that chose Matthias. Not pure chance there.

    8. The placement committees slot for who they think is best, who they think won't rock the boat, who they think is capable for a hard situation, who has more or less student debt—all sorts of criteria, theological and otherwise, for good and for evil. District Presidents say "yes" or "no" to their placements. DPs fight over candidates, "steal" candidates from other districts, reject men for all sorts of reasons. There are no dice. There's nothing romantic about how candidate placements happen. It's always been a fantasy that men went into trances and God moved the Ouija board token to "North Dakota."

      Maybe what we wish is that we ourselves weren't involved in the process, so that we couldn't second-guess ourselves. I know I wished for that more and more as a candidate. I bet congregations feel the same way too (and if so, the easiest way is to call a candidate and not interview!) But someone's going to be a mediating person. For most candidates, it's frankly a deal made in a smoke-filled room. The burden falls on those men at the seminary and on the COP. I would guess they ALWAYS wonder if they've sent the wrong man, and that's probably why they continually tell us to trust God. Maybe we should thank them for bearing all the second-guessing burden themselves. Thanks to their "dealing," my congregations and I had nothing to do with it.

      Avoiding making decisions isn't necessarily the same thing as trusting in God. If we trusted God, we wouldn't be indecisive, regretful, or worried—even about interviews and nefarious Synod officials. Dice could do the trick for deciding, but they don't keep the first commandment. I think this is why pastors are big on ordination. That's the place where God's Word was actually brought to bear on this whole process—His means, not just mediating persons (or things, in the case of dice).

    9. Timothy,

      Neither you nor your namesake believes in pure chance, nor partial chance, nor impure chance. In our system of monotheism, there is ony one source of existence, only one source of maintenance, only one source that numbers the hairs on our heads, controls when each leaf falls from each tree or bush, feeds every sparrow or doesn't, brings every field of grass into flower and creates the fire that burns it.

      He decides when each of us will die and allows our evil to fulfill his good will. He is going to bring good from every child killed by abortionists. Job comes to mind and features in the Danish movie, Adam's Apples. It's a lovely tale of God bring good from bad, of bringing denial to reality.

      It features a pastor who got a bad assignment from his bishop. He would probably not receive a call at all in our human complicated picking system, where we label good pastors and bad pastors, and good congregations and bad congregations, and then try to match the good with the good and the bad with the bad. That makes human logic, that makes for a smooth road, but I wouldn't take a job that didn't challenge me, where I'd lose and win in bout equal measure.

      And the judgements we are making about these bad placements/congregations. You two small, south Minnesota, rural parishes who share a pastor. Nobody wants to go out there and bury you, to do the good works that you need done to you now in your dotage, instead of being the one who does good deeds, though you do what you still can, but if we find a throw away candidate, we'll let you know.

      But, what was the whole purpose of their and our lives except to die in the faith and go forever to Jesus. The whole point. If Christ and we did/do not rise from the dead, then we are of all men the most to be pitied. Our preaching was in vain.

      These are the ones who have just about made it, and having someone of strong faith and ability to usher them into eternity with God and to soften the pain of separation the famiy suffers, you'll send the candidate that nobody else wants. You meant it for convenience, but God meant it for good.

      I would not be at all surprised if by lot, that God will send his best to bring his feeble old lambs safely home. Not surprised at all.

  5. Fr. Wurst,

    I don't think that the call committee's interview treats the call like any other job, even as I don't think the pastor visiting the calling congregation in order to interview it treats the call like any other job. The reality of life in this world is that congregations have personalities just as a pastor has a personality. And the interview of the candidate by the call committee and of the congregation by the pastor when he visits seeks to put a face to what is otherwise faceless. Because personalities clash. And when they do that servers neither the church nor the pastor.

    I know that pastors are interchangeable parts. Or at least they are supposed to be. And we can fill in for each other. Nothing stands on what Braaten, Wurst, Petersen, or Eckardt says. It stands on what Christ says. And sometimes chaffing personalities either from the pastor to the congregation or vice versa can obscure what Christ says, and the evil one will make use of it.

    Now can these go awry? I suppose. But do they actually go awry? I suppose. But it seems to me that a phone interview or a visit by the pastor can actually be a helpful thing. And knowing that going into it and putting your best foot forward, helps everyone. That's all.

    I'm quite willing to admit being wrong. But I don't see the interviews as neglecting the doctrine of the call. If anything the way that our clergy are paid lends more to the mindset of hired hand than anything.

    1. If you are going to have PIFs and SETs and a Synod where some pastors openly refuse to practice closed communion and others openly refuse to use contemporary worship: you are going to have interviews. You can only have the truly "interchangeable parts" sort of practice - cast lots, just get a few names from district, pray and pick one at random - if the pastors really are interchangeable. They are not today. Some are American Evangelicals in theology and practice. Some are Confessional Lutherans. Some will go along with whatever the parish wants. Some will insist on closed communion, for others "close" is close enough. Etc.

      In such an environment the congregation has the right to know what it's getting.


  6. Dear Heath, I think you make a great point here. We are living in a multi-denominational synod. The purpose of PIFs, SETs, and interviews is to make sure a congregation gets the right denomination - and vice versa. Sad, but true.

  7. One example of interviewing happened when I was at seminary. A fellow 4th year guy was interviewed by a congregation, and was told that if they called him they would see how things were going after a year. I am afraid that this is the sort of thing interviewing fosters, rather than reduces, no matter how well we might be able to do it. I think the mentality of most congregations that interview is that this man is a) a hireling; b) an employee; or c) both.

    1. And, we cannot trust Jesus' flock, his sheep, with a hireling, for the hireling will run off as soon as danger appears.


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