A layman’s thoughts about… The Calling and Tenure of Pastors

The suggestions that are made here are based on an assumption. It is that ministers of the Gospel are like farmers, businessmen and professional men in this respect: All are not equally capable, and all are not endowed with the same measure of certain abilities or “talents.”

Under the system of calling pastors now in effect in the Christian Reformed and other churches, a given minister is called for an indefinite tenure of office so long as his health permits and the congregation exists. For men with more than average ability this poses no problem. They are possessed of enough ability to last in a given pastorate for many years, or, more likely, they will receive many calls and be able to change pastorates whenever this is desirable.

The man with less ability is often the victim of this system, however, for he must remain in a particular charge until a call is forthcoming (if it comes at all), which can work to the detriment of both congregation and minister. If under the kind of circumstances which often develop when a minister is beyond the point of effective service and attempts are made to seek his release. this action usually carries with it much pain and injury for all concerned.

It is my opinion that most ministers as trained in the kind of schools which Christian Reformed pastors use are able to serve a given church acceptably for a period of three years. This seems to be the length of time which the capacity of the less than superior and the patience of a certain congregation can endure. With this in mind propose for the discussion of all who are interested the following plan for the calling and exchange of ministers. I offer this with the hope that it will stir up discussion by our preachers and by our people, and with the prayer that it will mean the eventual improvement of our system of calling ministers. Such improvement is needed, I believe, and will serve the best interests of the Church of God on earth.


My plan can be outlined as follows:

I. Synod should set a date (my suggestion is March 1, 1970) at which all minister-church relationships are declared terminated. All congregations are to be held responsible for the payment of their pastor’s salary up to the third Monday of August of that year.

Comment: This is necessary to get the plan underway. We realize, of course, that this is by mutual consent since pastors are called and installed as an act of the local congregation, at least in most cases.

2. On Or after March 1, 1970, all congregations will proceed to carry on the work of calling a pastor in the same manner as is now prescribed by the existing Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church (presenting a nomination to the congregation, from which the communicant members vote to extend a call). The minister serving at the time may be nominated, but the consistories must put other names on nomination with him to give the congregation an honest choice. We believe that these provisions and others suggested by the Church Order (for example: the Church Order allows the consistory the right to carry out the work of calling a minister without a congregational meeting) are flexible enough to give all congregations a fair opportunity to do this work with speed and dispatch.

Comment: There is no doubt of it that this system makes it urgent for consistories to act quickly in order that the best possible provision be made for the occupancy of its pulpit: But everyone will know when this time is due, and there is no objection to activity in advance of the March 1 date in order that the time limits may be observed to the best advantage of the congregation.

3. All calls extended are to be for a three-year period ending, say, March 1, 1973. We have mentioned above our reason for setting this time limit.

Comment: The three-year period is an arbitrary thing, of course, and the plan could call for some other length of tenure. One of the advantages of this suggested time-limit is that it is short enough to terminate an undesirable pastorate before too much damage is done to either congregation or minister, and that it will quite likely lead to the practice of a two-term (six years) pastorate. This would be good for the churches in most cases, we believe.

4. A given minister may be retained by a certain congregation for as many terms as the congregation and minister may feel warranted.

Comment: There have been many outstanding examples in the history of the church of long and successful pastorates, and the possibility for this ought to be recognized. We think it to be better for both minister and congregation, however, if such pastorates are not lengthy simply because of circumstances or some other arbitrary consideration, but because both pastor and congregation had deliberately decided to prolong a period of service as a deliberate act of obedience to God.

5. To speed up the work of calling ministers and completing this task, we suggest that the number of announcements to the congregation be set at no more than two, and that ministers be encouraged to regard two weeks as the ordinary length of time given to consider a particular call.

Comment: It is evident that many congregations might consider a certain minister as the most desirable for their charge, and that time will playa role in this regard. We believe that eight days between announcement of a nomination and the occasion of calling is enough, and we feel that fourteen days is long enough to decide a call under ordinary circumstances. Everything can be done more quickly nowadays, and so the usual conferences between pastor-elect and consistory, etc. require less time than previously. In addition: every minister will know that his tenure of office in a given congregation will end at a certain time, and this gives him opportunity to reflect in advance upon this matter.

6. The date for removal to a new place of service would be on or about the third Monday in August.

Comment: This is the best date for transfer in view’ of the fact that the church “season” (catechism, societies, etc.) runs from about Sept. 1 to May 1. Also, pastors with school-going children are not required to make school changes in mid-year, which always works a hardship on pupils. It seems to me that the relocation of pastors in mid-year means the loss of a number of months of effective service.

7. Churches which might fail to obtain a pastor in the calling period (March 1 to the third Monday in August) could:

a. continue to call from the list of ministers still avail. able (this ought to be regarded as a moral obligation on the part of the churches, unless valid reasons for not calling an available man are offered);

b. wait for the following class of candidates;

c. call available and desirable men from other denominations according to the rules governing such calls, and in terms of the three·year tenure rule.

Comment: There is no way to guarantee that every man will reach the right place in the time designated, of course, and there is no way to guarantee that the churches will always be willing to accept even for three years someone whom they might regard as less than ideal for their congregation. Since the tenure is limited, however, we can see that churches might be more willing to call the less gifted man than they are now.

8. To facilitate the work, the Christian Reformed Publishing House shall be asked to serve as a clearing station of information regarding calls and acceptances, and to airmail lists of ministers yet available hi-weekly throughout the regular calling period.

Comment: With some organizational effort the churches could be kept up·to·date on all developments regarding our pastors. This would eliminate duplication of effort and avoid calling made useless by prior decision of the minister called to accept a certain charge.

9. Churches losing a pastor by death or other incapacity are allowed to call any minister, subject to the tenure regulation. Churches need not wait until the end of the pastoral tenure period in effect to call if their pulpit has been vacated for this kind of reason.

10. Special ministerial positions in the schools, Back to God radio work, denominational offices, editors of church papers, etc. could be regulated by special rules best suited to the work. Men in these positions ought also to be subject to similar tenure limitations, however, and to be regarded as eligible for can by the congregations in the regular calling period.

Comment: It is not advantageous to the church that certain men have a hfe-Iong position of absence from the regular pastorate. If the kind of men usually chosen for this work could be shared by the churches as well as by our institutions, it would be better for all concerned.

11. Synod should set a denominational quota fund out of which all moving expenses for all ministers are paid.

Comment: This plan obviously will increase the amount of moving costs, although not to a point which would make this a burdensome item for the churches if borne jointly. In addition: this central fund will equalize the financial cost of getting a minister relocated for the outlying and smalJer congregations.

12. Any minister failing to receive a call would be given support for one year or more at the discretion of synod. If it appears that a certain minister will not receive a call within a year of the calling period, he shall be encouraged to seek employment elsewhere or to pursue further study. Such ministers are eligible to apply for inclusion on the list of ministers eligible for call at any subsequent calling period.

Comment: We believe that the possibility of losing many ministers in this way is actually as remote as it is now, especially if the church is careful to open up a sufficient number of fields to employ all available men. Since the tenure of office is for three years only, those ministers for some reason less able to command calls would not find it as difficult to be accepted.

I am quite aware of the fact that this suggested plan is a radical departure from our older system so far as Our thinking and traditional practices are concerned. It is not a radical departure in principle, however, since it puts into effect the same system as we now use for the election and tenure of our elders in the congregations, and we never weary of saying that a minister’s office is that of a teaching elder. Having witnessed a few of these very difficult situations in which it was desirable that a given minister leave a particular congregation, and having seen the results of such and other situations arising out of our present practice, I think that something like this would work to the advantage of the churches.

And now for the discussion!

I hope that individuals wishing to share with me their vicws on thi~ mattcr will address me personally, if they do not care to write publicly. Also I would like to see our ministers’ conferences and discussion groups give this some consideration.

Here is a problem that many with me feel needs discussion!