Synod on Method of Calling Ministers

For a number of years various consistories and congregations have felt and expressed the need for improving the method of c.1lling ministers. This feeling has also been expressed through several overtures to Synod in previous years. Consequently, in answer to an overture from Classis California South, the Synod of 1970 appointed a committee “to study ways and means for improving the method of calling ministers”.

Report of Study Committee – The study committee sent a questionnaire to all churches and ministers of the denomination who are in active service to determine the sentiments of the churches and ministers on this issue. The response to these questionnaires indicated that there is a widespread dissatisfaction, not about the principles underlying our method of calling. but about the method itself, as well as several practices prevalent in connection with it, and therefore there is an urgent desire for improvement.

The committee in its report to Synod 1972, in addition to giving the results of its questionnaire, presented a study of the Biblical principles involved and of the Reformed history and traditions relating to this matter as well as information concerning methods used in related churches. From its studies the committee concluded that, while our present method of calling is basically correct, a more open system with a greater measure of flexibility is needed and would improve our method of calling.

Synod’s decision – In the light of the study and recommendations of the study committee Synod decided to “establish a MINISTERIAL INFORMATION SERVICE as a standing synodical committee”, with the following mandate: “1) to introduce ministers who are seeking a call to churches which arc vacant; 2) to introduce ministers who are seeking specialized ministries to appropriate boards and committees; 3) to compose and distribute questionnaires to churches and ministers to obtain the necessary information; and 4) to serve the churches and ministers with other needed advice in matters pertaining to calling.” By way of guidelines Synod declared that this committee, to be composed of six members, shall serve in an informational capacity, offering no unsolicited advice.

Use of this information service on the part of both ministers and congregations is to be completely voluntary.

Synod also declared it ta be “a proper practice for ministers to indicate their desire for a call in general or for a call to a specific church,” and that “it is acceptable procedure for vacant churches to advertise for available ministers.”

No doubt, these decisions will be received by the church with mixed reactions.

Tampering with work of Holy Spirit? – On the one hand, there will be those who believe that these decisions will constitute a tampering with the work of the Holy Spirit. Should we not simply rely upon the Holy Spirit to place the right man in the right place? Will not the innovations approved by Synod in effect deny the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the work of calling?

Over-against these sentiments the study committee and the majority of the delegates to Synod believe that the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the matter of calling docs not exclude but, rather, includes the active cooperation of both calling churches and ministers. While earnestly seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit the church must, at the same time, seek to act intelligently and responsibly in making use of the means which are available to her in making wise decisions when calling ministers. It is felt by many that the “Ministerial Information Service” which is now to be established will aid churches in calling more wisely by having more reliable information available to them.

“Ladder climbing” or “status-seeking”? – The fear has also been expressed that the decisions of Synod will promote the evil of “ladder-climbing” or “status seeking” on the part of ministers. The remark was made during the discussion of this matter on the floor of Synod that under the new system a change will soon take place in which it is no longer a matter of the churches seeking the ministers hut a matter of the ministers seeking the churches, which would be unfortunate, indeed.

This, no doubt, is a real danger, at least in the case of some ministers. Sad to say, there may be ministers who are more concerned about themselves and their own advancement than about the advancement of the church of Jesus Christ. It is conceivable that such could abuse the new practices approved by the recent Synod. It must be observed, however, that such efforts toward self-advancement are not totally absent under the present system either. It remains to be seen if the decisions of Synod will as a matter of fact encourage and extend this evil. It is hoped that ministers as well as churches will use proper discretion in their exercise of the new practices.

A word of caution – In evaluating the decisions of Synod on this matter, it seems necessary, on the other hand, also to direct a word of caution to those who might he inclined to be too optimistic and expect too much from the new information service. The information which can be gained about a man or a congregation from answers given on a questionnaire are necessarily of limited value. No doubt, more information will still be needed to make an intelligent choice. Consistories will undoubtedly discover that the new information service will not furnish a simple solution to the problem of finding a minister suitable for their particular needs. But, hopefully, it will help to direct them to men who are available and who might be a good choice for their situation.

As concerns the ministers, it is hoped that a minister who expresses a desire for a call will not be looked upon as being suspect as is now so often the case. In many cases there are very legitimate reasons why a minister may feel that it would be better for him to move elsewhere. Hopefully the new system will permit such a one to make his desire known without having a stigma attached to his name. Such would be an advantage to both the minister and the church that he is serving at present.

Worthy of a try – It is rather certain that the changes approved by the recent Synod will be of limited value at best. They will not solve all of the problems for either churches or ministers. But it was generally felt by the delegates to Synod that there was such a widespread desire throughout the denomination for some changes and improvements that the proposed changes were worthy of a try.

Should the newly established “Ministerial Information Service” fail to be of real help, or should serious abuses develop it was felt that the “Ministerial Information Service” will die a slow but natural death. On the other hand, should it prove to render a profitable service to the churches any evil side effects can then be dealt with and, hopefully, corrected as needed by future synods.

Many churches have found the matter of calling a minister a very frustrating experience. As our denomination has grown, churches have found it to be increasingly difficult to “call” intelligently. Consistories and congregations no longer know all the ministers of the denomination as they once did. Too often they have issued calls “in the dark.” Too often popular ministers whose names for one reason or another have been in the limelight have been overburdened with numerous calls, whereas other faithful servants of God who very diligently but quietly are going about their work are overlooked even though for one reason or another a change would be good for both them and their congregations. It is hoped that the new method may be helpful in removing some of these inequities and frustrations.

Consistories to do their homework – But in any ease it is still of first importance that consistories do their homework well as they go about the serious and important matter of fining a vacancy in their church.

The information now available and the greater openness which is advocated do not by themselves promise that filling a vacancy will be a simple matter or that there will be more “happy marriages” between congregations and pastors than previously. This will result only when the available information is properly combined with other investigative procedures on the part of consistories. And all of this must still be accompanied with the prayerful seeking of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Paul E. Bakker is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Sully, Iowa.