By Cyndi Alte
It is pressure time in The United Methodist Church - pressure for lay people and pressure for pastors. Bishop and district superintendents are gathering around the North Indiana and South Indiana Conferences Cabinet tables to determine which pastors are "must moves" and which churches are "have to haves." Pastors are sitting around kitchen tables waiting for the phone to ring. Lay people are sitting at committee tables listing favorable characteristics of their next pastor. At some point along the way, they all sit at a table together.
Appointment season is here. Churches want the best for their members and pastors want to give their best. The pressure comes when "best" is defined, or cannot be defined, or has different definitions. What is "best" for a congregation? And what pastor is the "best" for the congregation? That is the appointment process at its "best." Unfortunately, not everyone is at his or her "best" this time of year.
A research report from Pulpit and Pew entitled "What do Lay People Want in Pastors?: Answers from Lay Search Committee Chairs and Regional Judicatory Leaders" identifies nine qualities that search committees (language of the report) seek when looking for the "best."
Demonstrated competence and religious authenticity
Good preacher and leader of worship
Strong spiritual leader
Commitment to parish ministry and ability to maintain boundaries
Available, approachable, and warm pastor with good "people skills"
Gender, race, marriage, and sexual orientation of clergy
Age, experience and job tenure of the pastor
Consensus builder, lay ministry coach and responsive leader
Entrepreneurial evangelists, innovators and transformational reflexive leader
Not surprisingly, the third quality is the most desired by congregations in their pastors. It also is the most complex for everyone who is feeling the pressure this time of year. One of those characteristics that is "best" for the church, "there is no standard criteria for ascertaining of predicting who will be a good spiritual leader for a particular congregation," according to Adair T. Lumis, author of the study.
Isn't it interesting that among people of faith, there is no standard measuring rod for what makes for a spiritual leader or follower, for that matter?
Among members of congregations there are differing opinions; even among pastors there is no consensus. Congregations and pastors are not the only ones needing some sort of plumb line. Sometimes that judgment comes from outside of the flock.
One pastor who mentors seminarians through the credentialing process says, "I tell them that, number one - a call from God in their life is critical. Number two is compassion. You have to care about people. It is not just a job. Number three is character. You have to be a person of character today because people are looking at that; they are scrutinizing that.
"You have to prove yourself every day: the way you treat your family; the way you pay your bills; the way you drive your car. That is all critical to your ability to stand in the pulpit and declare the word of the Lord. Because if they don't see you live the life on the street, they are not going to pay you any attention in the pulpit."
Lumis is talking about the fruits of our faith, the fruits that others observe in us and the fruits that we offer for others to feast upon. Whether we are laity or clergy, whether it is a time of pressure or a time of calm, the fruits of our faith make a difference in our lives, the lives of our congregations and communities, and in the lives of all God's children.
Consider Galatians 5:22-23.
In this time of high pressure, don't let yourself become so bound to expectations that your fruits wither on the vine. Rather, may the unique fruits that you bear bring wholeness to you and all of God's creation?
Cyndi Alte serves as director of Congregational Health Ministries at Clarian Health in Indianapolis.