Everyone knows that it’s getting harder to call a pastor these days. If your congregation has been through a search process recently, you know how complicated it can be—how much time and energy it takes to create a profile, discern your congregation’s needs, find the right candidates, interview them, pray for discernment, and call new pastoral leadership.
This spring, denominational statistics confirmed the complication: 78 congregations had what we call “profiles” in our placement system, meaning that they were actively searching for a new pastor. Only 26 pastors had profiles, meaning that they were actively searching for a congregation that would call them into a pastoral position. Seventy-eight openings for 26 candidates.
Those numbers are a little “soft.” Not all congregations utilize the denominational placement system and not all ministers are ordained (a requirement to place a profile in the system). Additionally, pastoral placement isn’t as simple as supply and demand: it is a delicate, prayerful process that takes into account relationships, geography, theology, and “fit.”
It’s a complicated process, so the situation might be brighter than it looks. But when those statistics were announced at a discernment retreat in April, two district executives in the room confirmed that the picture is actually much bleaker—more than 78 congregations are searching and fewer than 26 ministers are available.
How have we arrived at this place, where so many congregations need leaders and so few of our members are being called into leadership?
At Calling the Called, a discernment retreat hosted by the Shenandoah and Virlina districts this spring, Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of ministry for the Church of the Brethren, said that she is deeply convicted that if we, as a denomination, were serious about naming and nurturing the spiritual gifts of the body of Christ, then God would provide us with exactly the leadership we needed.
What would it mean to name and nurture spiritual gifts in our own congregations? Spiritual gifts are not the gifts we often think of when we think about call or vocation. Spiritual gifts are not individual talents like a willingness to speak in public, a musical ability, or a charismatic personality; instead, spiritual gifts are meant to be used for the building up of the body. Spiritual gifts aren’t individual abilities designed for personal gain; they are evidence of the Holy Spirit at work among God’s people. These gifts are scriptural: we find a catalogue of spiritual gifts in Romans 12 that includes gifts of prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy.
What would it look like if we began to notice, name, and nurture these gifts in our communities and our congregations? Often, congregations are very good at encouraging youth and young people in their vocational discernment. But when was the last time you told an adult sister how much you appreciated her gift of mercy? Have you ever encouraged someone older than you to continue using his gift of serving? What would it take for you to tell your friend from Sunday school that you see gifts of prophecy or generosity in her, gifts that have built up your own faith and contributed to the health of your entire congregation?
I think that Nancy Heishman is right: If we are serious about noticing, naming, and nurturing these scriptural, spiritual gifts among ourselves, God will provide us with the very leadership we need. It might not look the way we thought it would. It might not fit into our institutional systems and categories. It might lead us into new ways of doing church and being Christ’s body together. If we pay attention to spiritual gifts, the ones bestowed upon our congregations and communities by the Holy Spirit, we may just find that we have exactly what we need in order to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
Whose gifts have you noticed recently? How will you encourage them to continue using them for the building up of the body?
Dana Cassell is pastor of Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren in Durham, North Carolina. She also writes at danacassell.wordpress.com
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