There was a fascinating program about genetic testing and Ashkenazi Jews here yesterday during which one rabbi shared that – when he was a young man – all the men and women in his community were tested genetically and the results were kept securely for the day when those men and women started dating. Apparently, when the day came when you were interested in dating someone, you made this request known to the spiritual leaders, and then someone checked each member of the potential couple’s genetic tests to determine if this was or was not “a good match.”
It was, literally, a matter of life and death.
Matches between clergy and congregations are not exactly a matter of life and death, unless we are talking about the spiritual life and death of a clergyperson and a congregation. Bad matches wound churches and pastors.
Recipe for bad matches:
- The Search Committee fails to share with the potential pastor the proverbial skeletons in the closet, the reality of the congregation’s willingness to grow and change, the difference between what they (the Search Committee) wants and what the rest of the people truly want.
- The person who is interviewed and newly loved by the Pastor Nominating Committee fails to show up. (“Who is this person?”)
- The candidate looked like a perfect match, but in fact was not, because looks can be deceiving (and nobody asked the right questions.)
This is where God and – by God’s grace – the Commission on Ministry (or whatever you call the group that oversees such matches) comes in. The COM is not God, but sometimes we might have a thoughtful question to ask like: Did you tell your candidate about that sexual misconduct thing that happened a couple years ago? We might ask clarifying questions like: Have you noticed that your three finalists have nothing in common except that they are all the same height? We might make suggestions: Please ask why she left her previous position after only one year.
Good clergy-congregation matches are like gold. The pastor grows. The congregation grows. They get each other. They challenge each other in all the good ways.
Obviously the Holy Spirit must be consulted and heard. But God also speaks through the community. The search for a new call and/or a new pastor is not a race (“We must have someone by the end of the summer!”) And it’s not about pleasing an anxious congregation. It’s better not to have a permanent pastor than to wish you didn’t have one.
And honestly there is nothing more fun than a good fit.