It’s commonly understood that there are more clergy looking for jobs than there are clergy jobs. In a denomination like mine (without bishops who assign pastors to churches) the field is competitive, at least in popular locations and in healthy congregations.
[Note: Every church is imperfect. Some are soul-suckingly imperfect. “Healthy” doesn’t equal perfect.]
For pastors with good connections, it’s easier to be called to preferred congregations. Yes, this is true.
Forget “the call.” Forget “the moving of the Spirit.” Pastors who have a foot in the door via friendships or other connections have an advantage to be sure. Although I’m not a bishop, I often have the ear of the Search Committee or a congregational leader and I can put a good word in for Pastor X. The Old Boy Network has been working this way for generations, so it’s kind of nice when the New Girl Network kicks in.
Sometimes this is a good thing. And sometimes this is not a good thing.
Good Thing: A 50-something second career pastor with excellent skills gets a second look by a church which has been looking only at the stereotypical 30-something male pastor with a lovely wife and kids. Someone like me takes the opportunity to mention that the Search Committee might want to talk with Pastor 50-Something who would bring diversity and seasoned energy to their leadership.
Not Good Thing: I am trying to help my friend “get a church” even though my friend is unsure that he is really called to this kind of ministry. I talk him up as even though I know he struggles with most of his relationships. It’s just that he has mortgage payments and he really needs a job.
Worst Kind of Thing: I once knew of a Presbytery that approved the call of an Interim Associate Pastor to her own home church even though that church was a week away from announcing that they’d found a candidate to be their “permanent” Associate Pastor. The spoken explanation for this ridiculousness was that “we wanted to find a call for our friend.” The unspoken explanation was that the Senior Pastor wanted to make it impossible for her to stick around. Once the “permanent Associate Pastor” was called, the Interim would be forced to leave this church where she was considered a troublemaker.
Lord have mercy.
The bottom line is that someone like me who has the power and opportunity to whisper someone’s name in a Search Committee Member’s ear is that the Committee still has the freedom to listen to me or ignore me. In a perfect world, they listen first and foremost to the Spirit of God. In a perfect world, the right candidate’s most crucial connection is to God.
Every once in a while, the perfect candidate Comes Out of Nowhere to shine as the next pastor. The Spirit still works. I just wish – honestly – that all Search Committees would pay attention.
Sadly, Pulpit Candy still wins too many times.