In a post titled The System, Scott Hoezee becomes the latest person to suggest that the Christian Reformed Church’s system for calling pastors may no longer be serving the church well. Hoezee suggests that the system has become strained by changes in ecclesiastical culture, congregational expectations, and the life situations of pastors. While these are all contributing factors, I also wonder whether there are just too many people in the system.
Hoezee mentions that this year’s synod approved 44 new candidates, but other numbers can also be found in the documents from synod. The reports indicate that 25 ministers retired in the last year, 12 ministers were received from other denominations, 4 were loaned to other denominations, and 15 were released from the ministry of the word for various reasons.
By my count, that suggests that 12 new people were added to the system this year. Twelve does not seem like a big number when the Christian Reformed Church currently has 1090 congregations and ministries and the number of congregations on the list of opportunities for ministerial placement tends to hover between 90 and 100. However, unless this year is a statistical anomaly, that number would accumulate over time (though not necessarily at the rate of 12 per year). Furthermore that number, twelve, does not account for retired pastors who are available to serve as transitional or interim ministers. It also does not account for individuals who are seeking a call but are already in the system. This includes pastors who were released from their congregations (13 reported this year), released pastors whose eligibility for a call was extended after two years of unsuccessful seeking (14), and persons whose candidacy was extended for a year (30). To further complicate matters, 46 commissioned pastor positions were approved by classes in this past year, while 8 commissioned pastors concluded their service. Commissioned pastors are not, strictly speaking, in the same system as ministers of the Word, but the availability of commissioned pastors must surely have some impact on a candidate’s prospects for receiving a call. In a time when the calling system feels slow and clogged, we are adding more people to the system.
Other musings about the calling system have asked whether the CRC needs bishops or some sort of committee to facilitate pastoral movement. Another approach would address the supply side. The church order traditionally insisted that need be considered when calling pastors outside the normal process, and more recently churches have been counseled to consider need before calling a pastor from the RCA. However, classes seem reluctant to say that there is no need for another person to proclaim the gospel. In some cases a person’s sense of calling seems to be considered need enough. Besides, when it comes right down to it, churches will call who they call. Attempts to artificially limit the supply will not change that.
It might just be that these things move in cycles. I can remember a time (before blogs) when editorialists worried about the scarcity of quality candidates for the ministry. Now, judging by blogs and facebook posts, the anxiety has tipped in the other direction. In spite of this, there seems to be no shortage of people preparing for ministry.
A few years ago I met a person who had begun seminary studies after years working in another field. I didn’t ask him the question that crossed my mind. I didn’t want to pour cold water on his sense of calling. Besides, a calling to ministry is about far more than job prospects. But that does need to be considered. So maybe I should have asked, “Have you looked at the job market lately?”