Advice on the mechanics of a congregation’s voting for a pastor candidate.
Thrive exists to support churches in times of transition and pastor search. Learn more at Pastor Search Process.
Who actually votes to call a pastor?
Ordinarily, a search committee recommends a name of a candidate to the full council. The full council, if satisfied with the recommendation, then asks the congregation for a vote of affirmation. The council, if satisfied by the results of the congregational vote, signs and sends a letter of call to the classis-assigned counselor for approval and then sends the letter of call on to the pastor candidate.
Throughout this time, the council should be regularly updating the congregation, the candidates, and the classis-assigned counselor.
Are Congregational Votes Necessary to Call a Pastor?
Ordinarily, a congregational vote is necessary to call a pastor but the congregation's vote is not by itself binding or determinative.
In the case of calling a pastor, the church order (Article 9) says that the council is responsible for nominating and calling a minister. Meanwhile the official letter of call, which must be signed by the council and the classis-assigned counselor, expects that the pastor candidate has been "chosen by majority vote at a local congregational meeting."
In other words, the ultimate decision of extending a call is made by the council and approved by the counselor, but the congregation is expected to be consulted by way of a vote. In theory, a council could override a congregational vote. Since councils will almost always have more and better information than the congregation, it is possible that a council would determine that a call should be withdrawn or postponed, but a council would need good reason to do so.
Check the Bylaws
According to church order and the letter of call, congregational votes are advisory. But local congregations may have different requirements within their bylaws. It is always a good idea to check your bylaws and to communicate to your congregation what they say.
What’s a Good Vote Threshold for a Pastor Candidate?
Unless your bylaws state otherwise, a congregational vote for a pastor is probably not binding. But churches (and pastors) have found congregational votes helpful to gauge the commitment and support of the congregation for a pastor candidate.
While the letter of call merely expects a simple majority, many churches ask that a higher threshold be reached to affirm a council’s nomination. The most common (non-binding) threshold among CRCs is usually somewhere between 66% and 75% affirmative vote.
Three Week Wait
Once the call’s been extended, the pastor typically is given up to three weeks to respond to the call. But if both the church and the pastor have conducted a thorough discernment, three weeks should be unnecessary.
Better Search and Call Process
To learn more about how you can make the most of a pastoral transition, how you can run an effective pastoral search, and how you can properly call and welcome a new pastor, check out our handbook, More than a Search Committee 2nd Edition.
Thrive supports churches in times of transition and pastor search. Learn more at Pastor Search Process.