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We all know the drill: If pastors think they're ready to consider a call to another church, they send off their cv to the denominational Pastor Church Resources Committee. And as vacant churches create their search committees, one of the first items of business seems to be to ask for a stack of cv's of prospective pastors.

Search committees generally consist of men and women representing the congregation's ethnic make-up and age. They are representative of the congregation but rarely exposed to the process of calling a pastor, and even more rarely acquainted with matching a church's needs to a pastor's gifts.  Thrown into the mix is a stack of cv's from pastors who are open, willing, eager, determined to move from their existing congregation to a new one.  The process is haphazard at best. I've been there ... as an elder in a half dozen situations where the church experienced a change in pastor.

I was therefore delighted to hear about an organization -- one that isn't part of a denominational structure -- that actually helps match the right pastor to the right congregation. ChapterNext is based in Chicagoland but its reach is spreading across the U.S. and into Ontario. ChapterNext serves like a bishop, only more pastoral. This organization works on behalf of both a church's search committee as well as individual pastors. Some might refer to Rev. Dr. Sam Hamstra as either a 'headhunter' or a 'matchmaker.'

ChapterNext provides one-on-one counselling and working with pastors to help them identify their gifts and thereby determine whether that person belongs in an urban or rural church, a large of small congregation, a church plant or chaplaincy, or on occasion determines that the pulpit ministry really isn't for him/her.

What's most impressive is their track record. ChapterNext generally helps search committees find their next pastor within 9 to 12 months. And those matches tend to work out quite well.

Full disclosure: I have become so impressed by their work that I have decided to join the ChapterNext Team, bringing this ministry service to Ontario and, possibly, to the rest of Canada.

I have been part of congregations where vacancies lasted from two to four years after calling several pastors.  That calling process was, at best, haphazzard. It often resulted in a panicked desire to just find someone to fill the pulpit.

Since each congregation is unique and since each pastor has unique gifts and interests, this focused search process used by ChapterNext finally provides a pastoral approach to the needs of both pastors and congregations.

In an area that recently had eight vacant churches, and where the fundamental desire is to find someone, anyone, to fill those vacancies, ChapterNext says that there is a better way: a systematic approach to marry the right pastor with the right congregation. That will only help to strength the local church and the denomination as a whole.

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