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It’s time we talked about one of the most agonizing experiences of preparing for ministry: that of waiting for a call. Seminary graduates who are declared by synod as candidates for ministry enter into a period of searching, researching, and waiting. For a number of years they have been dreaming of serving a church or ministry. Once synod acts to declare them eligible, they enter into a period of time that may last from two months to two years, or more, before they receive a call.

Allow me to offer an image of the experience: the image of sitting in the waiting room of a fertility clinic. The experience is one mixed with a high degree of anticipation and anxiety. Before getting to the point where you sit in such a waiting room, there has been a lot of life lived. There has been the establishment of a home and a marriage relationship and the eventual hope or expectation of the miracle of parenting. A couple sitting in a fertility clinic waiting room is now focused on that miracle. They are both eager and anxious to see positive steps toward that dream.

The Process
For waiting candidates the experience is one of such eagerness and anxiety. The process now goes slower than it has ever gone in our denominational history. This is mostly due to the extremely deliberative approach of most searching congregations. While congregations used to offer calls every six to eight weeks when they were vacant, it is not uncommon these days for searching congregations to take six to eight months between calls. Other complicating factors include a larger number of seminary graduates in recent years, an economic climate that is limiting expansion of staff and full time ministry positions, a larger number of pastors working past age 65 before they retire, and a greater diversity within our congregations (creating the need for more congregations to look beyond the traditional seminary pool when needing a pastor). The net impact is that seminary graduates who become candidates are told to expect to wait.

The Candidacy Committee is actively discussing all these trends. In particular, we are concerned that the church do a good job of supporting and encouraging the waiting candidates. The experience of many candidates is that during their seminary years they have not had active relationship with their home church or regional classis. When they graduate, and move away from their seminary location, they often find themselves to be strangers with minimal relational support. This occurs during one of the more stressful periods of their lives.

The Role of the Church
What can we, the church, do to come alongside of these persons? The answers are varied. Perhaps by rehearsing a few of them we can recognize even more, and can identify actions each of us can take. First, we can note the personal responsibility incumbent on the candidate: as with all disciples, candidates must be careful to surround themselves with mentors and friends who will encourage, direct, support and pray with them during this process.

Yet the solution to the problem is certainly broader than that of “recognizing a candidate’s responsibility.“ The church also has a responsibility. The local church, when it offers a letter of recommendation for a student to enter seminary will be a blessing to that student when it continues to check up on that student, and when it comes actively alongside that student three or four years later during the candidacy process. Local churches who have seminarians attending their church, and local churches who have joyfully sent someone off to seminary can experience a grandparent’s joy when they offer such support.

The regional church, also, can be an important link in this needed network. Some of our sister denominations are much more developed than we are in having a regional system that owns responsibility for encouragement and support of students beyond the task of financial aid. I would dare say that one of the most significant actions of the regional church is to see to it that a healthy system for raising up leaders is in place. Can we discover and implement regional ways to be aware of those who are in the waiting room called candidacy, and to be a compassionate presence with them in the waiting room through active mentorship and active encouragement.

The Role of the Denomination
Finally, our denominational structures need to focus on this “waiting experience”. As a Candidacy Committee, we have been encouraging Pastor Church Relations as they are re-designing their tools for “matching” churches and pastors. We’re grateful for their recognition of this need. The Candidacy Committee has also encouraged Calvin Seminary to request the vocational mentors and faculty who have interacted with seminary students before graduation to continue their support and mentorship after graduation, until a call is received and accepted. We also are actively encouraging local classes to fortify their efforts toward the seminary students and the waiting candidates among them.

Perhaps by talking about this matter together we can come up with other productive ideas. The Candidacy Committee, for one, is eager to receive suggestions.

What are your thoughts? 


Thank you David for this informative and well written article. I am suprised that no one yet has commented on it. As someone who graduated from Calvin Seminary a few years ago and who went through the calling proccess Id like to make a few observations .Graduating and then eventually taking a call was one of the most stressfull expereinces that I and my wife have ever gone through.  You find yourself "comepeting" (yes I dont like that word ,but its true) with your seminary friends who you have grown quite close to for a very limited amount of open church positions. It is very stressful for marriages. Many wives and a few husbands have built carreers in Grand Rapids while supporting thier families while their spouse is engaged in fulltime studies at the seminary .Then when the student graduates, and naturally is inclined to want to get a job ,the spouse that has been working and advancing in thier career after much sacrifice must often times quit and move. By God's grace it all worked out for me and my wife and the church we were called to. But maybe the seminary in some way could help out these families when it comes to the life changing challenge of quiting jobs ,moving and entering a new church and community? I am not talking about financial support but maybe some coaching or counseling Here are a number of other observations and I would love to hear what David or any others have to say.

1 .Churches need to be more trusting when they are looking for canidates. I feel as if many churches are looking for a Rock Star with tremendous preaching skills that will halt the decline of thier church and attract new people. Some of these churches take years to interview or  hire someone.  I know hiring a pastor is a big deal. But have to many churches followed the corprate mindset? Whatever happend to humility and trust ,knowing there is no perfect canidate but that we should trus int the grace of God.

2.  I have heard from a few people that some churches are  "trying out" canidates for a few months before they offically call them .This might work for the church but it would cause great stress on the canidate and his/her family .Imagine moving to Iowa from Grand Rapids all for the chance that you might be hired eventually .David ,is this a trend you know anything about?

3. I often hear from people in the denomination and  the seminary of the great need for pastors and that thier are many churches that are empty .I have found out that many of these churches are vacant because they either cant afford a pastor or DONT want to hire a pastor .I know several vacant churches in West Michigan that didnt call a pastor for years because they had a steady stream of retired pastors ,Calvin seminary Profs and sem students who could preach. I think it would be best for everyone and for the denomination to do a study to see how many pastors the denomination would actually need in the next decade .The study could take into account the demographics of the denomination ,church vacancies and Seminary graduation rates.

Here are a few observations for future canidates.

1. The denomination does not owe you a job .Congrats on getting all A's but that does not mean you are going to get a call as a pastor .I have talked to a handful of graduates and some seem to expect to be handed a position. Sorry. it doesnt work that way. Also, take seriously what the canidadcy committee and your proffesors and even fellow classmates tell you about your shortcomings or things you need to work on such as preaching or pastoral care .Don't ingore good advice or wise counsel .It could very well mean getting a future position as a pastor or not.

2. Be wide open to where you will work. Too many canidates only want to be in an urban area or they will only accept a call to west michigan because their spouse wants to keep thier job.  People in Iowa and Montana need pastors too. If these churches show interest in you, be gracefull in your response. Dont say no right away. Maybe God is going to do something great with you in their church.

3. Don't act like your life finally starts once you get a call. Dont let your life revolve around looking for letters from churches in the mail or scanning the jobs section in The Bannar. Live life ,volunteer ,go camping, enjoy this time with your family ,get a job in the workforce. Even though you dont have a call yet ,God is still using you in his kingdom!

These are just some observations I have. Love to hear what others think!

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