Rejection via “form letter”: a double let down

To those of you who serve as members of Pastor search committees:

Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.  The task to which you have been called and elected is an important one in the life of your church.  You are a person in whom your congregation has tremendous respect since they trust your wisdom and faithfulness in seeking a new pastor.

The work of a Pastor Nominating Committee is not easy.  You will read the Personal Information Forms of many individuals who seek a new call.  Some of these individuals are looking for a new direction in ministry. Some of them will be looking to relocate to a different part of the country.  Some persons will be looking for a better paying job.  If you are faithful and diligent in your work, you will find the one person who is called by God to serve your church.

I share my thoughts as you perform your task:

When I began in ministry, the Presbyterian Church was in a ‘pastors market’ for those of us finishing seminary and looking for a first call. Quite simply, there were more churches looking for pastors than there were pastors looking for calls. Oh how the times have changed!

As I work with vacant churches today, one of the comments I make to them is that the Presbyterian Church currently finds itself in a ‘church’s market’. There are far more pastors looking for new calls than churches that are seeking new pastors.

According to the most recent data (February 13), there are 2,266 clergy looking to relocate but there are only 439 positions in the system.  Out of these numbers, there are 375 clergy seeking a first call and only 130 churches available for a first call.  The circumstances for racial ethnic pastors isn’t any better:  there are 244 racial ethnic clergy and lay professionals seeking relocation but only 39 racial/multi ethnic congregations in the system.

So what’s happening?  My theory is that economy and call are in some ways linked to one another.  Recent economic stresses on pastors, e.g. unchanged or reduced salaries, have taken their toll on clergy.  After three or four years of living with no positive change in income while facing rising prices for commodities such as gas and food, clergy have had enough.  They now seek new calls  or in truthfulness “better paying jobs.”  They cannot support themselves or their families on 2007 salaries when the price of a gas has jumped from an average of $2.80 per gallon to what is now being predicted to be a national average of $3.95 per gallon in 2012.  Likewise food, clothing and other costs have risen since then.

Churches have not fared any better.  Many congregations are reporting decreases in income.  The research department of the PCUSA reports that of the 71.8% of congregations responding to its survey, the average contributions per church was down 3.54%.  In actual dollars this statistic reveals that per member giving averages about $1,122.

These are tough times for us all.  Creative and risk-taking ministry must take place by clergy and congregations alike.  Pastors need to be creative in how they view their present call.  How can they as the visible leader of a congregation model and encourage giving?  Are pastors willing to risk a full time career for a tent-making ministry?  How will Ruling Elders make a commitment to fairly compensate the work of the pastor rather than balance the budget shortfall using the integrity of the pastor as the means?

When I counsel with Pastor Nominating Committees (PNC), even in the market we find ourselves in today, I advise them to work efficiently and quickly since a candidate today may be the pastor elsewhere tomorrow.  In today’s market of pastors looking to relocate, an offer of a new call is unlikely to be rejected.

I also counsel you to be pastoral in your response rejecting candidates.  In other words, if someone is clearly not seen as a match for your congregation let them know quickly…don’t string them along.  Also, make your rejection letter appear to be personally written.  To get a form rejection letter can be the most humiliating experience.

A recent letter I saw began, “Dear Friend…”  The person who shared the letter with me lamented, “I wonder if they even really looked at my PIF.”   A simple salutation that included the pastors name would have been much easier to accept. It is also encouraging to include a phrase that reveals that your search committee has read the resume.

Many of those with whom I talk or debrief the pastor search process comment that it was a difficult task but they found it to be a blessing for them personally.  They shared that they have a greater understanding and appreciation for the role of the pastor and the work of their congregation.

To those of you in the search process, continue to run the race before you.


2 thoughts on “Rejection via “form letter”: a double let down

  1. Edward,
    As one who has been through the search process a few times, and is current doing it again, I was actually pleased to have received a “dear friend” letter the other day. Often I will have sent personal correspondence and a PIF after putting a great deal of thought into whether I thought a church might be a good match, only to hear nothing from a PNC ever. Eventually I gave up hearing from them or discovered through finding their CIF removed from CLC or seeing on their website that they were calling a new pastor that clearly I was not being considered. So, I guess in some sense, even a form letter is an improvement over the nothing I have received from over half of the churches whom I have sent my PIF in 15 years of ministry – both during the “Pastor’s Market” and the “Church’s Market.” It seems to me that PNC’s (like congregations in general) need to remember that they are dealing with individual people who deserve the consideration of responses – the more personal the better.

    • Thanks Marianne, you are correct. As I train the PNCs I encourage them to respond to every PIF they receive. What I’ve found recently is that it takes some time:an example, one of our churches posted its CIF and within 24 hours had received over 30 PIFs. When they had been in the database for about one month, they had been overwhelmed by more than 100 PIFs. It is taking them some time to respond to some of these persons. I have counseled that at least an email to the pastor thanking them for submitting a PIF and that the search committee will be reviewing and responding at a later date is better than nothing at all. I pray that God will bless you in your search.

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