Pressure Points with Dr. Bruce Hartung

Q:  I have received a call.  The church that is calling me wants me to come for a visit.  The visit includes bringing my family — wife and children.  They say that while they have called me already, they want me to get to know them, meet people, see the town, talk about their ministry, etc.  They think this will help me with my decision.  They are clear about this, and their reasons for it are compelling.
 
At the same time, I am not sure about it.  One reason is that it gives the impression to my church that I serve now that I am really interested in the call.  While I am interested, I haven’t decided by a long shot.  Another reason that I resist this is because of the call itself.  By this I mean that going for a look-see seems “business-like” rather than “church-like” to me.  I really want to pray about it and see where I am called, without visiting.  At least I think that is how calls should be handled.
 
I guess you can see that I am not sure about this one, and my brother pastors are sort of divided as well.  I think you hold the deciding vote in my mind.  Should we go and visit?  Should I decline?
 
A:  I am honored that you would consider my opinion.  But it should not rise to the level of a “deciding vote.”  If I thought you would actually use it that way, I would decline to respond.  But since I am assuming you are saying this with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, I will offer a couple of thoughts that I hope you will prayerfully consider as part of your own discernment process.
 
1. Talk this over with your spouse and even with your children.  Would they like to visit?  Of special importance is mutual conversation with your spouse.  To visit or not should be a joint decision — or, at the very least, one into which your spouse has significant input.  You have not mentioned in your question whether this conversation has gone on in earnest.  Make it so!
 
2. Work to abandon the dichotomy of “business” versus “church.”  This may be a common business practice, but there is no reason that parishes cannot adopt good practices and make them their own.  Either/or thinking in this case makes it much harder to discern an answer to this dilemma in a healthy way.
 
3. The real question, at least for me, is what will best serve the discernment process that must go on.  The call has been issued.  What will the Holy Spirit use to help you discern in a healthy way?  Speaking at a human level, you will make a decision eventually.  What kinds of behaviors will help you make a decision that advances the kingdom of Christ and also energizes you for your ministry?
 
4. Were I called by a congregation and invited to visit, I personally would do so.  It makes all the sense in the world to me.  By getting a sense of the place and the people, by discussing the vision and ministry hopes, and by seeing living and schooling options, among other things, I would be much better informed by the reality I see rather than the reality I imagine.  (That I would do this does not mean that you should, however.)
 
5. Continue to talk this over with trusted colleagues as well as your spouse.  Include in your ongoing conversations the members of the calling congregation who invited you to visit.  Make sure that you understand their reasons for issuing the invitation in the first place.  It sounds to me that they want to be helpful.
 
Dr. Bruce M. Hartung is executive director of the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support and associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  He can be reached at bruce.hartung@lcms.org.

Posted Jan. 28, 2005

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