When a Missouri Synod congregation desires to call a pastor who is serving in the field (as opposed to calling a pastor directly from one of our seminaries), her voters or a group designated by the voters will generally start the process by meeting with her district president or his representative. They usually conduct a survey of the needs for the congregation’s ministry and also each member of the congregation can submit names of pastors he or she believe could serve them. The district president will then get background information on these suggested pastors (perhaps adding his thoughts or assessments) and also add additional pastors that he feels could lead the congregation. Often a group chosen by the voters who will then work through the information on the “call list”. In some cases, this group contacts the pastors on the list to make sure each one can prayerfully consider a call from their congregation.
I’ve heard these contacts about whether a pastor could consider a call (somewhat jokingly) referred to as “divine feelers”; they are not a divine call but simply an inquiry as to whether a pastor could prayerfully consider a call (sickness, congregational transitions, family issues, educational commitments, etc. are reasons that a pastor couldn’t consider a call which probably wouldn’t be included with the information that comes with a “call list”). Over the past 31 years, I’ve received about a dozen of these inquires and only one of them eventually resulted in me receiving a divine call from the inquiring congregation. Generally, I have told them that I could prayerfully consider a call; however, in one or two cases I have shared information that might make such consideration difficult (like they wanted a part-time pastor) while reassuring them that if they were moved by the Holy Spirit to issue me a divine call that I would prayerfully consider it (I believe that each call issued by a congregation of Christ’s people is divine and must be carefully, prayerfully considered).
Sometimes this group designated by a congregation’s voters will also send questionnaires, do surveys or conduct interviews of pastoral candidates. The past few years, I responded to a couple of surveys and had one phone interview with a congregation. I was also invited to fly to a location with Alice for a personal interview. While I told that congregation I would prayerfully consider if they did extend me a call, I also declined the personal interview. I shared with their district president that there was an extenuating situation outside their congregation but within their community (relatives of someone) which probably would’ve made ministry very difficult for my family and myself – I don’t like to waste the Lord’s money so I declined the personal interview.
Looking back on how this played out: in late December of 2004, I received a phone call from Merle Elsberry asking if I could prayerfully consider a call from Zion. I told Merle that I could prayerfully consider such a call. A couple of weeks later, I received a phone call telling me that you had extended me a call to serve as your pastor. I waited until I received your call documents in certified mail. This packet included a formal call document signed by your leaders, information about Zion’s ministry and the Atlantic/Cass County area, and information about the benefits and salary you were offering. Once I received the formal call document, I drafted letters to you here in Zion (which I mailed to you and am sure was read in the church services), to the Iowa District West president, the Nebraska District president, and the congregation I was serving, St. Matthew, Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska, (which I read in church). All of these letters told about me receiving a divine call from Zion and asked for prayers to help as I considered with the Holy Spirit guidance which divine call I should serve, either that from St. Matthew, Cedar Bluffs, or from Zion, Atlantic. After a few weeks, I wrote letters to the same groups and individuals telling them that the Holy Spirit was moving me to accept the call here to Zion. That’s generally how the process works. If you would like to see this process working out in our District check out “The Messenger” http://idwlcms.org/publications.php which includes a section on Pastors Calls received, declined and accepted and also those for Commissioned Ministers (teachers, DCEs, etc.).