August 1, 2011

Finding Mr./Mrs. (the Rev.) Right

Discernment is like dating. 

Those early butterflies. Conversation that burrows a little deeper with each chat, by turns both exuberant and awkward. The not knowing how much to reveal: I like you. I want to serve here. I want to move forward together. The anxious moments between each meeting (and transition process steps). Will this work? Is there chemistry? Is this what God is calling me to – or is it just what I want?

In my life, I’ve been through a number of transitions – both dating and job-wise. I’ve learned a little each time. 

Of course, we all know that honesty is the best policy, right? But we don’t always live that out. In discernment about transitions, it’s critical for both parties to be honest. If the congregation is desperately seeking a talented administrator and you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants innovator, be honest. This is probably going to end badly. Most congregations say they’re ready for change, to be a place of radical hospitality that attracts hordes of children and teenagers. But if the doors to the church are always locked and the line item for communications, evangelism, and children’s programs is less than the cleaning budget, then the church needs to be honest: it’s going to be rough waters, and no priest, regardless of talent, can right the ship in six months. 

Speed is another key factor. We don’t want to rush to the altar, but some transition processes are like the couple who date for seven years and still don’t know if they’re ready for a commitment. Keep the process moving. It’s better for congregations (most of the time), and it’s better for the pool of possible priests. They are in limbo, stuck between what could be and what is, and it’s hard to give your best to either. 

And finally, share information freely. Don’t you hate those form letters that say thank you for your interest but we don’t think you’re the right fit? Ugh. Obviously at the beginning of a process, you’re freer to cut the strings without explanation. But after a search committee has spent hours – days – with a prospective candidate, an e-mail or letter saying adios isn’t enough. Some transition advisers may think differently, but I think both sides deserve a little more closure, of sharing with each other why this might not be the right match. 

No one wants the equivalent of a text-message break-up.