Could you explain to me how the call process for pastors and teachers works in WELS? Our pastor, whom we all love, currently has a call to another congregation, and of course we don't want to see him leave.
You are by no means the first church member who has had these kinds of thoughts. We are extremely grateful that you love your pastor and that the thought of losing him is emotionally unpleasant. No doubt it is equally and perhaps more unpleasant for the church that currently has no pastor and that has extended a call to your pastor to consider serving them at this time in his pastoral career.
Procedurally, the Bible does not give detailed instructions about how churches are to obtain their pastors, teachers, or staff ministers. The procedures that have been developed within our synod (and in many other church bodies as well) have served us well over the years and are an orderly and suitable way of going about filling public ministry positions that are vacant. I say this lest we give the impression that our way is the only way of doing this. But it is a good way, and you may be sure that other ways have been considered and minor changes to the way we do things have been implemented over the years.
Briefly stated, we entrust the task of filling vacancies among us to the 12 district presidents in our synod. Their task is to be familiar with the congregations and schools in their respective districts, so they know the challenges and opportunities that exist at a given place, and the desires and expectations of the calling group. They also have and keep informational records on all eligible called workers (pastors, teachers, staff ministers) so they have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses, skills and aptitudes of these trained public ministers. And they provide a list of suitable people for the calling church or organization to consider as they strive to fill their vacancy. In the case of your pastor, then, his background, skills, experience, etc., were seen as a suitable match for the vacant church; his name was placed on such a list by a district president; and the vacant church selected him from that list and extended a call to him. He must now prayerfully determine whether he can best serve where he currently is or at the other place at this particular time. And he will likely be receiving counsel and input from a variety of sources as he considered his two calls (the one, to his current parish and the other, to his potential future parish).
The task of assigning graduates from our seminary and college (pastoral, teacher, and staff ministry candidates) to their initial place of labor is also entrusted to the Conference of Presidents (COP) composed of the 12 district presidents in our synod. They receive help and guidance from school officers and administrators who serve to give them a good portrait of the strengths, weaknesses, and skills of the candidates. The district presidents then seek to assign the candidates to fitting churches and schools that provide a good match for their skills and aptitudes.
But remember that many churches and schools, because of their size and other circumstances, may not be a suitable place for an inexperienced worker to be assigned. So it’s not as simple as assigning graduates to any vacant place. Many places, due to their situation, need or desire an experienced pastor — like yours. So they extend a call to him even though there may be graduates available.
We are very much aware that many times a degree of turmoil and discomfort accompanies this process. At the same time, there is value in having churches, schools, pastors, and teachers undertake the self-appraisal and the thorough look at how the public ministry at a given place is going. There are definite blessings that come with the discomfort.
Every step of the way in this process we give mutual encouragement that we approach this important task prayerfully and with the confidence that the Holy Spirit will be guiding the district presidents, the churches and schools who are seeking workers, and the churches and schools who may eventually lose a beloved called worker if he or she accepts a call to another place. This is our prayer and confidence regarding your church and pastor as well.