I once had dinner in an Amish home where I heard about their unusual procedure for choosing a pastor. In that part of the country few Amish acquire education beyond their eighth grade, almost none have theological training. The entire congregation votes for any male members who show pastoral potential, and those who receive at least three votes move forward to sit at a table. Each has hymn book in front of him, and inside his randomly chosen hymn book one of the men finds a card designating him as the new pastor. For the next year he gets to preach two sermons a week, averaging ninety minutes in length.
“What if the person selected doesn’t feel qualified?” I asked my Amish friend. He looked puzzled, then replied, “If he did feel qualified, we wouldn’t want him . We want a humble man, one who looks to God.”
I don’t recommend the Amish method of pastoral call( thought it does have intriguing parallels with the Old Testament system of drawing lots), but his lost comment got me thinking. Thomas Merton once said that most of what we expect pastors and priest to do–teach and advice others, console them, pray for them–should in fact be the responsibility of the rest of the congregation.
In our modern fixation with job descriptions and career competency, do we neglect the most important qualification of a pastor, the need to know God? I recall that the Hindu Gandhi, leader of half a billion people, even in the heat of negotiations over independence refused to compromise his principle of observing every monday as a day of silence. He believed failure to honor that day of spiritual nourishment would make him less effective throughout the other six days.
I wonder how much more effective our spiritual leaders would be if we granted them one day a week as a time of silence for reflection, meditation, and personal study. I wonder how much more effective our churches would be if we made the pastor’s spiritual health–not his or her efficiency–our number one priority.
“Back Page” column, Christianity Today, May 21, 2001(104)