by Tracey Breashears Schultz, Bishop’s Associate for Leadership
When we think of time, we often think of clocks, calendars, timelines, and deadlines. This kind of time is chronos in Greek. It’s measurable, linear, and predictable. It’s the basis for the word chronological. Another kind of time, also from the Greek, is kairos. This word appears in the New Testament 86 times. Kairos is an opportune time, like the time for harvest. Kairos is harder to predict. It’s the kind of time the apostle used when he wrote, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent [the] Son, born of a woman (Galatians 4:4)…” Some things, like the birth of Christ, happen in God’s time and not in ours.
Over and over again, to call committees and congregations in transition, I have taught this lesson – this difference between chronos and kairos. I caution the faithful: we are conditioned to rely on chronos when God calls us, in seasons of transition, to kairos. We do not know when God will stir the heart of a pastor to consider a new call. Call committees can’t know how many people they will interview before finding a match. We cannot know how long the process, from forming the call committee to installing a new pastor, will take. We like to try to predict these things or to put a timeline on them, but that’s chronos, and although that may be a comfort to us, it’s not what we’re called to rely on in this moment.
I’m often asked about the state of call processes in our synod. People are curious about whether the pandemic has affected my work. I get questions about who’s available for call and how long it may take to call a pastor. My answer is this: I’m learning to rely on kairos. That’s right. I’ve taught and preached it, but I’m still learning it myself!
At the time I’m writing this article, there are seventeen congregations in the call process. Three call committees are ready to interview potential pastors. On the horizon are three more call committees who are completing their Ministry Site Profiles. They will be the next to request names for interviews. As the call process administrator for our synod, I feel a great sense of responsibility for matching potential pastors with these call committees so they can meet one another and see whether they’re called to ministry together. One of my delights in this work is getting to present a slate of names to a call committee and then seeing what God may do! The problem is: none of this is happening quickly, not even for me.
There are a number of reasons for this. During the height of the pandemic, pastors who had once made themselves available for call took their paperwork down and decided to see their congregations through all there was to navigate. Since then, some have made themselves available for call, but others are still committed to staying where they are and leading through change. Additionally, some pastors have decided to retire. Some of those retirements were planned, but others have come about unexpectedly and after a period of discernment. Those retirements mean fewer pastors in the pool of those available for call. Plus, some pastors, in need of rest and restoration, perhaps even pondering whether they are still called to serve the church, have gone on leave from call. This means they have left their current ministry but have not made themselves available for another one just yet. All of this adds up to fewer pastors available for those congregations awaiting names.
It also means, because pastors are in high demand, that they can be selective about the calls they consider. Some of them have come from situations where they were at odds with their councils or congregations over COVID protocols, and they are leery of stepping into a similar situation. Pastors tell me they are interested in mutual ministry, that is, doing ministry with a congregation and not for them. Others are only willing to take calls that will pay them synod guidelines. It’s always been the case, but it’s even more so now: call committees and pastors are interviewing each other.
I trust that God is up to something and that it is good. In the meantime, we’ve had to make some changes. I used to promise 3-5 pastors for interviews. I’ve adjusted that to 2-3 because that’s more realistic. I used to estimate I could find potential pastors in three weeks. I no longer offer such definitive timelines. When call committees get frustrated because the process is slower than they hoped, or when congregations get anxious and assume the synod is at fault, I do well to remember what God can do “in the fullness of time.” In answer to the questions, my most faithful response is one I believe wholeheartedly. We’re learning about kairos, and we will have all we need, in God’s time.