As many seminary grads will confess, I’ve sent my resume out to a lot of places. That church that’s a 20 hour drive from my mother in law who, upon hearing that I’ve applied there will absolutely lose it and possibly threaten my life, yeah, I’ll give that a shot. My resume is out at so many places that I sometimes struggle to recall sending it when I (occasionally) get a response.
Then, there are the other times when it seems like real progress is being made in my search to be a minister. Not only do I get the obligatory, “We’ve received your resume and will be in contact with you shortly” response, but I seem to have made it past the initial DTR stage of the courtship all the way to the doctrine questionnaire. For those of you unfamiliar with the process of actually becoming a minister, filling out a doctrine questionnaire is kind of like those awkward first date conversations when you don’t want to say something that might scare the other person off because you’re really interested. My strategy thus far has been to keep it short, and avoid or utilize buzz words as appropriate. Sadly, the doctrine questionnaire is as far as I’ve gotten in my quest to become a minister.
However, my failure to move beyond this point has gotten me very acquainted with the church rejection letter, or, as I have termed it, the sanctified version of dating’s “It’s not you, it’s me” talk. Churches have to be careful in rejecting a potential minister. They don’t want to say anything to absolutely crush someone like, “After reviewing your questionnaire we question the validity of your candidacy in any ministerial capacity” but they also don’t want to give you false hope that they’re going to call back in a few weeks with a changed heart by saying something like “You’re great. You really are. We’re just not sure that we’re right for you and just need some more time.” Potential ministers are like girl crazy guys. If you leave us the slightest bit of hope, we’re going to cling to it. I’m sure somewhere there’s a potential minister hitting the re-fresh button on his e-mail every 5 minutes at 3:15 AM reciting some form of “They’ll write me back. I just know they will!”
To navigate this delicate balance between absolute devastation and groundless optimism churches often forgo a middle ground and utilize both tactics. A typical rejection letter flows thusly: “After much prayer and consideration we have decided to pursue other candidates. Please know that our decision does not reflect a negative evaluation of your calling or capacity for ministry. We simply came to the conclusion that other candidates were better suited for our church at this time.”
Or, translated: “We’re breaking it off. I know we had a great time getting to know each other and, really, you’re great. You’re soooooo great. We just think that, maybe, for now, there’s someone out there better for the both of us. But really, you’re great. Honestly, it’s not even you. It’s us. So we’re setting you free. Because of us. Be free, little bird. Be free…”