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Responsibility, Freedom and Accountability of Call Committees —Current ELCA Constitutional Directives

October, 2003

Review the pertinent sections from the three constitutions that govern your congregation and its relationship with your synod and the ELCA:

  • The ELCA constitution
  • Your synod constitution
  • Your congregation's constitution

Your congregation may have a constitution different from the ELCA's Model Constitution, so you will need to obtain copies of your congregation's actual constitution. Even if your congregation has adopted the Model Constitution, your congregation may have modified the model or adopted additional bylaws that pertain to the call process. Carefully read your congregation's constitution. The ELCA constitution has the following relevant rubrics:

9.21.01. Approval of the synodical bishop, as required in 9.21.d., involves the bishop’s attesting that a candidate for the roster of ordained ministers of this church has been approved, in conformity with the governing documents and policies of this church, through the synodical candidacy process for first call as a seminary graduate or for call in this church through approval for reception into this church from another Lutheran church body or another Christian church body. Consultation with the synodical bishop in accordance with the call procedures and governing documents of this church and the synod is required for the calling of pastoral leadership from among person on the roster of ordained ministers of this church or persons who are approved as eligible candidates for the roster of ordained ministers of this church.

7.31.13. Preparation and Approval. Except as provided below, a candidate for ordination as a pastor shall have:

  • g. been recommended to a congregation or other entity by the bishop of the synod to which the candidate has been assigned for first call in accordance with the procedures recommended by the Division for Ministry, reviewed by the Conference of Bishops, and adopted by the Church Council.

The Synod constitution has the following relevant rubrics:

S6.03. Statement of Purpose. To fulfill these purposes, this synod, in partnership with the churchwide organization, shall bear primary responsibility for the oversight of the life and mission of this church in the territory of this synod. In fulfillment of this role, this synod shall:

  1. Provide for the pastoral care of congregations, ordained ministers, associates in ministry, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers of this church in this synod, including:
    1. approving candidates for the ordained ministry in cooperation with the appropriate seminaries of this church, which may be done through multi-synodical Committees;
    2. consulting in the calling process for ordained ministers, associates in ministry, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers.

S8.12. Bishop. As this synod's pastor, the bishop shall be an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament who shall:

e. Attest letters of call for persons called to serve congregations in the synod, letters of call or persons called by the Synod Council, and letters of call for persons called by the Church council on the rosters of this synod.

S14.01. The time and place of the ordination of those persons properly called to the congregations or extra parish service of this synod shall be authorized by the bishop of this synod.

S14.11. When a congregation of this church desires to call a pastor or a candidate for the pastoral office in the ordained ministry of this church:

  1. Each congregation of this synod shall consult the bishop of this synod before taking any steps leading to the extending of a call to a prospective pastor.
  2. When the congregation has voted to issue a call to a prospective pastor, the letter of call shall be submitted to the bishop of this synod for the bishop's signature.

It is constitutionally appropriate to conclude the following:

  • The role of the bishop’s office is to assist and advise congregational call committees.
  • The bishop’s office needs to be consulted before a congregation begins the call process. This does not imply that the bishop controls the process, but for the good order is aware of and involved in the process.
  • The bishop is involved in the approval processes for ordination. Therefore, anyone on the roster is approved for ministry and therefore for consideration by a congregational call committee.
  • The bishop must attest the call, that is sign it after attesting that such things as the appropriate salary and benefits are accurate, and that the pastor is in good standing on the clergy roster of the ELCA.

Note: There is precedent in the ELCA that a pastor may serve a congregation even though a bishop refuses to sign the call. A congregation must be sure the candidate is in good standing and listen carefully to why the bishop would not recommend the desired candidate.

The congregation must approve the candidate by a two-thirds majority vote at a legally called congregational meeting. There is no constitutional requirement that the bishop/bishop's office needs to be represented at the meeting.

The date and place of the installation of a pastor needs to be cleared with the synod office. This is a matter of good order for synod roster recording purposes.

It is clear from these constitutional policies that the role of the bishop and synod office is to assist congregations engaged in the call process. The synod bishop is thus the servant of the congregation.

Variety of Processes

Bishops and synods use a wide variety of practices to provide the name(s) of candidates for call to congregational call committees. Such practices include:

  1. Providing, at the bishop’s discretion, several candidates (typically 3 to 5) for call committee consideration. If these candidates are not acceptable, then more names will be submitted (usually 1 or 2).
  2. Providing one candidate at a time. As each is rejected one more candidate would be submitted.
  3. A synod call committee provides name(s) of candidates as per #1 and 2 above.
  4. Some bishops/synods welcome names submitted by the congregation call committee. Such candidates are contacted as to their availability for call, cleared for meeting appropriate pastoral qualifications as per Vision and Expectations of the ELCA, and discerning if the candidate's current salary falls within the stated ability of the calling congregation to pay.


Be clear that it is the congregation’s right and freedom to call anyone on the clergy roster of the ELCA to be their pastor. Furthermore, the congregation may also consider calling a pastor from any of those several denominations with which the ELCA has declared full communion. The following concerns are in order:

  1. The candidate must be free from any ethical and moral discrepancies. The synod office has such a record of the pastors of the ELCA, and should be contacted concerning any potential pastor/AIM.
  2. The candidate must, at the discernment of the call committee, meet the theological and confessional requirements of the congregation.
  3. In addition to the names of candidates secured from the office of the synod bishop, call committees are free to seek out candidates based upon their independent research.
  4. Call committees are free to consider as many names of candidates at one time as they deem prudent. Researching names by the synod office is a demanding task and therefore a reasonable number of candidates should be requested.
  5. The synod office should be asked to honor these freedoms from the outset of the call process. The call committee will respectfully request synod office cooperation toward those ends posited above. If not, the call committee is free to act without support of the bishop’s office.

The Process Suggested for Call Committees

Congregational wisdom is to be respected. In that context, subject to variations, the following suggestions may be in order:

  1. Make sure that the call committee is composed of members who clearly represent the convictions of the congregation. It is therefore prudent not to simply accept volunteers. A screening process is advisable. Categories and qualities for call committee members should be established before there is a process to secure committee members. Such categories might include gender balance, age balance, length of membership in the parish, a work schedule that would permit faithful attendance at the committee meetings, etc. Qualities might include: truly represents the congregation, good listener, cordiality, etc. The committee should be elected by the congregation. The number on the committee may be determined by the parish constitution. If not, a committee of 7 to 9 members is a manageable size.
  2. Glean from the synod office any recommendations/tools they might have developed to be of help. Self-studies, salary guidelines, and interview processes will be helpful for committee functions. Synod resource centers might have such materials as well. The synod office also has an “Available for Call” resume from the candidate. That is typically—and should be—forwarded to call committees. The committee may certainly alter/adapt any of the processes to meet their needs. The value of self-studies is manifold:
    1. It makes possible the inclusion of the congregation in the process.
    2. It gives a clear picture to the candidates as to the character and needs of the congregation.
    3. It gives direction to the call committee.
  3. Fair salary is absolutely essential when issuing a call. If the synod office will not supply the current salary the committee should simply inquire about such information from each candidate. It is recommended that a congregation pay the candidate at a minimum of 1-2 years above synod salary guidelines.
  4. The call committee might consider developing a list of “must” questions to ask of each candidate. These would be in addition to questions the committee will be asking in the actual interview. It is appropriate to ask each candidate to submit in writing prior to the interview—or even acceptance for an interview—a list of questions to answer. Be careful not to make such a list too long. Four to five questions should be the limit. Some suggestions, in general categories, might include:
    1. As you preach and teach, and as the congregation makes decisions, where is your authority and their authority for such decisions to be found? What if either does not follow such authority?
    2. Where should the congregation be inclusive and where exclusive?
    3. Describe your use of law and gospel. In that context, what is your understanding of sin, the power of the devil, and hell?
    4. What are the primary social issues of our day, including homosexuality, and how would you address them in a parish setting? Where do you stand on such issues?
    5. Why are you a Lutheran Christian?
    6. What are the primary skills you bring to your ministry? Where are you lacking?
  5. You may request a taped or videotaped sermon.
  6. Invite the spouse (if married) to visit with the candidate. Do not require it or hold it against the candidate if the spouse chooses not to come or cannot come due to vocation, childcare, etc.
  7. Limit the list of candidates to interview. 3-5 is adequate. You can always interview more if you are not satisfied with the field of candidates.
  8. Schedule the interviews as closely together as possible. Always notify by phone any that you dismiss. If there is a delay in the process keep all candidates informed.
  9. Provide as much information as possible to each candidate about the parish and the community before the interview.
  10. During the visit of the candidate, allow as much time as possible for each candidate. Meetings over lunch, dinner, and breakfast can often be more productive than the interview itself.
  11. The actual interview should take no more than two hours. Allowing time to get acquainted and for questions from the candidate (at least 30 minutes), then chart the questions you wish to ask. Assuming each question will consume 7-10 minutes, allowing for dialogue, you have time for perhaps 10 questions. Select them carefully. One of those questions will certainly revolve around the ministry of WordAlone as well as what it would take to renew and reform the ELCA. Such questions might include:
    • How and how often do you pray?
    • How are you renewed theologically and pastorally?
    • What is the relationship of law and Gospel and how do you put that into practice in your ministry?
    • To what normative criteria should a pastor be held accountable?
    • Where should the church be exclusive and where inclusive?
    • Where would we find truth, love, fidelity, courage and integrity in your character and ministry?
    • Wherein is the authority of the pastoral office?
    • How would we know you love us?
    • What does it mean to proclaim the Bible is the Word of God?
    • What, if any, are the heresies in our church?
    • Would you bless a same-sex relationship?
    • What is your theology and ecclesiology regarding ordination?
    • What things need changing in the church and in your life?
    • Why does conflict occur in the congregation?
    • What do you do in the face of conflict?
    • Describe your teaching ministries.
    • What has worked for you in youth ministry?
    • What has not worked for you in the area of evangelism and what did you do about it?
    • NOTE: Make your questions open-ended, if possible, not suggesting in the way you ask the question what answer you hope to hear.
    • NOTE: Announce that you will be taking notes and tape recording, if that is your choice.
    • Be sensitive to the needs of the candidates and provide an agenda to meet those needs. Such needs might include schools, special education needs of children, employment opportunities of spouse, housing, realities, etc.
    • A second interview is always in order, though not necessary.
    • Respect confidentiality.
    • It is acceptable to visit the parish to see the pastoral candidate in action. Do so with respect to confidentiality.
    • Ask permission to seek references, even some not on the list provided by the candidate.

Steps to take from this point

  1. The committee should agree by consensus on the candidate they propose to the congregation. Majority vote is not a good idea in that split decisions could lead to future disharmony as well as not paying heed to the wisdom of fellow members of the committee. If there is not consensus, then go back to the interview process until agreement is reached.
  2. Notify the bishop of your decision, securing necessary call forms from the office.
  3. If you do not find support from the bishop’s office, seek a clear rationale for why this is so.
  4. If, after receiving the rationale, you still are intent on calling your pastor of choice, inform the bishop’s office of your intent, the constitutional basis for such a request, and proceed to issue the call. If necessary, you may appeal to the synod constitutional committee, the appeals committee of the synod, or to the appeals committee of the ELCA.
  5. Ask your congregational president to convene a congregational meeting for the purpose of extending a call. Pass on to the congregation all the information you have regarding the candidate. Here is where taped materials might be helpful. Include, if it applies, rationale for the office of the bishop's rejection of said candidate. Be sure the candidate is also notified of your intention to issue the call. Notify the candidate of your decision right after the congregational call meeting.
  6. With or without the endorsement of the synod bishop, the call may be extended, but only if the candidate is on the roster of the ELCA (or a full communion partner denomination) and not in violation of the rubrics of Visions and Expectations. A two-thirds majority vote by the congregation is necessary to extend the call.
  • Call and Candidacy Task Force
  • WordAlone Network
  • October 2003