Some denominations have a guaranteed appointment system, and some pastors are moved around by a district-level bishop. Baptist pastors, however, usually apply independently for a vacant role (or are approached out of the blue) and "candidate" for a position. There is often a questionnaire, an interview, a trial sermon, and a vote. A commonly asked question has to do with what sort of percentage a pastoral candidate should seek before accepting a call from a church. Ideally, the vote would be unanimous, right? But that isn't all that common. Is it biblical to draw a line in the sand? How do you even think about this issue? Does it just boil down to a coin toss?
New Testament Insights
The situation of the early church was fairly unique, so we do not necessarily have an explicit multi-step process outlined in the Scriptures. Since the church was still very much in the apostolic age, we find the apostles appointing pastors ("ordaining bishops") in every church. I'm not sure there is even one example anywhere in the Bible that a given congregation votes on the selection of its pastor. For Baptists, who are famously "people of the Book" committed to Sola Scriptura, that must feel like an awkward reality to say the least. It makes sense, though, that a pastor cannot lead people who do not want him to be the pastor. (Meanwhile, making sense is a horrible hermeneutic.)
The Heart of the Matter
So, if you find yourself wondering how high of a percentage you should require to take a position, I would encourage you to work through the decision with all of the following in mind. What is the size of the church? If the church's own constitution requires three-fourths majority to pass, and that's exactly what you get, 25% no votes in a church of 1,000+ is a very different thing than 25% no votes in a church of 100. What is the makeup of the 'no' votes? Some churches have a loophole in their governing documents that allows inactive members to show up and vote. I experienced this once in my ministry. That church's Constitution required the vote to be taken a full week after the trial sermon. People who had never met me (not that that would've made a difference) showed up and voted against the motion to call me. The committee chair stated to me that this was one family that wanted the church to fold and not call a pastor; they were committed to voting down every candidate that was brought. All of the 'no' votes matter, but are they influencers in the church? Are they the kind, in other words, that will accept as God's will what their peers voted, or will they let this stick in their crawl and be a thorn in your side the entire time you are there. Usually it is the latter. What is God stirring up in your own heart? Do you have a burden for this community? Do you have a sense of direction about a vision for the church based already on what limited knowledge you have? Do you sense God leading you to accept the position? Are you only entertaining it because you are desperate to pay the bills? (And God can use that fact to lead you!) I received some advice once that has not necessarily played out in my own experience, but I will share it anyway. The saying goes that you will tick off about 5% of your church every year. In a church of 100, that is 5 people. After 3-5 years of ministry, that's enough people usually to vote you out. If you start with only 80% of the congregation's support, this feels problematic. Some guys want 90% - some more, some less. The church where I currently serve extended a unanimous call. They mentioned that they had not been unanimous on anything since the 80s. (Before you get excited, remember that public sentiment on Jesus shifted in just seven short days!)
Bottom line: Pray and, if you are cleared by your doctor, fast about it. Seek God's face. Consider your family's needs (spiritual, emotional, financial). Consider patterns in the church's history. Solicit counsel from others. Contact me; I'd be glad to talk with you about it. Pray for a unanimous decision, but if it Is not unanimous - in a small church, I would be comfortable with anything over 85% if I had peace. But I might walk away from 99%, if I didn't have peace. God will direct you, and no blog post can be a substitute for that.
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.