Don’t say a word to the congregation until you have the paperwork, but call your current circuit counselor pretty soon after you get the phone call and tell him it is coming. If you don’t have the paperwork by Saturday see if they can fax it to you. If they can’t get it to you, delay your announcement until the next Sunday. Don’t announce without the paperwork.
Don’t tell anybody in the congregation early. They all deserve to hear it from you. Announce it on a Sunday at a normally scheduled service. Tell them that you have two calls from God: one to serve them and one to serve these other people. You will be considering both of them, praying about it, and would welcome their advice and prayers. You will make a decision and announce it 3 weeks from that day, again on a Sunday.
Send a letter of acknowledgment to the calling congregation. Ask for their prayers and advice also. Inform them, too, of the deadline. Copy both District Presidents and both Circuit Counselors. If possible and you are serious about accepting the call, arrange a visit to the calling congregation. Be wary of anything they say or tell you. They won’t out and out lie, but they want you to come. They will spin things as best they can. It is most likely that no one will mention the lodge problem, the grape juice at communion, or whatever other aberrant practice they may engage in. They are wooing you. That being said, don’t hold out for the perfect place. It is screwed up everywhere – that is part of the reason they need a pastor.
How to Decide
When you consider the call itself do not succumb to the Pietistic idea that we are to determine God’s will in these things, as though God only has one path for you and you must determine what it is. You do not know where you can best serve God. You do not know what will happen if you stay. You don’t know what will happen if you leave. Both places are God’s flocks. He will take care of them. He doesn’t need you. As always, He is being gracious to you. Make your decision on the basis of what you know or at least suspect. What will the work be like? What is the place like? How will it affect your family? Do the pay and/or the conditions seem better? What does your wife think or feel about it? Decide on the basis of those things. Trust God to bless your decision.
You have been called into the Holy Ministry. Once in a while, God gives you some small measure of free will as to where you will serve. He called you to where you currently serve. Now He offers you another opportunity. He doesn’t have to. He doesn’t always. Many men serve for years and years, even up to retirement, and never get another call. You don’t have that many choices in this life, but this is one of them. You can’t accept both calls. One has to be declined. Somebody will be disappointed. But God’s feelings won’t be hurt. He is offering you a choice. If you still like the first place, no problem. It is pleasing to Him that you are committed. If you think you’re ready for new things, great. He has custom-made this place for you. Either way, He has plans for you. He will fulfill His Word to and for you. In that sense, you can’t make a mistake.
Make your announcement as planned. If you absolutely have to have more time, announce that. But don’t delay for more than a week, and don’t delay if you can help it. Don’t delay because you are feeling indecisive. Deadlines are good for everyone. Even if you don’t normally make announcements at the beginning of the Service, make this one at the beginning. No one will listen to anything if you keep them in suspense. It is better to get it out. You may call your contact at the other congregation the night before and allow them to announce it in the morning. If you are accepting their call, you must make sure there is no chance that it could somehow get to one of your current members before your announcement. If you think it might, the calling congregation simply has to wait until Sunday afternoon for the news. The congregation you currently serve gets the priority. If you’re declining, it is not as big of a deal. You should also call your current Circuit Counselor on Saturday and tell him your plans. It doesn’t hurt to remind him to keep it confidential. Send a letter first thing Monday morning to the calling congregation with your announcement. Copy both district presidents and both circuit counselors.
If You Leave
Leaving a congregation feels a lot like breaking up with a girlfriend. There is no easy way to do it. Don’t drag it out. Don’t make up excuses. Just tell them that even though it breaks your heart to leave, you think this is a good opportunity and God wants you there. You are thankful for your time with them and will always remember them in your prayers. Plan on leaving very quickly after you announce that you have accepted the other call. Your announcement should include the date of your final Sunday. Two or three weeks is ideal. The longer you carry on after telling them you’ve chosen someone else, the longer you endure the awkwardness of the situation. They, too, are ready to move on and get started with the vacancy and looking for a new pastor.
If you live in a parsonage you should meet with whatever governing board you have as soon as possible and negociate the terms of your leaving. How long can you stay in the parsonage after your final Sunday? How long can you leave your stuff there? You should also make a list of things that need repair and attention during the vacancy. Do your successor a favor and be very detailed, including things that were broken or substandard when you got there, right down to saying that the living room needs to be painted in a neutral tone or the refrigerator isn’t big enough for a modern family of four.
If You Stay
You need to give the calling congregation a reason for declining. Don’t be afraid to be blunt. If there is a problem, such as low salary, substandard housing, or even obvious trouble in the congregation, they need to hear it. If it is just that your kids are in High School, that is fine, tell them that. Whatever it is, explain it, so they have an opportunity to address it.