Today, if your church needs a pastor, the Ministerial Candidate Committee and the Credentials Committee are there to help, as outlined the Faith and Order. But such was not always the case.
The Bible Fellowship Church had its beginnings in the Mennonite Church where selecting the preacher was done by lot. Suitable candidates from the congregation were suggested. Whichever candidate selected the hymnal containing the slip of paper was seen as God’s choice.
In our earliest days as Evangelical Mennonites, our preachers were assigned to congregations. There is no indication in the minutes of the conferences back then who was doing the assigning. By 1883 after merging with several groups in the Midwest and Canada, we became known as the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. This new organization established that the Stationing Committee, composed of the delegates from each circuit of churches, would assign the pastors.
A few years later, the Presiding Elder would be added to the committee.
For several decades, preachers were frequently reassigned. There was a three-year limit to their assignments. This was changed in 1916 at the General Conference level. Preachers were now staying at churches for five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years. This was a welcome change; it allowed pastor and congregation to know each other well. Long term projects could now be undertaken. However, this advantage lasted only 33 years. In 1949 a nine-year limit was instituted. It was later revealed that this change was aimed at two particular individuals.
Also instituted in 1949 was having the congregation vote each year on whether to keep their pastor or not. This resolution shows that the people in the pew wanted some say in which pastor they had.
Unfortunately, the congregation’s preference was not always honored, and it proved to be nerve-wracking for the pastor and his family. In 1952, the Pennsylvania Conference severed relations with the General Conference. We could now make our own rules. In 1959, the name Bible Fellowship Church was adopted. Increasing dissatisfaction with the stationing committee system was evident. A particular congregation refused to accept the report if they didn’t get the preacher they wanted. They were granted their preference.
The 1960s was the decade of real change. A committee was formed to study pulpit supply issues. Study began concerning church government. The Ministerial Candidate Committee and the Credentials Committee were established during this time. After a lot of work, a better system was adopted. Finally, the Stationing Committee made its last report in 1971, to everyone’s relief. Today we have pastors who remain with their congregations for decades. A loving relationship develops between them and leads to fruitful ministries done for the Lord.