A rant in defense of pastors

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, October 26, 2016

In the past few months our local area has seen several pastors retire, accept a new call, or move on to another vocation or occupation. We now have a relatively new group of church leaders who are taking the reins of guidance at one of the most trying times of the church year – the season from Labor Day through Memorial Day when church programming kicks into high gear, and the round of the holy days of the church year are observed. That does not even begin to address the pressures brought on this year by a controversial and conflicted presidential election.

Unfortunately, we live in an era of growing incivility toward persons called or elected to positions of leadership in community, civic, and religious institutions and establishments. There is a lack of compassion and graciousness that has spread around the world and that has infected even the most seemingly stable and thoughtful individuals and organizations. This decline of basic good manners often occurs, most unfortunately, in religious institutions where the pastor becomes the scapegoat for a great deal of transferred anger from a populace which is disgruntled about life in general.

Well, there are a few things only boldly retired clergy can say, and what you are about to read is some of that. Speaking from a strictly Christian perspective, after many years of service to churches of all sizes and denominations as both pastor and consultant, there are a few things congregations should know:

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1) It is not your pastor’s duty to please you or make you happy. The vocation to which your pastor was called, vetted, trained, and ordained by his or her denominational standards is all about proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and being in constant prayer for you and for the strength, wisdom, and endurance to speak the truth. You may not like something the pastor has said in a sermon, or a position he or she has taken on some topic, but if so, take your concerns to the pastor rather than to the gossip circle. But do not automatically expect anything to change just on your say-so.

2) Your pastor is not your employee. Yes, denominations have various ways of calling or appointing ordained ministers, and, yes, those individuals are usually compensated for their time and efforts. However, even in traditions where a congregation is entirely autonomous your pastor is not your employee. Pastors are called to vocations of proclamation, service and prayer, not to do a “job.” 

3) Your pastor is not primarily responsible for adding new members to the congregation.  Evangelism (i.e. “spreading the Good News”)  is the main work of the laity, not the pastor.  Rarely do new members come to a church and stay based on the pastor. Most often, attendance and retention is centered on “how I felt invited, welcomed, and embraced” by the congregation – or not.

4) Your pastor is not the cruise director on the ship of faith. Setting up programs, events, social opportunities, and general entertainment is not his or her responsibility at all. Nor should the pastor be expected to attend every event and “work the room,” as it is often called, to play the jovial host. Such a routine leaves clergy exhausted and ineffective, especially since such things usually occur in the evening after a long day, or on Saturdays at the end of a difficult week.

5) Pastoral care is one of the most time consuming and draining responsibilities that occur in a pastor’s life. Besides the demands of daily administrative duties, sermon preparation, lesson planning, and Sunday service organization, most pastors spend a great many hours each week giving pastoral care of every imaginable kind at all hours of the day or night. And it is vitally important to remember that all pastoral care is confidential, so do not expect your pastor to “account for” his or her time spent in counseling, consoling, intervening, or simply being present with someone in distress. Those circumstances and individuals are not anyone’s business but the pastor’s and the person’s receiving care.

6) Pastors are not super heroes. You need to keep in mind that your pastor is a human being with human faults and frailties, and yet he or she carries the burdens and concerns of entire congregations and simply cannot please everyone, nor should he or she try. On top of all those things listed above, pastors have families for which to care (and clergy family life is just as hard, or even harder, than everyone else’s), there are bills to pay, health issues to address, and everything else everyone else contends with on a daily basis.

7) Finally, though I could go on much longer, most clergy feel isolated and unappreciated, and yet they try to function in an excellent manner under a great deal of stress, with conflict management and gossip control being daily events. Each and every one of them needs support and understanding, not harassment and undermining.

The work of parish and congregational life is often called “the impossible vocation,” and it is 24/7 all the time. It is not a job but a lifestyle – and a very demanding lifestyle at that. Some days are glorious and rewarding, and some days are arduous and occasionally demeaning – but neither of those occur with any predictability. 

So, my final words in this rant are these: Be kind, loving, understanding, supportive, and accepting of your pastor – and recognize that no matter what, you do not know how to do the work of ministry better than him or her. But, above all, give your pastor the respect befitting the position he or she holds, and honor the effort your pastor gives every day to make your life and your church’s life better and more meaningful.

Amen.  So be it.

~ Michael Doty