A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Two Difficult Challenges for Pastors

I have been in pastoral ministry for over thirty years. I love what I do. I am one of those persons who awakens in the morning ready to go after the day with all of its responsibilities and possibilities. I do not count the years to retirement nor have I ever regretted the vocation to which I have been called.

Having said that, I also need to say that pastoral ministry can be difficult. Every pastor knows ministry has its challenges, and pastors and their families need to make sure that they do what is necessary to ensure their own spiritual and physical and emotional well being.

When I was in seminary, I remember my teacher Stanley Hauerwas saying that the two most important challenges pastors face are loneliness and self-hate-- loneliness because pastors and their families do not feel comfortable, nor do they find themselves able, at times, to develop the kinds of friendships with others that allow them simply to be "themselves." Second, pastors deal with self-hate because too much pastoral ministry is driven by need and there are so many needs, they cannot all be met. So pastors end up hating themselves because at the end of the day there is always someone who still needs pastoral ministry; there is always something that still needs to be done. Pastors can interpret such unfinished business as neglect and dereliction of their duty, and to make matters worse, parishioners can interpret such unfinished business in the same way.

In reference to the first, it is important that the pastor and family develop the kinds of close and comfortable relationships they need to thrive and flourish individually and as a family. In every church I have served, I have found such persons who have been more than willing to allow the Bevere family to be who they are. But if no one exists in a particular congregation, it is important to find those relationships outside of the church.

Moreover, Carol and I never placed upon our children any job description as to what it meant to be the pastor's kids, and we were clear about that to those around us. We expected our children to behave because behaving is the right thing to do, not because they were daughters and sons of the pastor. In other words, there were not two standards of ethics-- one for the pk's and another standard for the lk's (laity kids). I have known a few parishioners who feel differently. My response to them has been a respectful, "live with it." Pk's live in a fishbowl as it is. They don't need to feel like they are swimming with and being surrounded by well-intentioned, but ever-watchful lay sharks.

Second, pastors need to get into the mindset that the ministry is not need driven. This is difficult for many pastors because we are trained, even in our seminaries, that ministry is about meeting needs. The problem with that view is that it's not biblical. The central task of the church is not to meet needs but to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ and bear witness to the transforming power of the cross and resurrection. Of course, in the midst of that witness needs get met to be sure, but that's the result of the substance of the work God has accomplished for us in Jesus Christ.

The problem with needs driven ministry is that it is so exhausting physically and emotionally trying to meet everyone's needs, that it leads to cynicism and burnout because at the end of the day there is still more need. For years I have often reminded my staff that we will never get to the end of a day and say to ourselves, "You know, I think it has all been done?" And that's actually OK. The biggest problem with needs driven ministry is that it cannibalizes the very people trying to meet the needs. A needs driven church is a self-centered church where people ask less what God is calling them to do for others and instead they wonder what God has called others to do for them. Needs driven ministry teaches a congregation that the pastor is the one who ministers, instead of the one who equips the laity for ministry. Pastors who understand their calling as primarily needs driven will spend their years of ministry hating themselves and will look back with regret in retirement fixating on all the things they were unable to accomplish.

This is not the way for pastors to exercise ministry, for the sake of the church... and for themselves... and their families.

1 comment:

Lee Wetherbee said...

A well articulated guide to emotional and spiritual health in the midst of vital and living ministry! Thank you for sharing your well earned wisdom.