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Grace, it's for Pastors too

One of the most rewarding experiences that come my way at the annual Bishop’s Convocation, our synod’s fall theological conference, is an unpredictable, unscripted series of side conversations with rostered leaders and Parish Ministry Associates. This year, a few of those conversations were very concerning.

Our main presenters, the Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence, professor of preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia; and the Rev. Dr. Jim Brandt, professor of Historical Theology at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, opened up our theme of Preaching as Testimony. They guided us into deep waters of understanding how we preachers are tasked with – and blessed with – sharing the truths of Scripture through the lens of our own personal experience of God. The presentations were provocative and insightful, and we came away refreshed and encouraged to return to the ministries to which God has called us.

Those ministries to which God has called us are situated in anxious times. On several occasions leaders pulled me aside with the innocent question, “Have you got a minute?” and offered up a now-common lament summed up by one who said, “My church council wants numbers, they complain that I’m spending too much time out in the community, they want me to have regular office hours, and they want to know how many pastoral visits I make every week

. I feel hamstrung by expectations from people who don’t understand what pastors do.”

We need to remember an essential fact: our rostered leaders are called, not hired. Basic to that call is trust – trust on the part of the congregation that the pastor will fulfill the responsibilities of the pastoral office. But in order to do that, the pastor must have some breathing room to make decisions, to adjust to changing circumstances in ways that might not make sense to those not charged with carrying a congregation in one’s heart. And by the way, I believe that this all applies to Parish Ministry Associates as well.

There’s nothing wrong with accountability. In fact, accountability is essential to our life together, and that’s the purpose of the annual review by the council or executive committee. (Council members, if you don’t do an annual review of your pastoral leader, you should. Need suggestions about proven and effective ways to go about it? Call or email me.) To be sure, pastoral leaders are responsible for living out their call to the best of their ability. If that’s not happening, if you believe that your leader is not doing the job, that perception needs to be examined in a one-on-one conversation (see Matthew 18).

But please be careful not to get fixated on numbers. A pastoral visit, for example, can last 5 minutes or 5 hours (I’ve done both, multiple times), but both are represented by the same number on the pastor’s report. How do you quantify or put a price on a conversation in which a parishioner’s life is changed? Speaking of efficient use of time, sermons don’t drop out of the sky, and sometimes the Almighty is a little slow to send inspiration. Do you really want your pastor in the office from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday? Do you really think your pastor should be the one cutting the grass at church or fixing the boiler or washing the windows? (Bet those don’t show up on the pastor’s report.)

Yes, it’s about trust. If you don’t trust your pastor to do her or his job, putting them under a performance microscope won’t satisfy you. Because here’s the thing: You didn’t hire an employee who’s supposed to do what you say; you called a pastoral leader who takes direction and strength from Christ as he or she loves you no matter what. That doesn’t just take time; that takes a person’s heart.

--- Bishop Roger

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