Helicopter Pastors?

Pastors:  Are we “hobbling” our people?

This article by Emma Brown of the helicopter and crossChicago Tribune addresses the familiar notion of over-helping our children.

Stanford University former Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims who wrote How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success offers some no brainer advice to parents:

1. Check your language. “If you say ‘we’ when you mean your son or your daughter – as in, ‘We’re on the travel soccer team‘ – it’s a hint to yourself that you are intertwined”

2. Examine your interactions with adults in your child’s life. “If you’re arguing with teachers and principals and coaches and umpires all the time, it’s a sign you’re a little too invested”

3. Stop doing their homework. Enough said.

There are surely some pastors who under function in that they basically call it in. (Question to congregations:  Why haven’t you fired these pastors?)

But more likely, we pastors over function in ways that hobble our congregations. With all due respect to Emma Brown and Julie Lythcott-Haims, here are a couple ideas for us who serve congregations:

1. Let’s check our language. If we call everything “mine” as in “my organist” or “my sanctuary” or “my congregation” – as if we own them – we risk setting ourselves up for a role that will not be healthy.  The church belongs to God and the different components of the church belong to all of us who are part of the community.

2. Let’s examine our interactions.  If we constantly argue with those who disagree with us, if we’re my-way-or-the-highway leaders, if we refuse to partner with people unless we can be in charge, if we treat the rest of our church staff and our volunteers as if we alone offer the final word, our congregations will suffer.

3. Let’s stop doing their ministry. Our calling as pastors is to equip our people to serve as First Responders (see yesterday’s post.)  Our calling is to train our people to pray with others (out loud!) and to lead Bible studies and to take the lead in church programming and to speak clearly about their faith stories.

We who need to do all the ministry ourselves have some security issues.  The irony is that congregations led by pastors who “do everything” are not thriving, healthy congregations.  Relinquishing control and deploying our leaders to serve is not only more fun, it’s the way church is called to be.

3 responses to “Helicopter Pastors?

  1. Amen. Thanks for the reminders!


  2. I receive your blog posts in my email daily, and read them. I really appreciate your insight and wisdom. I often share it with my parish and post links on our Facebook page.

    Today, however I am concerned about your comment under point 3 “Why haven’t you fired these pastors?”

    In addition to being a parish priest (16 years) I also do conflict mediation work. I have a Masters in Social Work and a Masters of Divinity, both emphasizing Family Systems for Congregations. I have done additional training with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. I offer this as a way of putting into context my response to your question.

    In an era when there is an epidemic of conflict in parishes, often resulting in forced clergy exits, it is not helpful to tell congregations to “fire” their pastors. Even when the clergy person is not functioning well it is usually a sign of dis-ease in both the clergy and the congregation. A healthier response is to encourage each party, congregation and clergy, to develop a better relationship and an increased definition of roles and responsibilities as well as improving the leadership skills of each party. Firing clergy only puts a band-aide on problems, adds layers of conflict and and future problems for a parish and for a clergy person.

    No doubt, sometimes a clergy person must be fired – but that is a response to misconduct not poor leadership skills.



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