Dear Pastor Colleagues,
If you’ve been professional ministers for over ten years, I consider you “seasoned.” You’ve had enough time to experience what pastors get to experience eventually – from glorious newborn moments to excruciating deathbed moments, from the absurdities of what some people believe about God to the Holy Spirit moments that make us weep with joy, from soul-draining meetings about things Jesus didn’t die for to majestic acts of forgiveness. Thank you for sticking with this peculiar calling. Quite of few of us don’t last more than five years after ordination.
What I also need to share is how hard it is sometimes to teach seasoned pastors anything new. Yes, some of us relish coaching, spiritual direction, therapy, and continuing education. And some of us do not.
It’s really hard for our elders, including our personnel committees to share constructive criticism with us. People – especially church people – tend not to love conflict and it feels uncomfortable to tell pastors who’ve been preaching for 10+ years that they need to taking a preaching class. (Ouch.) It’s even harder to tell pastors that they need to work on their leadership skills, their staff management skills, their pastoral skills. (Ouch, ouch, and ouch.)
No pastor is perfect and I’m not talking here about taste preferences. (“I wish our pastor had a deeper voice.“) I’m talking about universally approved good practices like:
- Address conflict as soon as possible.
- Tell your staff when they are doing a good job.
- Stand up to bullies in the congregation.
- Have your colleagues’ backs.
- Share any information your team needs to know to do their jobs well.
- Keep confidences.
- Love your people.
[Note: I’m not even addressing spiritual practices here. My sacred assumption is that you have a relationship with the God who created you and called you.]
If you don’t know how teachable you are, ask around. Ask your co-workers. Ask your spouse. Ask your personnel committee. And then listen to them. If they hesitate or give you a “sometimes” answer, take it to heart and ask for specifics. Be the kind of pastor that people can approach with constructive criticism.
What I’m not saying here: that it’s okay for people to use you as a punching bag. No.
Every pastor deserves to be treated with respect and grace. Every pastor deserves to be paid fairly. Every pastor deserves every second of their day(s) off, vacation, study leave, and sabbatical time.
And know that every pastor can improve how we do what we do. I love you. Be teachable.
In Christ’s Service, Jan
Quote is from leadership educator Todd Whitaker, the author of Shifting the Monkey (and over 40 other books)