[Note: My wise colleague Jeff Paschal, upon reading my Love Letter Series, commented on the need for a Love Letter for EPs. I invited him to write it and it’s worth our attention. Thank you Jeff.]
Dear Executive Presbyters,
Thank you for the long hours you put into the ministry. For helping congregations and pastors reach their God-given potential. For comforting grieving churches and hurting pastors. For leading and sharing leadership with presbytery staff. For challenging the entire presbytery to be more faithful. Thank you!
I’ve never been an executive presbyter or served on a presbytery staff. So, I’m unqualified to write this love letter, but Jan offered and I accepted.
I was ordained in 1990, and I’ve served various congregations for more than 30 years as a Head of Staff or a solo pastor. I’ll share my idiosyncratic views. Facebook friends may complete or correct what I write. Executive Presbyters, here goes.
Love begins with the work of attention. You cannot love what you ignore.
Execs, try not to play favorites, even though we all do to one degree or another. Do your best to be just as responsive to the tiny church as the huge church, and just as available to the pastor who is your good friend and the one who isn’t. Regularly pray for your pastors and other clergy members by name. Pay some attention to your pastors and other clergy, because you are their pastor and how well they function with the churches or chaplaincy positions will determine in large part how well the presbytery functions.
Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you seek to build up the Body of Christ.
How are clergy received by the presbytery? With suspicion? By being ignored? Or with true welcome? When I was a young pastor serving my first church more than thirty years ago, it meant the world to me that my executive presbyter took the time to call me one day just to check in.
Are clergy within the presbytery actually friends with each other? Do they truly reach out to welcome new pastors or chaplains in their area (lunches, phone calls, etc.)? How can you teach and model this?
How are clergy encouraged as they do joyful, heartbreaking, exhausting ministry year after year?
How do clergy retire? With some sort of recognition? Or by being disregarded?
Does the presbytery play favorites in choosing commissioners to G.A., sending some people multiple times over people who have never had the chance to go? Do Executive Presbyters support G.A. decisions, even when they don’t agree with them, or do they undercut those decisions?
We live in a time when many pastors are leaving the ministry, and unhealthy church conflict often has something to do with it. So use your power and let your response be quick and assertive when pastors are unfairly attacked or when pastors are unfairly attacking. Folks who study church conflict say the most important factor in helping pastors and congregations weather destructive conflict is having someone outside the congregational system, someone with authority (such as an E.P. or COM representative), step in and require fair treatment by all parties. Do it sooner rather than later, because later will probably be too late.
Yes, it’s playful, but reconsider calling some pastors “superstars” or “rock stars.” There is only one superstar–Jesus Christ. The rest of us (even the best of us) are muddling along as the Spirit works through us. Some of us are pretty good at helping congregations grow numerically. Some are better at preaching or doing pastoral care or helping people develop spiritually. But we’re all doing many of the same things—leading worship, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration, helping churches search for God’s vision, etc.
Speaking of vision, can people in the presbytery state what the presbytery’s vision is in a few words? And as various social justice issues arise over the coming months and years, how will the presbytery lead? Does the presbytery have a justice committee?
Heaven knows, being an Executive Presbyter is a tough ministry. You’re in our prayers. And I end where I began. Thank you!