I’m inspired by this post by Rev. Anne Russ in her blog Doubting Believer called “How Not to Lose a Pastor.” (Thanks KM.) Church people: please read it and remember that your pastor is a human being with priorities that lean more towards service, vision, and spiritual maturity than carpet, dress codes, and institutionalized traditions that have little in common with The Gospel.
With this in mind, I’ve come up with six things every pastor needs to excel in parish ministry:
- Appreciation for the absurd.
- A backbone.
- A coach.
- A spiritual director.
- A therapist.
Ministry is funny. Not “let’s-make-fun-of-the-ladies-in-hats” funny, but “I-thought-I’d-write-a-sermon-this-morning-but-instead-spent-time-talking-down-someone-spitting-angry-that-the-bittersweet-bush-has-not-been-trimmed-and-is-blocking-the-stair-rail” funny.
Ministry is not for the fainthearted. In many decades of professional ministry, I’ve been yelled at, threatened, and gossiped about. I’ve had sacks of dirty diapers dumped into my driveway and someone intentionally broke all the planters on our patio. And this was from church members. Especially when we are dealing with people’s comfort zones (i.e. what they’ve always done/had/assumed), it can be scary – for them and for us – to challenge those things for the sake of the Gospel.
Ministry requires an appreciation for conflict. There will be conflicts about everything from which tune to sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (Converse or Beecher) to whether or not to lease church property to build affordable housing. Conflict is good. Conflict helps us clarify our priorities and understand each other better. If someone is doing something annoying Go. Talk. With. Them. We are all on the same team (i.e. Team Reign of God) and if we do not seem to be on the same team, we need to talk about that.
Ministry requires coaching. So, you used to manage a bank or an office. Congratulations, but it’s not like managing a church staff. Coaches help us discern how to talk with the choir director whose sister is the Clerk of Session. Coaches help us talk through negotiating a sabbatical. Coaches help us navigate church politics.
Ministry requires spiritual direction. When it feels like all we are doing is managing programs and answering emails, a spiritual director reminds us to look for God in the mundane. When we are overwhelmed, a spiritual director reminds us that we are not Jesus.
Ministry requires therapy. Some of us are traumatized. Some of us are bitter. Some of us are hot messes. Some of us believe we are God’s Gift to the Church. These things will wreck our ministry if we don’t address them.
I for one believe that professional ministry is a joy. It’s also ridiculous, scary, and laden with controversy. But mostly it’s a joy.
On this the 31st anniversary of my ordination, this is a joy to read. Thank you, pastor.
Congratulations to you Pastor. 🙂
Absolutely true and absolutely wonderful, Jan!
good my Brother
As a retired stated clerk, a ruling elder not a minister, it is easy to say I’ve seen issues arise from all of these things. It is helpful to have a presbytery network to provide support.
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