Since leaving full time paid ministry, I have had more opportunities to sit and talk with pastors than I did when I was in full time ministry. I love being with pastors. I love their hearts, their passion, their commitment level. Local church pastors and church planters continue to be some of the people I respect more than anyone else. They are unsung heroes and worthy of love and respect.
But here is the message I think most (not all) congregations send to their pastors:
“Do more, be better, go faster… grow the church, love me, make sure my kids love Jesus… but take time off, model perfect family and marriage life (or perfect single life), have hobbies, pray more, read the bible more, give more… and be available 24-7 as needed, meet with me on-demand…”
Most pastors hear all of these contradictory messages regularly. Is it any wonder that so many pastors today fail, fall, fizzle or fold?
What is the answer?
First, I think pastors need to teach their congregations on this issue. And set boundaries. And then take the hits for doing so.
Second, I think pastors should have some combination of a pastors small group, coaching/mentoring, and spiritual direction. I think churches should pay for this (where there is a cost involved). I honestly believe if I had a pastor small group and had started coaching/mentoring/spiritual direction earlier in my ministry career, I might have avoided my own crash-and-burn scenario.
Third, pastors should be given (a) paid vacation; plus (b) paid study leave; plus (c) an unlimited (or close to it) book budget; plus (d) professional development fund to attend 1-2 conferences a year; plus (e) intentional preaching breaks, where pastors are in the congregation worshiping, but not preaching. In order to facilitate vacation/study leave/preaching breaks, money needs to be available for pulpit supply during that time. People often balk at the book budget — and I was often criticized for buying and reading too many books. But books and ideas are the tools that pastors use — in preaching, leadership, strategy, and personal soul-care. It was not unusual for me to read (or at least skim) 10 books in a week — some were immensely helpful, others less so. But these books influenced my preaching; became small group studies; were passed on to people in the congregation; etc etc. (Side note and similar point: worship pastors should have unlimited iTunes budgets or the equivalent… listening to new worship music is part of their job!)
Fourth, the pastor needs a real advocate, hopefully from the Board and members — someone who can say no for the pastor and have their back when people attack.
Fifth, in a larger church, a personal assistant is almost a necessity.
Sixth, pastors need the freedom to have some real friends in the congregation — and the freedom not to be “friends” with everyone in the congregation. The same is true of the pastor’s spouse (if they have one).
Seventh, pastors need to have people around them who (a) actively encourage them, (b) actively challenge and speak truth to them, and (c) actively pray for them and with them. I had some folks in all three categories, but none who did all three. That is the key — the encouragers need to also challenge and pray. If this group doesn’t naturally develop, it needs to be cultivated — this might be the most important one of all the ones I have talked about.
Eighth, pastors need a church too. In other words, the church they serve is also the church they are a part of. They need to be spiritually nurtured and to worship and to have authentic fellowship — they need to know and be known, love and be loved, celebrate and be celebrated, serve and be served! When the church they serve is not their church, they quickly become merely hired hands and community chaplains… not spiritual leaders and shepherds. This might be the greatest challenge for congregations, because so much in the DNA of congregational life and denominational polity fights against this. But I think it is critical.
Those are my thoughts… I would love to hear yours… from pastors as well as members of congregations. What have I missed? What other best practices have you seen or experienced? Where am I off base?