By Merv Birky, Regional Conference Minister
( Leader Magazine recently asked the Mountain States CMT to submit an article on how congregations can care for their pastors. With input from Barry and Charlene, Merv wrote the article. This is a summary.)
There is neither the need nor the expectation that pastoral ministry be stress-free. However, careful attention to minimizing some of the most common stressors can prove very beneficial to both congregation and pastor. How can that happen? Here are several ways to consider:
- Pray for your pastor(s). And let them know it. It is tremendously encouraging to know that one is being held in prayer, especially during difficult times.
- Make sure there is designated time off that is communicated and respected. Include this short statement in the Bulletin: “Except in an emergency, please do not contact the pastor on _day of the week_, her/his day off.”
- Use of the gifts of others. Don’t expect your pastor to provide expertise in all areas of personal and congregational life. Use the gifts of others, giving them opportunity to carry out some “pastoral duties” such as visitation, teaching, conflict mediation, counseling, preaching, leading worship, etc.
- Put in place clearly stated lines of accountability. The number of persons to whom the pastor is directly accountable should not equal the number of members. Constructive, appropriately communicated feedback (never anonymous!) should be welcomed by the leadership team, within which there is mutual accountability.
- Provide an avenue for hearing and responding to “concerns.” Identify a group (such as a Pastor-Congregation Relations Committee) that will help process concerns & relationships between pastor and congregation. Issues and concerns can be heard by the PCRT, who then discern if & how those are best communicated and resolved.
- Plan for regular Pastoral / Congregational Reviews of both pastoral and congregational functioning. These can be constructive opportunities for both pastor and congregation to sharpen their focus, restate priorities, and improve personal and congregational functioning. They should not be a “chance to tell the pastor everything that bugs us.” (Conference Ministers and Denominational Leadership Development Office can be of assistance in this endeavor.)
- Explicitly affirm pastoral involvement outside the congregation that is not vacation time. Both pastor and congregation benefit when, as a part of their work, the pastor can also be involved outside the congregation in such things as regular attendance at Pastors’ Retreat and cluster gatherings, Pastor’s Week and other continuing education opportunities, Annual Conference & Denominational Assemblies, serving on Conference committees, and participating in local ministerial groups.
- When these involve travel & registration costs, that should be planned for in the church’s Budget and included in the agreed upon Memo of Understanding.
- Give the pastor and the congregation a preaching break. Both can be greatly enriched by hearing other voices, from both within and outside the congregation. It also helps the church connect with other churches in the Conference and denomination, and provides time for the pastor to catch up on other pastoral tasks.
- Use the MCUSA Salary & Benefits Guidelines. If a pastor’s remuneration is a place to skimp, especially when other areas are fully funded, the pastor can feel not only stressed but also very under-appreciated.
- We recognize that the Guidelines do not perfectly fit every congregation, but they do provide a place to start the conversation. Be willing to make adjustments that fit the pastor’s needs and the community standards.
- Include times for rest, focused study, and Sabbatical. Short retreats during the year and a Sabbatical every four or five years pay tremendous dividends. Both should be part of the Memo of Understanding and the Budget.
- Foster collaboration between pastor and congregational leaders in the essential tasks of vision and function. Be involved with the pastor in prayer, discernment and communication of vision. Work together to evaluate structure, processes and functioning. Such collaboration is absolutely essential.
Pastor Care involves caring for pastors in ways that provide wholeness, balance, and health. So, churches: include adequate structures to foster that care. And, pastors: give attention to your role in fostering your own health and wholeness. In doing so, both pastor and congregation will be much more likely to reap the benefits of a lowered level of stress and more effective ministry.