As I write this article, I am less than two days away from beginning my sabbatical! I want to express appreciation again to the Indiana Ministries Board of Directors for having the wisdom to adopt a Sabbatical Policy for ministry staff in the Indiana Ministries Employee Handbook. And I want to thank them for insisting that the policy be followed. One of the roles of the primary board is to care for the senior leadership of the organization or church. I really appreciate the Indiana Ministries Board for modeling this responsibility on a regular basis. Indiana Ministries is a great place to serve.
In addition I appreciate the staff’s support for this sabbatical. They know it will increase their responsibilities and work load, yet each of them is celebrating this opportunity for me and saying they’ve got things covered. I know that Indiana Ministries is in great hands while I am gone. Like those of you who have taken a sabbatical, I find myself wondering if they will really need me when I return.J
As I write this, I’m at a hospital visiting my dad. After observing the hospital staff in operation, I can’t help but notice the different jobs people have (charge nurse, room nurse, tech, physical therapy, housekeeping, etc…) and how each person’s job is very important to providing care for patients. Yet no staff person is expected to do every job at the hospital. Instead, each staff person has different skills, abilities, strengths, training and personalities, and expectations are tied to those.
I am grateful that the persons who are interacting most frequently with my dad (the room nurse and tech) are extremely thoughtful, helpful, nurturing, capable and friendly. (They reminded me of Chic-Fil-A employees.) They are good at what they do.
Dad has an especially patient physical therapist working with him today to help him get into a chair to eat breakfast and then later go on a walk. As she left the room for the final time, I thought to myself, “Her demeanor and wiring perfectly fit her job, and she does it so well.” That seemed to also be true of many of the staff I observed in action. They were a good fit for their job, and they understood what was expected of them and each other.
As I reflected on the way the hospital staff was operating, it dawned on me how people in ministry (I’m referring here to pastors) are often trying to do too many jobs and how people in the church often have unrealistic expectations of the pastor(s). It took a lot of people at the hospital exercising their gifts and abilities for the hospital to accomplish its purpose. Yet, in the church we often expect the pastor(s) to do every job with expertise. And pastors often wear themselves out trying to fulfill those expectations.
Back to the physical therapist…She was excellent at what she did – a perfect fit. She had the right training, skills, heart, and demeanor to work with patients according to their physical needs. What made her great at her job ill equipped her to direct the finances of the hospital or strategically plan for the future or make difficult leadership decisions. In like manor, the people with those jobs were ill equipped to do her job. To expect everyone on staff to be able to do everything well would lead to failure at accomplishing the hospital’s mission, and the eventual demise of the hospital.
Last century’s expectation of the pastor was to do be a one-man show. (Sorry, ladies, but last century we practiced an even worse theology of women in ministry than we do now. I hate the slow progress we are making in recognizing that the call and gifting for ministry are not gender based. We’ve got to become more biblical in this area and sooner rather than later.) While the finances were usually relegated to the church’s trustees, the pastor was expected to do pretty much everything else – preach, be the spiritual guide, teach multiple classes, make hospital visits, be the designated pray-er, cut the grass at the church, visit everyone in need and visit everyone else routinely, be a great leader, develop new leaders, maintain the church campus, attend every church event and every major event in every congregant’s life, be a strategic planner, be a social worker, care for the less fortunate, cut the parsonage grass, referee conflicts both inside and outside the church, make repairs around the church, counsel people in crisis and people navigating life decisions, provide transportation for people in the church, set up tables and chairs for church events, make tough leadership decisions, lead worship, represent the church in the community, spend time with draining people who were very dysfunctional, perform weddings and funerals, and always be available when someone dropped by the church to chat. I’m sure I missed some things, but you get the idea.
How can any one person fulfill that broad range of expectations – other than Jesus? The skills and wiring needed to do some of those things – counseling and being a chaplain – are the opposite of what are needed to do some others – provide great leadership and make difficult leadership decisions. Yet the expectation tends to persist that every pastor should be able to do all of the things with expertise that I’ve listed.
As I work with churches, I frequently talk about the importance of setting realistic expectations for the pastor(s). This involves identifying what the pastor(s) is especially gifted at doing and what he or she is, as a result, is not particularly effective in doing. Then focusing his or her time and energy on what he or she does well in order to maximize Kingdom impact. That also means figuring out how to get the things done that the pastor is not particularly good at and releasing others to do those things. This sounds like what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12.
It is critical that the primary board helps develop and communicate pastoral expectations to the congregation or else congregants can become critical of the pastor(s). Then board members must have the back of the pastor when persons complain that the pastor(s) isn’t doing his or her job. The goal isn’t to make the pastor’s job easier (though that would often be welcomed) but to increase the effectiveness of the church in accomplishing its mission.
What next steps does your church need to take so that your pastor(s) are maximizing their gifts, strengths, and abilities for Kingdom health and growth?