Sunday, April 10, 2005

Pastor in a Fishbowl

Interesting post and discussion over at Church Marketing Sucks regarding the treatment of pastors by their congregations. The contention is that many pastors leave the pastorate because they're sick of being abused by church members and boards.

I've heard some pastors talk about living in a fishbowl, with every portion of their lives on display for the congregation to watch and to criticize. I know that some pastors have had to endure endless micro-managing of their lives from members whose own lives were suspect at best. If a pastor's kid acts up, it's a sure sign of a bad parent/pastor. If a pastor drives too nice of a car, it's a sign he makes too much money. If his interpretation of a passage is different than the previous pastor, then he must not know much about the Bible.

In my own denomination, the older pastors will talk about the days of not so long ago when everyone in the district would gather for conference. The pastors and their families would literally not know what their futures held when the meetings would begin. The last agenda item of the conference was always the report of the stationing committee. This report was simply a list of churches and which pastor would be leading which church. Often a minister had two or three days to leave for the next assignment, uprooting kids from school, friendships and of course church relationships. I know many pastors who served at that time, but I can't think of any who didn't have their lives torn apart at least once by an uncaring stationing committee. Pastors were often rotated "just to keep things fresh" which only served to discourage the minister and limit the possibilities for the church.

As a pastor I realize that I am in a strange situation. I'm a big part of the church, yet I am not exactly a part of the church. I am a leader, yet I am not THE leader. I have authority, but the church board or my district can supercede it.

On top of that, there is the odd relationship between a church and it's pastor from an employment perspective. One pastor told me that he asked for a raise in salary only to be refused and told that it was the job of the church board to "keep him humble." When I hear stories like this my admiration for these men of God goes sky high. And I'll admit that at the same time my respect for them is diminished as well because I don't think I would be able to submit well to a group of people I was spiritually responsible for who treated me with little to no respect.

I think angle on this is that the church takes "ownership" of their pastor. The money in the offering plate pays his salary. Many pastors live in a parsonage -- a house owned by the church. That makes the church not only employer, but also landlord. The trend these days is to get away from the parsonage arrangement. For one, it keeps the congregation from getting too involved in a pastor's personal life. But it also stops the progression of pastors who reach retirement age without ever owning a home, thus having no place to live after their time in the pulpit is through.

All this is just a mental exercise for me. My church is wonderful. They give suggestions. They offer help. They respect me and my position. We encourage one another. They actually listen and even sometimes put my suggestions for their lives into practice! And just as their lives are not subject to my micro-managing, my life and my Christian walk are my own affairs to deal with. My fishbowl has privacy.

But for many ministers, the pastorate is misunderstood by the congregation, the pastoral mission is unclear to the masses, the pastoral responsibilities are defined as "whatever nobody else wants to do," and the expectation for the pastor is complete perfection in ministry and in life.

God bless the shepherd whose sheep just don't understand.

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