Pastors and Congregations

From Naked Religion, some points based on an exit interview the author had with the Pastoral Relations Committee of the church he was leaving. “What a Pastor Needs in a Congregation”:

  1. Pastors need their congregations to be honest and transparent in their relationship with the pastor and one another. Lack of honesty often results in misplaced and unmet expectations that neither the pastor nor the congregation bargained for.
  2. Pastors need for their congregations to recognize the sacrifice that their family is making and as a result be attentive to the need of the pastor to attend to his or her family during the critical points in his or her family life.
  3. The Pastor needs a congregation who is willing to err on the side of generosity when it comes to salary, benefits, and vacation. If a pastor must fight for such things early on, there’s a pretty good chance the pastor will be fighting for things throughout their ministry there.
  4. The pastor needs time to read the Bible reflectively, pray fervently, and plan thoughtfully and desires a congregation that recognizes the value of these practices for the long term health and well-being of the the pastor and the congregation.
  5. The pastor needs time to cultivate meaningful friendships both inside and outside of the congregation. If the pastor is expected to attend every meeting that takes place in an active church, there is little chance that the pastor will have time to have friends outside the life of the church.
  6. The pastor needs to know that he or she is not alone in their desire to promote healthy Christian practice. There is nothing worse than attempting to promote healthy spiritual practices only to discover that no one in the congregation shares that desire. Tell your pastor often when something they have said or done has been helpful for your spiritual growth.
  7. The pastor needs a congregation to offer praise liberally and criticism gently and preferably not at the same time.
  8. The pastor needs to know that when they make a mistake they will be recipients of the same degree of grace that they offer to those who fail in the congregation.
  9. The pastor needs people who commit to pray for them and their family throughout their ministry and are interested enough to ask the pastor from time-to-time how they can pray for them.
  10. The pastor needs the freedom to pursue hobbies that restore their sense of well-being in the midst of congregational life. Whether it’s painting, biking, or stamp collecting, a pastor with hobbies is a more well-rounded pastor than one who is exclusively dedicated to the ministry of the church.

Also see his post, Why Young Pastors Leave the Ministry. In bold, some comments based on my first experience in ministry 18 years ago.

  1. The discontinuity between what they imagined ministry to be and what it actually is is too great. [I found it to be all conflict management–something I wasn’t taught in seminary.]
  2. A life without weekends sucks.
  3. The pay is too low (most pastors in my denomination make less money than a school teacher with five years experience).
  4. They are tired of driving ten year old cars while their congregations trade in their cars every two years.
  5. Many young pastors are called into difficult congregations that chew pastors up and spit them out because experienced pastors know better. [That was my first church; I found out too late that other pastors wouldn’t touch it, and as noted above, I didn’t have any training in the areas I needed in that one and the next.]
  6. Even though the search committee told them they wanted to reach young people, they didn’t really mean it. [I was pastor of one church that wase content to be a little family chapel. It said they wanted new members, but drove them off.]
  7. When the pastor asked the search committee if they were an “emergent church”, the members of the search committee thought he said “divergent church” and agreed.
  8. Nobody told the young pastor that cleaning the toilets was part of the job description. [In one, they couldn’t understand why my wife and I couldn’t clean the church and water the plants.]
  9. The young pastor’s student loans came due and the amount of money he/she owes on a monthly basis exceeds his/her income.
  10. Working at McDonalds has alot less stress.

Compare and contrast with Dean Hoge’s book, The First Five Years of Priesthood, and why young priests leave within the first five years. They don’t have the responsibilities of being a pastor (except in some small rural dioceses), but they do have the stress and the loneliness, which is manifested in different says. The Christian Century summarized:

Hoge found that between 20 percent and 30 percent of priests left because they fell in love with a woman. An additional 20 percent to 30 percent left because they felt “lonely and unappreciated” and could no longer abide by mandatory celibacy. His findings were published recently in his book The First Five Years of the Priesthood.

Between 30 percent and 40 percent of priests left because they were disillusioned with their fellow priests or the church hierarchy. And between 5 percent and 15 percent left because they wanted an “open, long-term relationship” with another man. The number of gay priests is not known, but some experts say it could be as high as 50 percent.

Hoge found that between 5 percent and 10 percent of departing priests left for reasons that do not fit into one of the other categories.

2 thoughts on “Pastors and Congregations

  1. Bill, doesnt one of your brothers have some connection with Japan? Or is it China? Anyway this might be of interest, it is a new exhibit at the Smithsonian,
    Cynicism and frustration with diocese structures will push more men away. My experience includes being ignored when I express concerns about issues as well as feelings, people just shrug shoulders and tell you that you are on your own, so much for communion

  2. Fr Liam, that would be me. Not sure if I’ll be getting to DC any time soon, but thanks for the heads up. I love seeing how the Japanese portrayed the “Nanban” (Southern Barbarians)–it makes you think about how small the world has become in the years since.

    Bill, one of the things that causes the loneliness and isolation felt by Catholic priests is the mistaken notion that as diocesan employees, they need to be “neutral” with regards to the various charisms of the Church. No one is an island… we all need to find a home in the Church where we are spiritually generated, and where we can find fellowship or communion. That includes priests, who need spiritual support and communion as much as anyone.

    By the way, Paolo says hi. 🙂

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