Sunday, August 2, 2015

From the other side of the pulpit

We need vibrant churches to enjoy a thriving community where families are spiritually healthy and people know true peace.  And we know, a lot is riding on the person in the pulpit.  If your congregation recently replaced anyone on staff or if you’ve ever called a new minister to serve, I imagine you put a lot of thought into what you hoped for out of the ministerial relationship.  More than likely, you clearly communicated your needs to your church leader.  Chance are, most of the folks in your church are unclear about the needs of the church staff.

Maybe you’ve noticed, we don’t have many young people going into professional ministry.  By the way, the word “professional” isn’t just the opposite of an amateur, it began as a religious word, as in one who professes God’s word.  And these days there can be a high turnover rate in many pulpits.  Ministry is stressful, exhausting, and it takes a toll on those who God calls to serve and their families too.  Is there anything we can do to address this?  

Since the Reverend, Pastor, Preacher, Minister or Evangelist, (or whatever title your church uses for the person in your pulpit) might not tell you what they need too, please allow me to share some insights from the other side of the pulpit.

Before I go further, one of the reasons I even have the freedom to write this, is because I’m blessed to serve in a really loving church.  We have families in church who make me feel special and who go to great lengths to express their appreciation to me.  I even have an “adopted mom” who calls me son.

Sadly, I know too many ex-ministers who weren’t so fortunate.  I’d guess if you looked around your sanctuary Sunday mornings, there are more former ministers sitting in the pews than there are people serving on your pastoral staff.  I also, from my past experiences, know firsthand what it’s like to serve in a vampire church -- those churches can drain the life out of their ministers, leaving them depressed and bitter.  

For many of us who shepherd the flock, we occasionally suffer from bouts of feeling inadequate.  After all, we deal with some of life’s deepest concerns and who is ever fully qualified to speak on eternal matters week-in-week-out, guide people, counsel people, pastor people, and allthewhile stay fresh, relevant, engaging and dynamic?  You can’t hit a homerun every time you are up to bat and here in church there’s no off season.  Yes, the person in your pulpit occasionally wrestles with questions over their calling.  Monday mornings can be difficult as we replay Sunday over in our minds.  

Summer is a busy time for many families, with vacationing and an increase in outdoor activities, and church attendance can lag for the typical member.  Though most ministers won’t mention this, we tend to feel personally responsible when attendance dips at anytime.  No, “nickels and noses” aren’t the best signs for measuring how healthy a church is, but nobody's perfect and we in ministry grapple with the ups & downs of church life.  Stay in touch with your church staff, I promise, they are thinking of you even when you aren’t there.

I’m blessed to have a very supportive family.  A minister's entire family sacrifices for the church since they share the minister's time with everyone else’s family more so than any other individual.  Much like a “sport’s widow” who loses her husband to the couch every football season, the minister's family sees less of their loved one, especially on Sundays.  Your minister probably feilds more phone calls, makes more visits, attends more meetings, and is involved in more activities than they will mention from the pulpit.  Please remember this the next time you are tempted to rehash the old joke about how preachers “only work a half hour a week...”

So while your minister will never demand the respect they deserve or complain about the fatigue they carry (as they “grin & bear it), what I hope to encourage you to do, is to express your appreciation for your church’s leaders.  Write your ministers encouraging notes, because believe me, they hear from plenty of people who aren’t happy more often.  Share a meal with your minister, congratulate them on a well delivered message, and thank their spouse for sharing their loved one with the flock.  

If you are feeling really thankful, give your minister a giftcard to a bookstore, send them to a seminar to continue their education, send them & their spouse away for a weekend, or consider their need for a paid sabbatical.   Chances are high your minister will never ask for anything like this for fear of rejection or of seeming weak, needy, or selfish.  And keep this in mind: Ministerial burnout doesn’t just hurt the preacher and his family, it impacts the entire body. Sadly, ministers go without the refreshing they need until it’s too late.  The truth is, it’s a lot harder to pump water from a well that’s gone dry...

Finally, give your minister permission to preach on the tough topics (not just the timely ones) as in the perennial topics like lust, greed, materialism, selfishness, gossip, justice and the need to care for the downtrodden.  Don’t shackle or bind the person God has called to deliver His word; they have a fire in their bones and they need to know that when they comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, they won’t end up being thrown in a cistern by the brethren -- a “moving” sermon shouldn’t include packing up a UHaul for its conclusion.  

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