Monday, June 9, 2014

Pastors need to cut back on the whining

For twenty years I served as a bivocational pastor of a small, rural church.  For the past 13 years I have served as a regional minister in our denomination working with dozens of churches.  I have led numerous workshops and conferences that focused on small churches and their leaders, and I have heard tales of clergy being horribly treated by members of their congregations and have seen first-hand how poorly some of my clergy friends have been treated.  Two of the books I've written focus on clergy health issues.  I am well aware of the unfairness that sometimes goes along with serving in ministry positions and the pressures ministers and their families face.

Despite all this, I still want to say that some of our clergy needs to cut back on their constant whining about how poorly they are treated and how difficult their lives are.  I hear from pastors about how underpaid they are, and many of us are underpaid compared to what others with comparable education and responsibilities earn, but did you go into the ministry thinking you would become rich?  Historically, most ministers have been underpaid.  However, I would also insist that some of that is our own fault.  Many of us are reluctant to ask for better compensation.  We don't tell our church leadership about the struggles our inadequate income causes our families.  Instead we tell one another, people who can't do anything about it.  In some situations, if we asked for higher salaries we may run the risk of being fired.  I realize that, and that is one more reason I remained bivocational!  But, I would counter that by saying that if you're fired for pointing out that the church isn't paying you a fair salary you now have the opportunity to find a position that will pay you better.  That might be better than remaining at the church and doing a slow burn over what you feel is unfair compensation.

In my position I hear from a lot of pastors who complain that people in their church oppose every change they propose.  (Believe me, I had some of their family members in the church I served as well.)  Of course they are against it.  You're suggesting change, and a large percentage of people will be against any change the first time they hear it.  In a smaller church they are afraid the change may result in the loss of people, and these are persons with whom they have gone to church for years and even decades.  They don't want to lose those relationships.  They also are not sure how your proposed changes will impact their roles in the church or if they will even have a role.  It takes time to introduce significant change into a church so that it will be accepted by most of the people, and there is an art to doing this as well.  Instead of complaining that people don't like your recommendations, learn the art of leading change and be willing to invest the time it takes for your recommendations to be accepted.

Another complaint I often hear from pastors is that they are always on call and never have any personal time.  Sorry, but that goes with the territory.  People get sick and even die at inconvenient times.  Accidents happen without being on a schedule.  That's why they are called accidents.  If you have been called to be a shepherd then you need to be there when your sheep need you.  If you want a 9-5 job you probably need to put in an application at the local factory.  BTW - I never hear pastors complain about having the freedom to attend a day event at their child's school or being able to spend a day with the spouse shopping in a nearby city while the church members are working their 9-5 jobs.  Yes, there are occasions that ministry seems to require a lot of time, but there are also those down times when we can enjoy some free time to do things with our families that others can't always do.  I've found it balances out.

Some of you will challenge me and say that you're working at the church seven days a week and you never have any free time.  Two things: that's sin and it's your fault.  The Bible talks about the Sabbath and no where in there does it say that clergy are exempt from having a Sabbath.  There came a time when I found that I was not taking a Sabbath, and I confessed that to our church and defined for them when my Sabbath would occur.  (It was Mondays.)  Believe it or not, they honored that throughout my remaining years in that church.  Also, if you are doing church work seven days a week it is your fault.  Dr. Phil is right when he says we teach people how to treat us.  If your congregation expects you to work seven days a week it's because either you or a previous minister have taught them by example to have that expectation.  Don't complain about it.  Begin to teach them that you need time to refresh yourself and your relationship with God and your family, and do it.

A final common complaint I often hear from pastors is that very few people in their churches are willing to do anything.  My advice is simple.  Ride the horses that want to run.  You can't make a dead horse run any faster by whipping it.  Instead of whining about the people who won't do anything, invest yourself in those who are willing.  You love the others and pastor them, but you have to invest yourself in the ones who are going to move the church forward.

As a pastor I spent too much time whining about things that would not change instead of focusing on the things that would make a positive difference in the life of our church and my own life as well.  I see too many other pastors making the same mistake in their own ministries.  Whining about things that won't change won't do anything but distract you from seeing the positive aspects of ministry life.  We are called to the greatest opportunity that exists.  We are invited into people's lives at a time when many of them are vulnerable and need someone to provide them with guidance and grace.  Much of what we do doesn't seem to make much difference, but there are those other times when we see people's lives radically transformed through the grace of Jesus Christ.  Those times can make all the difficult times fade away if we will just allow ourselves to focus on those positive moments that happen in and through our ministries.

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