When pastoral leadership feels awfully heavy

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 As I have listened to pastors across the conference the last two years, I have heard from more than a few pastors who are working very hard and feeling like the return on their labor is declining.   As conference leaders talk about “fruitfulness,” focusing particularly on worship attendance, professions of faith and ministry to the community, it is easy to feel defensive, even threatened.  Pastors share how they have tried different ways of improving effectiveness, how resistant certain members are to changes and consequently how beaten up they sometimes feel.  This accountability for missional effectiveness, when the context in which we minister has changed so radically, seems to some pastors as, well, unfair.   As if they are being held responsible for more than they have the power to control.  I’d like to share with you three things I regularly – like mowing the grass – have to remind myself of.

First, it isn’t all about me.  What happens in a local congregation isn’t all about pastoral leadership.  Congregations have a history of doing things in a certain fashion.  And if the effectiveness of doing things that way has been declining, that does not necessarily lessen the likelihood that the congregation will continue in that fashion.  No improvement in fruitfulness comes without strong leadership helping people confront current realities, consider new possibilities and challenging persons to give them a try.  The pastor certainly can’t do that alone; it takes both lay and clergy leadership pulling together.  So, it isn’t all about pastor, but things certainly won’t improve without the pastor taking a stand and inviting leaders to join you. 

Secondly, it isn’t about keeping everybody happy.  If that were the goal, many of us would certainly get an “A” for effort!  Lord knows I tried for more years than I’d like to admit before accepting that no one can catch that mirage!  Besides, we aren’t called to.  We are called as pastoral leaders to keep those in our charge focused on being faithful to Christ’s purposes for his Body: “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”   We have a higher loyalty than the personal preferences of our congregation’s members.  So more important than asking what our members want to do is asking them to join in discerning what Christ wants us together to do to reach people for Christ in our changing community. 

Finally, Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  When it seems overwhelmingly heavy, I’m usually trying to do it on my own and I’m usually disconnected from the One who, unlike me, can do all things.  “Personal transformation precedes congregational transformation.”   Unless our own spiritual lives are alive, all our work brings little fruit.  Only as we stay connected spiritually at a personal level are we able to cooperate with Spirit in ways that bring fruit. 

Remembering these things certain doesn’t “fix it”, but it does put the challenges of pastoral leadership back into a more graceful perspective.

Dr. Jeff Stiggins                                                              
The Office of Congregational Transformation

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