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New relationship: new role (July 26, 2004)

New relationship: new role (July 26, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

New relationship: new role

July 26, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0122}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

This is a season when many pastors are establishing a relationship with the congregation to which they have been appointed. The beginning of one's ministry in a congregation is a very critical period. As Roy Oswald wrote in "New Beginnings" (The Alban Institute, 1989), "We suspect that many ministries have been seriously hindered because the pastor and the parish did not get off to a good start. The first 12 months will set the tone for your entire ministry in your new parish."

One of the important issues facing both the pastor and the congregation at the beginning of a pastor's ministry is role clarification. There is a difference between a pastor's job description and a pastor's role in a particular congregation. Whatever the job description of the pastor is (and it is found in 331 in The Book of Discipline), the role of the pastor varies from congregation to congregation. The role consists of the expectations of the people in a congregation, and these expectations are shaped by many factors, including the congregation's geographical location, history, theology and internal system of relationships and decision-making.

Because each congregation has a different expectation of the role of the pastor it is extremely important for the pastor and the staff pastor parish relations committee to have discussions in order to clarify the pastor's role in this particular congregation. Indeed, the new process for the evaluation of pastors in the Florida Conference is designed to help pastors and staff pastor parish relations committees clarify the role of the pastor.

Each pastor is different. No pastor is capable of meeting all of the expectations of a particular congregation. The congregation has to be willing to make some adjustment in its expectations in order to welcome the new pastor and benefit from his or her relationship. The pastor must also make adjustments and recognize behavior that was acceptable in a previous appointment may not be acceptable in the new congregation. Since a lot of adjustment is required by both pastor and congregation, the discussion between the pastor and the staff pastor parish relations committee is very necessary.

The clarification of the pastor's role occurs over a long period of time as a result of intentional conversation about expectations. It takes a long time for the staff pastor parish relations committee and the pastor to arrive at a clarification of the pastor's role. Even after there is an agreement between the pastor and this committee the pastor will still have to deal with the expectations of individuals in the congregation. The main thing is that all involved should learn how to communicate with one another, rather than allow necessary conflict to emerge because of different unspoken assumptions about the role of the pastor.


This commentary relates to Conference Transformation and Connectionalism.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Annual Conference.