Pastors serving in congregations have much more freedom in their daily work routines than teachers in classrooms or therapists in counseling centers. Pastors command more sustained attention, through their preaching and teaching, than most CEOs. Yet pastors frequently report in private conversations that they feel powerless to effect change in their congregations. Why?
A congregation looks like an organization, with a board, a budget and property, but it acts like a family, with intimate interactions, shared meals and intergenerational relationships. Many congregations are autonomous, with decision-making processes that resemble town hall meetings. And nearly all congregations have informal processes that have developed over years and are rarely explained to outsiders. It is not surprising that pastors would have trouble discerning how to make a difference in this complex social system.
Those who observe pastors’ work often use the term “pastoral agency” to describe the level of autonomy that pastors perceive they have in exercising power, setting direction and making key decisions. Formal power to hire and fire staff, recruit volunteers and manage the budget often contrasts with informal power to influence who is doing what, when and how.
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