This is as much about what NOT to expect from a spiritual guide or pastor as it is about what to expect.
We can expect pastors to be compassionate. Compassion manifests itself in a variety of ways. Maybe they take great care to get to know everyone—which, incidentally, most pastors say takes two to five years. Maybe they administer well and fairly. Maybe they spend a lot of time on lesson plans, meeting agendas, worship liturgies, or constructing a sermon.
Maybe a pastor emphasizes the “passion” of compassion, and can set a fire under your pew to help those in need and to work for peace, justice, and equality. Maybe a pastor manifests the “suffering with” that compassion literally means in pastoral care and counseling and spiritual direction.
The pastor may be gentle, someone you want to talk to, or the pastor may be charismatic, someone you want to listen to. The pastor may be introverted, more of a contemplative, someone who needs more time alone. Or the pastor may be extroverted, wanting constantly to be among you. Compassion comes in many forms, and the majority of pastors would not be in their profession if deep down they were not compassionate.
Pastors may not have time to memorize a sermon, given other pressing responsibilities. They may not be natural speakers. We are spoiled by politicians and megachurch preachers who have the benefits of teleprompters speaking to us as if they are not reading what they are saying. Or we’re impressed by speakers who have the advantage of saying the same thing over and over again to different audiences. And some of us have been spoiled by senior pastors of large churches whose only job all week is to write and practice their sermons, while associate pastors do the day-to-day “hands on” ministry.
We can’t expect pastors to be like the pastor of our church in which we grew up; in some cases, we may hope they aren’t! We can’t expect a pastor to be a parental figure for us: he is not our father, she is not our mother. Though we can expect a pastor to be friendly and a kind of friend to all, and we might be blessed with a pastor as a personal friend, we cannot expect this. True friendship is a gracious gift, not something we can write into a job description.
The pastoral relationship is a professional relationship. You might be friends with your doctor or therapist or lawyer, but you would not expect this when engaging them to do their work. Indeed, close friendship might even interfere with the professional distance required to be effective, being of real help. Think of the things you withhold from a spouse or a friend. Think of the ways we avoid challenging a spouse or friend.
We can’t expect the pastor to be psychic, always knowing when we need to talk. As our own best ministers, each of us must take responsibility to ask to talk with the pastor when her or his ear is needed. Some I have served have gone through tough times only to tell me later they didn’t want to bother me because I was so busy. Now this may be Southern for “mind your own business,” but sometimes I felt I was attending to lesser issues rather than vital issues.
A church member once laughed when she confessed that she was an adult before she realized that pastors got paid. Some of us have the feeling that pastors should do what they do for the mere love of it. This is where the distinction between ministers and pastors is helpful. All of us as Christian ministers are called to do what we do for the mere love of it, not for the reward of heaven or human praise, but because we can derive satisfaction by doing what is right, just, and charitable. Part of our own ministry must be to support pastors adequately so they may devote their time to shepherding our congregation.
We can expect a pastor to need our support. The best support a pastor could have is regular attendance at worship and any classes and special programs she or he devises.
Offer a pastor one-on-one positive and critical feedback, in person and in private, just as the biblical injunction suggests, rather than presenting it to anyone else through gossip or in meetings. Rage or blaming or innuendo works about the same with a pastor as it does with a spouse or a friend.
Have regard for her or his personal life, not expecting pastors to attend every event, not using their partner or child or friends as a means of communication or manipulation. All of this is a two-way street: you can expect a pastor to behave like a professional, offering one-on-one feedback in private when allowed, avoiding rage or blame or innuendo, addressing but not creating conflict through e-mail, not using partners or children or friends as a means of communication or manipulation.
Trust pastors to be professionals. If you can’t get them on the phone, or if you find them running a personal errand, trust that they have arranged their schedule in such a way to fulfill their professional responsibilities. Pastors I know work well over a 40-hour week, and even when not formally at work, they are constantly thinking about what could be done to improve the life of the congregation. That’s what pastors do.
Expect all church leaders to be professional, even as volunteers. Sometimes we excuse unprofessional behavior with the caveat, “Why, they’re only volunteers.” Expect church leadership to observe and preserve professional boundaries. Expect them not to be abusive verbally, emotionally, sexually, or spiritually. Expect them to live a life with as much integrity as possible. Expect them to confront anything that might interfere with their professionalism, even as volunteers, such as addictions, control issues, or problematic partner or child. Expect them to follow professional protocols, procedures, and decorum.
But then expect the same thing of yourself. Do not be seductive and abusive with your leaders. Have as much integrity as possible. Confront your addictions, control issues, or problematic partner or child. Behave professionally in your process and behavior.
And above all, don’t expect the pastor or any church leader to be any more perfect than you are! In the spiritual life, I believe, the goal is integrity, not perfection. Mistakes are made by all of us, thus forgiveness is foundational for a spiritual community. Perfection suggests that we may finally “arrive”—a source of false pride—while integrity is a lifelong spiritual progress of integrating our beliefs, words, actions, feelings, and wisdom. Think of it as juggling; you may drop a ball, but you pick it up and start juggling again. None of us are perfect jugglers, but we are steadfast jugglers or we give up all together.
Last week’s blogpost served as prelude to today’s post. Check it out if you missed it:
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Copyright © 2014 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.