Submitted by Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom, Conference Minister
This past week clergy from all over the SCC gathered to pray, sing and listen to the Bishop Yvette Flunder. It was a very special time for myself and for others as well. We listened with joy to the wise and passionate words that Bishop Flunder had to share with us.
What most clearly appeared to me in our time together was my conviction that pastors have the most difficult challenges facing those in religious institutions. Clergy are asked to pull up their roots and go where they are “called.” Additionally, spouses, partners, and children are pulled right along. All of them leave behind relationships, routines, and much else.
Given that ministry is such a public endeavor, it will come to some as a surprise that ministry is also a lonely endeavor. As pastors, the clergy of all sorts are held up as examples of the faith. Of course, as we are all human and as such we all manifest flaws which are best not put on display. Consequently, for most clergy, it’s not really possible to have close friends in the congregation. Since leading a congregation is so time-consuming it becomes difficult to have substantial friendships outside the congregation and the result is a context for loneliness.
Loneliness leads to any number of maladies some of which are suicide, alcohol abuse, inappropriate sexual behavior, depression and any number of other concerns. Simply, the ministry is a difficult and burn out prone calling.
So what can we do about this situation?
The first is to love and support your pastor. We all know that from time to time there are those in the congregation who love to just complain and mostly about the pastor. When the claims are unjustified…speak up. The healthy congregation self-regulates. If we remain quiet in the face of unfair criticism…we are part of the problem. Your minister, male or female, cannot really defend themselves. Their defense falls to you the church member.
Second, guard your ministers time off and other things such as continuing education and sabbatical. These things refresh your clergy person and are ultimately of great benefit to the congregation.
Third, do not fail to show appreciation for the work your pastor does. Let them know when they have preached a great sermon. Make sure your congregation has an annual appreciation day. Pay them as well as possible and don’t try to balance the church budget on their back.
The bottom line is that I love and respect the clergy in this conference. They are faithful, prophetic and hardworking. So I challenge all of us to recognize that our denomination will never be healthier than its churches and our churches will never be stronger than its clergy.
Much love, Dr. Don