Monday, May 10, 2010

An Anti-Climactic Sabbatical Moment

The past few days, I've been making my way through In It for the Long Haul by Glenn Ludwig, all about sustaining a long-term pastorate. In a sense, this was meant to be the core text of my sabbatical; the wonderfully insightful commentary on the issue that I've made the centerpiece of this time. It was one of the very, very few books that I could find on the subject to begin with. And it was published by the Alban Institute, so it has to be good, right? Yes, this book was going to give me all the answers that I need; all the insights on which I need to reflect.

The anticipation mounted as I neared the chapter entitled "Building the Pillars as Foundations," which describes the five pillars needed to sustain long-term pastorates. After a few chapters relating statistics about average length of stay for pastors, building trust with a congregation, the "myths" of longer pastorates, here came the how-to chapter; the heart of the matter.

And so, here are the five pillars for a long-term pastorate:

1. Monitoring burnout - Continually finding meaning in what one does and managing stress. Strategies to deal with burnout include maintaining spiritual practices, making it a point to take time off, seeking support networks, getting exercise, and a few others.

2. Balancing individual and corporate needs - Building trust with individuals and also instilling confidence in the congregation as a whole; not letting the small group of chronic complainers run your ministry; recognizing when a program has reached its endpoint even if an individual wishes it would remain.

3. Balancing power and decision-making - Inviting new people into leadership; keeping democracy alive by welcoming a variety of opinions and people; sharing leadership.

4. Seeking quality feedback - After a while, clergy evaluations may be more about laypeople not wanting to hurt the pastor's feelings or not being able to see his/her growing edges. Ludwig suggests more of a shared evaluation process of each ministry as opposed to a one-way evaluation of the pastor's performance.

5. Sustaining growth, seeking depth - Essentially, keeping the three poles/pulls of ministry, family, and one's own spiritual formation in balance; recognizing that studying a text for a sermon is not personal Bible study, writing a prayer for worship is not personal prayer time, etc.

After reading through these insights and journaling some thoughts on each one, I set the book down and reflected for another few moments.

Then I said, out loud, to no one: "Um...duh."

Maybe it's because the concepts of self-care and boundaries were nearly beaten into me during my seminary years, not to mention the strong supports that are in place in my Association. Maybe it's because I've been invited to be a part of several clergy support groups such that I'm actually at the point where I think I have too many. Maybe it's because I just completed a Health and Excellence in Ministry program a few weeks ago that again drove home some of these points about boundaries and church dynamics.

But holy crap, man. I know a lot of this stuff already. I do a lot of this stuff already.

That's not to puff myself up or anything. There seems to be a good portion of pastors who don't know or practice a lot of this. Ludwig shares that 1300 pastors leave ministry every month, so obviously there are a decent-sized number of us who aren't putting these safeguards in place.

I'm very fortunate to have had many of these things constantly a part of my ministry; constantly drilled into me as healthy practices for every pastor to observe. So essentially, reading this chapter was very anti-climactic for me. It means that I'm already doing the things that make a long-term pastorate possible.

That's not to rest on my laurels, but to recognize and be thankful that I already know the types of things that I need to be concerned about. In that sense, I suppose that I should simply feel affirmed.