Monday, October 21, 2019

I Have Feelings About Stuff Jan Wrote

A Church for Starving Artists is written by Rev. Jan Edmiston, a middle judicatory minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It has been a favorite blog of mine for over a decade. I've long appreciated her insights about the issues of 21st Century ministry, particularly as they manifest in mainline churches and denominations.

She recently wrote a pair of posts that have stuck with me since she wrote them, in part due to the conversations that they've inspired both in her blog's comment sections and on social media.

The first, A Post for Congregations Seeking New Pastors (And a Trend I've Noticed), concerns churches that call younger pastors--particularly after experiencing a longer pastorate with someone who eventually retires. Among other observations that she makes, she offers this:
Over the past 10 years or so, most of the congregations I’ve worked with have sought out pastors in their 30s or early forties to be their solo pastor/senior pastor in hopes that a young leader will attract other young people with young kids.  Here is what they have found (and again, these are generalizations):
  • Parenting has changed just as much as congregations have changed.  Younger generations of parents are less willing to sacrifice their families for their careers.  They are seeking a little more balance, and this often conflicts with congregations who expect their pastors to be available every weekend and most nights.
  • Younger pastors want to Get Things Done in a way that makes some congregations feel uncomfortable.  Most denominational congregations have entrenched cultures that makes change difficult.  It takes a long time – sometimes a decade –  to build trust and relationships before the culture can be identified and shifted even an inch.
Some responses to this post have included accusations of ageism, which I don't see. I do, however, see her trying to point out a difference in generational expectations regarding pastoral ministry in established congregations.

Among these expectations are a difference in approach to boundary-setting. Jan observes--and I've seen the same--that younger pastors, or we could say new pastors with younger children, are much more likely to step away from some church obligations in order to be present for their family. So one might accept a certain amount of weeknight or weekend church activities, but they'll be ready and watchful to draw a line at a certain point so that ministry is not encroaching on what their family needs from them.

The other expectation she mentions is a shorter amount of patience when it comes to cultural change in congregations. I see this as well, though perhaps in smaller amounts. My own seminary education included conversations about encouraging change, though perhaps a little too far in deference to those who resist it. But my general sense is that we younger clergy (I'm not sure how much longer I'm allowed to consider myself one of those) is that we were warned about how slowly shifts can take place.

She concludes that, regardless of age, pastors need several traits to engage in productive ministry in this day and age: ability to help change a culture, strong boundaries, and emotional intelligence.

All well and good. I liked this post a lot. Others did not, and seemed to zone in on the boundary piece in particular. After all, pastoral ministry is a CALLING, not a JOB, and so working crazy hours and giving up family time is JUST PART OF IT, SO DEAL.

My feelings about this are starting to come out. Let me bring up her second post and then I'll say what I think about all of this.

The other post, Yes, It's a Call - And... is in response to that pushback about calling vs. job:
Our calls are indeed “work.”  And it’s good to balance church expectations with family expectations.  The more children the pastors have, the more parenting events they will either 1) miss or 2) attend at the risk of hearing punishing comments from parishioners about “taking too much time off.
It’s not called Tug of War for nothing.
Someone asked yesterday how to change this culture, and it’s basically about love and respect.  If I love my people as their pastor, my hope is that they will respect my need to spend time with my family.
I mean, to me, this seems obvious. And yet even many pastors--including some I saw in the comments of these posts--resist this idea because of call language.

Jan asks the perfect question at the end of this second post: "What family event would you be willing to miss for your job?"

Most, I would think, would answer, "none." But there may be a "but" attached after that with a host of justifications and rationalizations, some of them unavoidable and understandable, and some of them much more dubious and hinting at workaholism or feeling the pressure of congregational expectations (particularly, and especially, if the pastor is someone other than a straight white male).

Okay. Several thoughts (and feelings) about these posts and subsequent discussion.

  1. People in ministry have more than one calling. One of those is the role of minister. Other called roles might include spouse, partner, parent, caregiver, and so on. So the church cannot and should not expect that all available time will go to its needs and desires.
  2. Sometimes other callings will take precedence over ministry. I once delayed my departure for some time off in order to officiate a funeral, to which my wife commented, "I'll never understand this aspect of what you do." Another time, after coming to the full realization that I'd agreed too quickly, I asked a colleague to officiate a wedding so I wouldn't miss my son's birthday. This sort of thing is always a matter of discernment and context.
  3. Younger people in ministry might see this differently than their older colleagues. Like Jan, I suspect that this really transcends generations, but as mentioned I see it particularly prevalent among colleagues my age and younger. 
  4. Part of the reason for that is younger clergy are ministering to a different world. The church is no longer the center of the culture. Many churches no longer view their pastor as an extra member of the family and many members no longer view their church as the center of their social life. This presents many challenges and opportunities for ministry to members and community alike, and that includes the falling away of the assumption that ministers can or should be available for every non-emergency invitation.
  5. You don't score Extra Jesus Points for never taking time off or for always blowing off other responsibilities or commitments for the church. I just think we in ministry need to hear these reminders as often as possible.
  6. Churches need to be in dialogue with their pastors about this. This isn't just for us to do alone, particularly when someone complains about a minister's availability or setting of boundaries. Church leadership should be part of the conversation about expectations so that both sides understand where the other is coming from, and what each needs from the other.
Agree or disagree? What would you add to this list?