Rev. Kendall S. Harmon writes:
This vital question takes on a special urgency when we consider how challenging a vocation ministry really is. Consider a few statistics from last week's Scripps-Howard national religion column:
Who ministers to the minister at the church where you worship?
These numbers point to a very critical situation: what can be done? As is often the case, the responsibility lies BOTH with churches and with ministers.
Churches can and should find helpful ways to support a minister and his or her family. One very basic place to start is to give positive feedback. You would be amazed at how much ministry occurs without a thank you card or a that-meant-a-great-deal-to me phone call. Mark Twain once said he could go for two months on one good compliment, and we all know what he meant.
Another help is a strong lay leadership team which gives a minister the kind of study time, prayer time, rest time, and continuing education time we need. Sabbaticals after a given period of service are also a helpful idea.
Support, however, is not enough, there needs also to be accountability. Every church needs their minister to be in a small group where they can be told the truth about themselves. Ask yourself: if your minister were involved in potentially dangerous behavior right now, who would know, at least, the symptoms of his or her disease? Many churches say after the fact: we did not know, we had no idea, etc., etc. One of the crucial ways to avoid this is to ensure there is a community where the minister can know and be known. If the church has a special role, so does the minister. We are sinners, too, and we need the courage to place ourselves in a community of love and accountability. Some churches offer such to pastors and, sad but true, the opportunity is turned down. The same goes for things such as days off and continuing education time--several of my friends simply refuse to take them, and this is not good.
Another help is for the minister and his or her family to set helpful and clearly defined boundaries. One of my friends, for example, turns on his answering machine only during his family's dinner hour. It is his way of keeping that vital family time sacrosanct.
A further boundary has to do with appropriate sexual behavior, and needs to involve the family and the staff. As a man I simply will not see a woman in her home by herself, nor will I do so in my office. I try to make sure other people are there. If David fell, so can I, and I need realistic boundaries like these to lead the life God calls me to.
True, some laypeople are either unaware of appropriate boundaries or, sometimes, trample on them. This is when the minister or staff member needs to say: I know you are concerned about this need, but could we make an appointment and speak about it then? Some ministers need so badly to be needed that they cannot bring themselves to say this, and they still should to be encouraged to do so. Some laypeople cannot bring themselves to wait, and they should learn to.
Only this kind of mutual caring and boundary setting will enable the church and her pastor (or pastors) to function in an appropriate way. Given the statistics above, may God grant us wisdom to proceed in a better way in the years ahead.
Rev. Dr. Kendall S Harmon
Email address: [email protected]
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