I wrote a bit yesterday about how I have discovered that I don’t love the church just because I was a pastor. That said, the last few months of not being a pastor, has brought some areas of great relief. Let’s be honest, pastoring is not easy and I’m actively trying to pay attention to how I can support […]

I wrote a bit yesterday about how I have discovered that I don’t love the church just because I was a pastor. That said, the last few months of not being a pastor, has brought some areas of great relief. Let’s be honest, pastoring is not easy and I’m actively trying to pay attention to how I can support my pastors at our new church.  (Side note: It’s weird for me to say “my pastors” cause I haven’t necessarily had one of those for a long, long time. That’s a topic to unpack at a different date).

One of the ways my life has changed is simple: There’s a lot less drama. I mean, a lot. less. drama. Which means there are a lot. less. people. talking. as. if. there. was. a period. every. sentence. in my life.  The simple difference is this: the drama in my life is my drama, our family’s drama or the drama that I choose to enter into. (Which, by the way, there is plenty of that to go around #fourkids). Since I am not a pastor, I am now no longer required to take on the drama of the entire community. No longer does everyone else’s drama automatically become my drama.

Pastors have what I call imputed drama. They not only have to deal with the drama in their own lives but they take on the drama of the entire congregation. It’s drama, imputed.

Now, I think there is something holy about this. It’s the process of coming along side individuals and groups in the midst of their lives and caring for them, embracing them, asking hard questions, listening, and pushing them onward when/if necessary.  Really, it’s one of the great privileges of being a pastor. Usually, coming alongside someone in significant spaces of dissonance, struggle and pain is the space where God tends works the most.

So, that pastors have more drama in their lives is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I might be willing to argue that if a pastor is not dealing with imputed drama from the people their community, they probably aren’t doing their job.

That all being said, here are a few preliminary thoughts I have had about this:

They have little choice. This is why it is hard. You and I (if like me, you aren’t a pastor) have the advantage of picking and choosing the drama we’ll take part in – at least the drama that we don’t create. Even those who are leaders/elders in the church are, to an extent, able to pick and choose how deeply they get involved. But pastors, have to be involved. It is a requirement of their job. Again, this isn’t always bad. It just is. Most times this is welcomed but when it all comes at once, its extremely taxing. Just knowing this about your pastor(s) should allow you to at least sympathize a bit more with why their hair is greying and they sometimes look like they got hit by a truck.

They need rest and help. This is connected to the first point. They need some drama-free zones in their lives. It’s why sabbaticals, retreat and rest are so important. Also, this is where those other formal / informal leaders can come in. Really, a pastor should not have to feel like they have to be involved in all the drama. They should be able to share the pastoral burden with other leaders in their community. In fact, they are not the only ones qualified to care for people and sit with them in their pain. This is the job of the community and the more a community cares for one another, the more space the pastor has to be healthy.

Your drama isn’t the center of the world. I would venture to guess at any given time, depending on the size of the church, there are 3-5 major crisis’ happening in the congregation. The bigger the congregation, the more there are. That means, you are not the only one who’s life is hard. You are not the only one who needs to be cared for. This is not to diminish what your are feeling in any way. There is just not enough pastor to go around to care for all the needs that exist. But, I think I feel confident saying that most people are the centers of their own worlds. And when a pastor is unable to meet their needs or care for them directly, they get hurt, pissed-off and bitter. But the bottom line is they just don’t have the emotional  capacity and / or time to care for everyone. This is why it is so important that pastoral care has to be a team based approach in a faith community.

Congregations need to be re-taught that the pastor is not there to meet everyone’s needs. I can easily count far too many times where someone was hurt because the “pastor didn’t show up when I needed them”. When in reality, someone else in the community showed up, or maybe an elder was there to care for them – often sent by me, the pastor. But that wasn’t “good enough” to them because it wasn’t the “Pastor” that came to care for them. Let me be blunt: This is crap. It also sounds like someone who wants to be a victim and wants the pastor be a scapegoat for why their life is the way it is (is that too harsh?) If I’m honest, there were times where I may have ran away from my shepherding role a bit too much and relied on others for it too often. But it wasn’t because I didn’t like being there for people. It was either because I was hurting myself or someone else would have been able to provide much better support in their sleep than I could have on my best day.  This kind of thing shows me that we may have idolized the role of “Pastor” a just a bit too much in our culture.

Now the pushback I can anticipate here would be that the divide between the clergy and laity is an unnatural one and that pastors / leaders carry more than other in their community is a sign of a bad leadership model. To an extent, I would agree. This why I said above that the more than community is sharing in the care for one another, the less this is a problem (this is how it was at The Well for most of my years).

Thoughts? Pushback? Critiques?

  • Deanna Martinez Neidlinger

    As a PK, healing from the drama took me a long time. It’s a much better example to our kids to communally care (rather than wait for a hero and whine behind his back).

    Plus it’s biblical. Matt 23:8-12 reminds us of our peer-like state in the Church.

  • DanH

    Briefly, your post assumes a model where there is a guy called the pastor who is paid to do certain things. ‘Pastor’ is a job, and you can be one or not. Pastors have flocks, so that a particular sheep can point to the guy in charge and say “that’s my pastor!”. Pastors are associated with ‘churches’, where people gather based on preferences.

    What if pastors were pastors because God gifted them and wired them to care for people? What if they weren’t in charge of budgets or staffing or preaching, and weren’t even paid or had a title? What if people interacted in real life, and a person might point to several people and say ‘those people have cared for me!” Perhaps you are still a pastor, whether you have the title or not…

    Again, this is too brief, but I hope I’m conveying the value in examining the base assumptions. Perhaps the standard model is wrong…

    I haven’t addressed this topic specifically yet, but I do ponder these kinds of things at http://www.danherford.com

    • DanH

      Which is all to say (realizing I didn’t say this) that, yes, pastoral care must be communal.

      • ToddHiestand

        ha, i didn’t read this till after i wrote my response 🙂

    • ToddHiestand

      Hey dan, first, i think you are kinda hitting on the point of my post. that shepherding (i.e. pastoring) should be communal. it shouldn’t be the job of just one person. you also hit on the push back i expected about the divide between clergy and laity – my assumpion here is that people don’t see the role as “pastor” as a paid (or even unpaid) position in a church community as necessary or even helpful. I think those are good questions with considering. I tend to have a spit view on this, that the role of a called out pastor (man or woman as the one called out to lead the community) should be lessened in some contexts and should provably me more emphasized in others.

      on some level though, whether its a good model or not is not really the initial point here. The fact is, its a model that we have in our culture and its probably not going away anytime too soon (though, maybe it will later…). Because the model is what it is, I think we need to be more intentional about navigating in the midst of it. I do think the conversation about how to restructure communities is important though.. so, i think you’re on the right track there!

      • DanH

        Todd, thanks for the reply. I’m not sure I understood this: “my assumpion here is that people don’t see the role as “pastor” as a
        paid (or even unpaid) position in a church community as necessary or
        even helpful.”

        To clarify, my concern is that if the model isn’t questioned, there’s small likelihood that expectations will change. I think the dominant expectation is that there is one guy who is in charge of a congregation, and he is the go-to. Or, if there are multiple ‘pastors’, then they are the ones to look to. That’s what they’re getting paid for.

        Unless Christians see that they may be gifted and called to take on pastoral roles (caring for one another), they may defer that responsibility to the guy who is getting paid to do it. And, unless the guy getting paid is willing to say “Hey, I know I’m paid as an administrator here, but really you guys are the ones who are supposed to be ‘one-anothering’ each other”, the status quo will remain.

        So, communal pastoral care (I think) requires a new understanding of how the church community is structured and how it functions.

        A question, for you – with respect to caring for others, do you see your role differently now that you are not paid to pastor than you did when you were paid to pastor? If so, why?

        • ToddHiestand

          Hey dan, i think you are totally right, i think the model should be questioned. God knows I’ve done a ton of that the last 14 years. I’m constantly on the fence of thinking in our context paid staff are really good, to bi-vocational is the only way to go, to thinking that paid staff do more damage than we realize. I really don’t think there is a one-size fits all approach and i think different contexts call for different approaches. I do know that I’m not sure the role is the problem, i think often its the people in the role that cause the problems.

          that said, i’m trying to live out my gifting as a pastor / apostle in our new community by quietly building relationships and finding ways I can call us into new places while at the same time trying to check my heart on why I’m doing these kinds of things. Basically, if I’m honest, I really liked having a “role” in the church and I’m trying to work through some of that before I get too involved (officially or unofficially) in any kind of ministry or church too deeply.