Pastors and All. The. Drama. Or, Why Pastoral Care Must Be Communal
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?