The care and feeding of pastors

Our church recently went through a pastoral transition.  Thanks to good staff and lay leadership, we weathered that transition well. We added some members and even completed a building program, but the trip was not an easy one.  I think I can safely say that we are all happy that the interim period is over!

During pastoral transitions, most churches encounter a number of challenges.  Finances often suffer.  People are reluctant to join the church.  Momentum slows.  Long buried issues resurface.  For some churches, pastoral change is an opportunity for envisioning a new future, but it is more often a trial to be endured.  Pastoral change drains the congregation’s energy and resources.

A way to head off a pastoral change is to make sure you take good care of your present pastor.  When things are going well, a church too often takes its pastor for granted.  There are some simple ways to avoid that attitude and help the pastor to be the best servant leader that she or he can be.

First, let your pastor know of your support.  The congregation should show appreciation for the pastor’s service by recognizing anniversaries, achievements, and service.

Second, make sure that your pastor has adequate vacation time and that he or she takes it.  In order to do this, the church should budget for pulpit supply during the pastor’s absence and assure that other pastoral tasks are covered by staff members or an interim.

Third, encourage your pastor to take time off each week.  Sunday is not a “day of rest” for the pastor and Saturdays are often absorbed by church meetings, so expect your pastor to take off the equivalent of two full days during the week.  You should also encourage your pastor to avoid scheduling church meetings every night of the week.

Fourth, provide the resources for the pastor’s personal and professional development.  Ministers need the opportunity to “sharpen the ax” by participation in conferences, the purchase of books and digital resources, and professional coaching.  This requires an allocation of both finances and time.  Build into your planning a time for the pastor to take at least three months for a sabbatical after seven years in the church.  The pastor will come back renewed, refreshed, and refocused.

Fifth, allow your pastor the freedom to serve outside the congregation.  This may involve serving on the boards of community organizations or institutions, participating with local groups of ministers, acting as a volunteer chaplain, or accepting a role of leadership in the denomination.  These opportunities are not only good for the pastor but they also broaden the vision of the church and elevate its visibility.

Whatever a church puts into keeping a good pastor is a worthwhile investment.  By the way, everything I have said about the pastor applies to other staff members as well.    Keeping good staff makes more sense than spending time finding new people!

Ircel Harrison

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Ircel Harrison is Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is Associate Professor of Ministry Praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at His Twitter feed is @ircel.

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