Where pastors find support

Growing up in a churchy family, with a father as a Baptist pastor, I became very familiar with the way many Baptist churches treat their pastors. Communication can be at a minuminum. Postive or negative feedback is not shared until emotions are about to boil over. Often pastors (and their families) have no idea about how things are going with the congregation until it is too late to shift course.

I knew if I became a pastor I would like to live in community with my congregation in different way. I would like there to be open communication, clear expectations and yearly reviews based on not just one meeting with the deacons but a ongoing community of support and feedback. How delighted I was then to learn during a pastoral internship in seminary that a group of Baptists already figured this model out!

The American Baptist Churches USA (which my congregation is a member) reccomends that each congregation hold a Pastoral Relations Committee with their head of staff. This committee is to be a group of people that meet regularly with the pastor to serve as sounding board both for the concerns of the pastor, but also for the church. The committe is not to be made up of the trustees or deacons (though some may serve in these roles), but to be trusted members of the congregation. The folks selected to be on this committee are to serve as advisers to the pastor as he/ she seeks to understand where the congregation is on a particular issue(s). And, these folks are charged to love and care for the pastor and the pastor’s family in tangible ways.

When I came to Washington Plaza Baptist over four years ago, they heard my request to set up a Pastoral Relations Committee for me in our first days of ministry together. In our case, the pastor search team vowed to stay on for another year to work with me as I made the transition into the community life. (And, it didn’t hurt that the tradition of having dinner at meetings was vowed to continue. You know that baptists and food go together well).

We’ve met together consitantly ever since with new members rotating on and off each year. And, I have to say what a joy to be with they are!

At a recent gathering, I was able to see even more reasons as to why I feel joy in being with this group. Toward the end of our time as we were having a discussion about upcoming events. I told them that I carry around in me a lot of the enthusism, dreams, etc that I have for the church, and what I wanted for this group is stand beside me in the spiritual load I feel I carry. I asked if we could pray together about visioning for the future– that this would the encouragement that I needed. And, what came forth as we prayed was beautiful.

It was a spontaneous prayer of what was on everyone’s hearts.

I heard prayers about about their love for their church.

I heard prayers for God’s will to come to our plans, not our will.

I heard prayers for my husband and for me, for wisdom in leadership.

I heard prayers for those in our church that are going through difficult times right now that our body will come together in support of them.

I heard prayers for communal vision.

I’m thankful not only for the members of and contributions of the Pastoral Relations Committee, but for the spirit of the church which they represent. I do feel the support of this great task of being church together that we’ve undertaken. And, from a pastor’s point of view, this is one of the best gifts a church can give!

Elizabeth Evans Hagan

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About the Author
Elizabeth Evans Hagan is senior pastor at Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston, Va. She blogs about the life of faith, writing, and meaningful conversations in everyday life at Preacher on the Plaza (http://preacherontheplaza.wordpress.com/).

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