Archive for the 'Clergy Appreciation Month' Category

Beyond Clergy Appreciation Month

[I wrote this a few days ago in the setting described below. One of very few negatives turned out to be the hotel’s marginal wi-fi which lacked sufficient go-power to let me post this while there.]


This week we’re enjoying a great gift that came just when we really needed it. We’re in the mountains north of Durango, Colorado in very comfortable accommodations. Today we have typical early November weather—snow! My son’s response to this picture sums it up pretty well—“Looks like great sitting-inside-by-the-fireplace weather”.He’s right. Life’s been pretty stressful at our house recently. We hope that’s about to change. “Sitting inside by the fireplace” has helped, as have our ventures into the mountains and forests around us.

One way I know I’ve needed a break is that my brain starts working better.  I have more time and curiosity to read and ponder material I tend to skip or skim. I’ ve just finished reading Thom Schulz’s latest blog post, “The Pending Exit of the Clergy”. He reflects on his experience at Group’s Future of the Church Summit. He heard sociologist Josh Packard describe what he’s learned about changes in people’s participation in church life. A growing number of individuals he calls “The Dones” are leaving the organized church but still practice their faith. Another group, “Almost Dones”,  are tired, frustrated, burned out, this-close to leaving, but for now still active in their church.

Schulz heard murmurs of recognition and agreement throughout the room as Packard described the Almost-Dones. “He’s describing me,” one nearby pastor said. Schulz by no means believes that a majority of ministry professionals fall in this category. But he does see “…a growing sense of desperation…” among pastors whose “…numbers and… angst seem to be growing.”

A harsh insistent alarm went off in my mind. That alarm sounds whenever I struggle to hold together contradictory things. How could I hold together those desperate “Almost Done” pastors—and Clergy Appreciation Month (usually October)? I know and have served churches whose people appreciate their pastors in sincere and meaningful ways throughout the year. I also know settings where CA Month lives down to its origins as the religious trinket industry’s made-for-marketing guilt-generator. Give Pastor a card (preferably filled with currency), make nice one Sunday out of 52, and you’ve checked that box for another year.

“Clergy Appreciation  Day/Week/Month” and “Almost Done—that’s me”. What if more of us in more places appreciated loved our pastors enough to help them discover more joy and less desperation in ministry? Granted, pastors can also help themselves by learning to do some things differently and to do some different things. You will not find my magic-bullet formula for resolving this struggle in the remaining 600 or so words of this post. But (as you no doubt suspected) I have some suggestions for pastors and laity who would like to find a deeper level of mutual appreciation:

  • Shared ownership is the most effective way to do ministry. One major source of pastoral burnout is the expectation by laity that the “hired hand”/”holy one” do the congregation’s ministry because it’s his/her job. Clergy perpetuate this heresy because it fills our need to be needed; because we’d rather not risk trying to change things (and the potential disasters attempted change can bring); or because we just don’t know where to start, we don’t know how or whom to ask, and/or we’re simply unwilling to ask for help.

Let’s express our mutual appreciation for one another unity in Christ by reclaiming the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Contrary to conventional wisdom, “Priest” does not designate a special class of super-Christian. Early Christians understood that we are all priests: “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 NRSV) Priests mediate between people and God. We point people toward God. We help them recognize God in daily life. We lift people before God in prayer. Nobody else can serve as effectively as a priest/mediator/bridge to God where you live your life as you can. All who follow Jesus, clergy and laity, are priests called and empowered to share the story of “him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

  • Recognize and accept that being the church and being a pastor have become far more challenging. Church ain’t what it used to be back in the day—whenever your “Good Old Day” was. Church has changed, and so has leading a church. Demanding that pastors and church function “the way we’ve always done it” is killing us. We can’t go backward. We can only go forward—together. (see #1!)I’ll preach the rest of this sermon another time.
  • Support your pastor’s efforts to help move the congregation forward into the future and outward into the community.

“I’m presiding over a dying organization,” said one pastor Thom Schulz met. “I’ve realized I’m in the church hospice business. That’s not a business I want to be in.” The clearest sign of terminal illness in a church is that it has turned inward upon itself and backward toward its past, rather than outward toward its community and forward toward the future. We’ve circled the wagons. We tell each other we’re going to make it no matter what’s going on outside our four walls. That fortress mentality is literally a killer. The way to life is to throw open the doors and windows, get outside and participate in the life going on around us; to become Christ for our neighbors by our presence, deed, and word (often in that order). Transformational change is possible and far from easy. It requires much prayer, persistence, unity of purpose (see #1 above), Spirit-fueled imagination, and bold humility ready to release traditions and practices that block our way forward and outward and embrace new traditions and practices..

Don’t rubber-stamp your pastor’s efforts to move your church forward to today’s best practices and outward to meet your neighbors and offer them Christ in deed and word. Collaborate prayerfully and creatively to discover your new direction. And if, by some chance, you and some of your brothers and sisters in Christ are ready to move but the pastoral feet are dragging—give him/her a firm, loving shove toward the future and your neighbors!