In my life, I’ve seen the pastor/ congregational relationship from many different angles:
- Growing up as the child of pastor from birth
- Serving several congregations as a student intern
- Leading a congregation as both an associate and senior minister
- Visiting congregations as an ordained pastor without a church
In these situations, I’ve heard a lot of stories that begin: “Please don’t be like our last pastor that . . .”
I’ve heard a lot of “Well, I’m not sure why ___ went into the ministry.”
I’ve heard silence from pastors who I reached out to pastor me, pastors who didn’t return my emails or remember my name during the 10th time I introduced myself to them.
Though we often say (especially in the free church tradition) that all members are ministers, who the pastor is really does matter.
Pastors shape the character of local congregations. Pastors set the tone for congregational life. Pastors can define and easily create conflict in communities where there was none.
So, in the spirit of the good work of pastors going forth into the world, here’s 4 things that I believe every congregation needs from his/her pastor. He or she must:
1. Love People
When a pastor is called to a local church, he/ or she needs to love its people (or learn to love them) quirks and all. Pastors model unconditional love to all kinds of people: the homeless man on the steps, to the woman dying of cancer in hospice, and the loud mouthed teenager we’d really wish didn’t sign up for the overnight retreat.
Of course, there are some days we won’t like the people in our mix. But as in a marriage, we always end the day in love. Love that hopes. Love that protects. Love that believes the best is still yet to be.
This is what I most want to say: congregations KNOW when we don’t love them. And, no amount of god-speak can cover up lack of true emotional connection. So, if we don’t have a heart that wants to grow in love of people in particular place, we really don’t need to find another job.
2. Practice Pastoral Care
It always amazes me when people become pastors and then are shocked to learn that visitation is part of the vocation.
“Oh, I really have to go visit shut ins? Oh, I really have to make hospitals? Oh, I really need to call regular visitors to introduce myself?”
YES YOU DO.
Pastors are care-givers of people in ordinary times, in joy and crisis.
In my experience, congregations will forgive a multitude of boring sermons and missteps in committee meetings, when they’ve seen us around their supper table.
3. Show Some Preaching Effort
Sermons are holy moments, folks. We shouldn’t take our opportunities to climb into the pulpit on a regular basis lightly.
Where else do a group of committed people gather in community weekly to hear a word about an ancient text? Few places other than the church! And, people don’t just come to church anymore to check a box. Most people who give up sleep on Sunday mornings, want to hear something of meaning from the proclaimer.
So why do we, as pastors, think that we can serve up ill prepared homilies week after week after week with nothing more than cute stories or pre-packaged sermon fodder we found on the internet?
Sure, not every pastor’s strength is the proclaiming moment. And this is ok (see point 1). But every pastor can try. We can honor calling by starting our sermons preparation earlier than the night before. Every pastor can make an effort to present something of value.
4. Live the Life, Not Just Talk the Talk
Of course, we as pastors aren’t super humans. There will be times when will disappoint. Maybe even lots of times . . . We’ll forget somebody’s birthday. We’ll offend the church council member with the most seniority. We’ll forget to make an important phone call. But, even in our imperfection, we need to be known as leaders who follow through with our commitments, more times than not. Basic curtesies like:
Having conversations, even the hard ones.
Sending thank you notes.
Most of all, people need to see that we’re the real deal. We love Jesus. And out of our love of Jesus, we do what we do.
What things would you add to the list?