Who Takes Care of the Minister?

   I am going to take a few days to talk to you about your ministers. That is, the preachers, the staffers, the "lovers of your soul." We do not have enough to go around now. More and more are leaving the formal work to pursue another kind of ministry. Still others are pushed out to nothingness.

   Please understand what happens to a Free Church minister when he or she is suddenly unemployed, for whatever reason. Do not sugarcoat your dismissal of this person. In so doing, you ruin his life.You do not do this thing for him or for his good. You simply ruin his life.

   I have friends who are invited to be staffers at large churches. Large churches build in a clause in the employment agreement that says a staffer can be dismissed without reason on the action of his or her supervisor with one month's severance. My friends will not serve on a large church staff for this reason. They know such a dismissal will ruin their life.

   Please do not tell me "God still knows their address." This is no excuse for wreaking destruction on the ministry of a human being and his family.

   In fact, do not bother with any of the cliches usually applied to Free Church ministers. The fact is churches often do a poor job of vetting the minister before they call him or her. Their help to determine him is often provided by some outdated, ineffective form from the office of a denominational representative who knows little about what it takes to flourish in local parish ministry.

   So, who takes care of the minister? Who protects the staff member from the ravages of the senior pastor who needs to sacrifice a staffer to protect his own place? Who defends the minister from the lunatic who would rather see the Old Building protected than the Kingdom advanced?

   Let me suggest, since I will, anyway, the conventions are in bad shape because the healthy churches will have less and less to do with them. The unhealthy churches (their name is Legion) pile up asking for some miracle program to bring them back to their glory days. The churches suffer because the ministers suffer. As in football, where it all comes back to the quarterback, the health of the church comes back to the minister.

   How can you help your minister(s)? I want to make some suggestions. You will not like most of them, which makes me think they are right.

   To Wit:

  • Throw money at him/her. His child needs some shoes for gym or a guitar for music class. He cannot afford them. She has not had a new dress in a year or so. Throw money at him or her.
  • Give him a break. I mean a break and a real one. If he has a funeral a week and a wedding each weekend, you are watching him burn out in front of you. Give him a Wednesday away. You do the devotional that week (sermonette for Christianettes).  After you get over swallowing your tongue, imagine giving a minimum three major speeches each week for a year. Then multiply by ten.
  • Examine your holiday traditions. You do not plan to make all the holiday things at the worship place. He will make them and ignore his family in the process. What will be the result?
  • Take the fear out of the work for him/her. He/she sees what needs to be done to make things better. If he/she dares speak out truth, he/she will suffer. So, a few lunatics, a few haters, rule the day. Naturally, the churches suffer because of the tyranny of the mentally and emotionally unstable.

   In the next three days, I am going to examine the care of care-givers in ministry. I want to spend some time with community and its loss and with the death/rebirth of cooperative missionary activity. In the new year, some of us will organize a democracy of care-givers to provide for a ministry to ministers. There is just not enough done for these people.

   My presupposition is simple. Conventions are dying because churches are dying. Churches are dying because ministers are not healthy. If we take care of the ministers we will go a long way toward taking care of the churches and healthy institutions will arise from the cooperative work of healthy ministers and churches.

   One large state convention has put in place a committee (who woulda thunk it) to determine how to entice people to return to their events. I have to tell you, only the most faithful attend funerals. This thing will not get fixed on the convention level. Healthy ministers, who know their strengths and weaknesses, who work on their own health, who work at their calling, who continue education that counts, these ministers, men and women of all generations, will make a difference.

Tomorrow: The Sickness of the Church as a Loss of Community

15 thoughts on “Who Takes Care of the Minister?”

  1. When my father was 52 and I was 14, he chose to leave a church instead of facing a staff person who was causing all kinds of problems in the church. The church went through a split — My dad later said that he should have stood up to it, but at the time, he did what he thought was right — and the more important thing was that he was trying to protect me. Turns out, I’ve spent my whole life dealing with what happened to my dad. I’m one of the lucky ones — my parents handled the crisis well, but it was a devastating experience for our family. Somebody should do a study of what happens to the children of ministers who are the victims of church splits, denominational wars and power battles. I learned at 14 that you’d better not trifle with the things of God and that it is a terrible thing to play political games with that which is holy. You are right-on, Rick, and I thank you for your boldness, your honesty and your courage. I have spent my whole life — almost 65 years now — in the minister’s home. It is a sacred calling to shepherd a church, and I have been honored to stand alongside my husband….but I am not blind or immune to the dangers of this life. Until there is health in the churches…..what do we have to offer the world? Until there is health in the minister’s families…..well, we all know what the results are of that! Salvation is more than getting into heaven and staying out of hell; it is about how we live with each other in the meantime and in the mean times.

  2. David Troublefield

    Anyone who has served in vocational Christian ministry for longer than 5 years and still finds himself in a difficult situation probably has himself to thank for it! Head-off all the problems possible beforehand by asking all the hard questions necessary while being interviewed prior to being hired—then give all the courageous leadership required to fix the ones they had an ethical obligation to tell you about but failed to do so. Problems existing in an organization 3 years after the leader arrives belong to that leader; before that, they belong to his predecessor—say so with conviction and the courage which should accompany that conviction, and don’t take the blame which isn’t yours (but eat all the crow you really deserve with a smile). Get a good personnel manual and make it apply to all paid staff members—and be abided by, by all church members.
    Though I’ve been a senior pastor, I’ve served as an associate ministry staff member quite a bit longer—and what may be true about nobody looking out for senior pastors is equally or more true about associate ministers who often save their senior pastors’ backsides without their knowing about it. Don’t believe it?—compare salaries, and measure the disparity between what is given to the senior pastor and what is earned by the associate staff.
    Senior pastors may be unhealthy, but they also seem not to know how to lead strategically or effectively—the present condition of churches in Texas today isn’t the fault of any associate ministers, as their congregations don’t, and won’t, follow them. It’s on senior pastors, along with the resulting condition of state Baptist conventions.

  3. David,
    I saw Jeannie’s comment first. It seems you have some hurt form which to speak. If you read my post, you notice an even handedness as to senior pastors and staffers. My contention is no one is actually taking care of many of them, regardless of what spot they hold. I am asking who takes care of the minister, not the senior pastor only.

  4. i had one denominational exec tell me that unlike the mainline churches, baptist ministers are in an entrepreneurial system: they are essentially self-employed; like a small business owner.
    interesting how everything comes back to business (money).

  5. Jeanie, you have me beat on years but man have I lived through the stupid stuff that preacher’s kids go through. Thanks for your strength to tell the story. Now I have been a pastor for 8.5 years and my kids are getting the opportunity to see it a bit differently. Our churches need pastors that lead them where they must go, even if that means winning folks to Christ and setting a new path.

  6. David Troublefield

    It’s still a matter of leadership–and the statements above are fairly objective, though I’ve definitely seen my share of difficulties over 20+ years in ministry. Associate staff–ministry AND support–need senior pastors to lead; our kids’ braces and college tuition depend on it, too.

  7. I have a freedom in the leading where folks don’t want to go. I am not dependent on the churches salary to live. I can lead and whoever wants to follow can. I have the bigger challenge of not being bullheaded and to be sure I am following Christ, then and only then can I lead effectively. I have found He is never that impressed with numbers. He prefers that whole broken and contrite heart thing, then folks will follow.
    I heard once and still like it – The pastors job is to feed and lead and the congregation is to follow and swallow. We have congregations starving due to gag reflex and pastors scared to feed the meals that bring life. I hope we are on the path to fix this.

  8. David Troublefield

    How associate staff members see it: Biblically-speaking, senior pastors are understood to be primarily responsible for preaching, leading, and pastoral care. Most struggle with pastoral care; many struggle with preaching relevant sermons which don’t cause the congregation to check-out mentally immediately after the song service concludes, then check-in again when the members must stand up at the start of the invitation (i.e., God doesn’t mind at all if senior pastors preach a sermon whose content actually deals directly with where people are on that Sunday); all struggle with leadership–and especially those who know little if anything about teams and/or teamwork. Senior pastors have an ethical obligation to do their work without splitting the congregation unnecessarily by being/saying/doing something stupid (can’t do absolutely insane things and then blame it on reasonable folks in the membership–who also can read their Bibles with a great deal of comprehension–when they leave the church to look for a congregation led by a rational pastor).
    When it comes to vocational Christian ministry: admire some, emulate a few, be wary of almost all. Nobody serving in vocational ministry today has “arrived,” or even gotten close–due to the nature of ministry (and often the nature of the minister).

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