Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why The Pastor/Parish Relationship is like a Marriage (sort of)

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as our congregation will soon be in a discernment process regarding who will be our next pastor.  We will prayerfully listen to the Holy Spirit and to members of the congregation regarding our mission and direction, and think about what kind of leader we need in order to fulfill the mission that God has given us.  In our tradition, we interview pastors and then extend a call to a particular candidate, who will either say, "Yes," or "No."

To me, it sounds a little like the process we use to choose a life partner, except possibly for the part where each vows "till death do us part."

I realize that some denominations do not get a say in who their pastor will be.  In that case, consider it kind of like an "arranged marriage", where older and wiser parties choose a partner for you, based on each of your strengths and needs.  In that case, your parents, er, I mean your bishop tells you that you will "learn to love each other."

So, at the beginning, after all that prayer and all that discernment, and all that study (i.e. dating) and interviewing, the congregation is sure that they have chosen the Right Pastor.  Some people may even be so bold as to say that they have chosen the Perfect Pastor.  The Minister as well, is sure that s/he has said "yes" to the Right Church, the Church where s/he is supposed to be.

And then, somewhere along the line....just like in marriage....reality sets in. 

Which is not to say that everything goes wrong, but just that, some things go wrong.  Your partner leaves the cap off the toothpaste, or doesn't make ice cubes, or holds the wrong position about homosexuality, or turns out to have an off-putting sense of humor.  You absolutely got a pastor who is a brilliant teacher and preacher, but not someone who can remember everyone's name.  Or, your congregation is passionately committed to working for justice, but not to having enough money to pay the heat bills in the winter ( for example). 

Then, the question is, can you adjust? 

So, you didn't get a perfect pastor, and you didn't get a perfect congregation.  But the key to success is to be able to adjust to the reality of the flawed, but gifted people you really are.  As you work together, you will discover stumbling blocks and things you didn't know about one another.  You will discover that you were both putting on your best face to impress each other in those Early Days.

But here's the catch.  As you make adjustments based on Real Life, you will also discover (and this is absolutely guaranteed) gifts you didn't know you had.  Given the opportunity, and given the faith that this person, this congregation, with all of their faults, is still the Right One for You, you'll not only fall down on the job sometimes:  you'll also rise to the occasion, you discover new things about one another, new ways you can serve God together.

Just like in marriage, the key to a successful pastor/parish relationship is the ability to make adjustments.  Oh, and faithfulness.  Faithfulness is important too.


not said...

I love it.

My fervent prayer is that this attitude would extend to other rostered leaders and even (dare I say it?) staff as well.

Good to see you yesterday. I will help with the liturgy project if you need anything.

Mompriest said...

..and then there are the occasions when the adjustments being demanded exist on "shifting sand" with an insistence on a one sided relationship of control and abuse.

but mostly, in healthy situations, this is what I have experienced. The relationship between clergy and congregation should be mutually life-giving and growing, albeit at times there will be challenges. It's how the "couple" navigates the challenges that really impact the health and the growth. Same is true for a marriage. Amarriage is about helping the other become the best version of themselves without also compromising the wellbeing of the self.

I pray for you and for the journey you and the congregation are on.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Age does bring some advantage. In the case of pastor/church, there are things I can see now, after being in the same vibrant church for 33 years, that someone new to a church wouldn't see. Also, I've been on the call committee twice.

I see the church as being the people there already, and those who come it. It isn't the pastor's church. You already know that, but some people don't. And it isn't the tradition/culture within some other Christian groups.

I have seen each pastor bring gifts that blessed the church at a particular time. Then those gifts may be needed elsewhere or different gifts are needed for that church for the new period of time. The pastor moves on.

I attended an ordination of a friend once. The preacher said something that impressed me. He said, "In twelve years, will you be a pastor with twelve years' experience or will you be a person who has been a pastor for twelve years, but with three years' experience?" He explained that after the honeymoon time period is over and some problems rise to the surface and perhaps some conflicts arise, will this pastor learn to deal with the problems or will he just seek another call.

Being a pastor must be more like serial monogamy than like a long term marriage.

Diane said...

yeah, that's why I said (sort of). but you second to last paragraph! brilliant! words for me to grow by.