It’s not easy being a pastor, priest, or rabbi. People come to congregations bearing an incredible variety of hopes and aspirations. When reality falls short—as it inevitably does—the clergy leader often takes the fall. That process is almost always painful, even when it turns out to be a good thing for all concerned. A lot of clergy fail, but others manage to avoid the pitfalls and succeed despite the odds. A key to success is to remember that the congregation’s mission, not its minister, is the central issue.
Every year about this time, I get calls from lay and clergy leaders who want help writing a mission statement. They hope that with a clearer sense of mission, their congregations will stop reliving yesterday and start building tomorrow. I think they’re on the right track, and once upon a time I would have joined them in the mission-writing process. But today I usually suggest starting instead with a vision statement.
Some churches grow, and others shrink. Most oscillate for decades around a size that it finds comfortable. When a church gets too small for its own comfort, it plugs newcomers into spots left vacant by those who have departed. When it grows too big, it lets newcomers know they are not needed. This oscillation can go on for decades, till it is disrupted by strong outside forces such as a growth-oriented pastor, a sudden run of deaths, or an influx of unusually determined visitors.
Planning only matters if it makes a difference to your congregation’s work. If, after a weekend of planning, staff and volunteers wake up Monday morning and do just what they did before, then all your planning was for naught. Grand statements of mission and vision have no value unless someone turns them into action steps.
If you are an exceptionally bright, talented, attractive person, you can energize a congregation quite a bit by doing everything yourself. But if you want to make more happen than you personally can lead, you need to learn to delegate.
Clergy often try to change their congregations, and a rule, their efforts meet resistance. It hurts to be seen as a threat by the very people you are trying to serve, but when a leader’s first move is to advocate for change, that’s generally what happens.
How is a pastor like a forklift operator? Not very much, apparently. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the jobs of clergy and equipment operators are about as different as two jobs can be. If you’re a clergyperson and your board is full of forklift operators, this fact might help explain why you are feeling lonely!