As a young minister, I often wondered, “How am I doing?” It was a good question! But at midlife I began to ask, “How am I helping others to succeed?”
In a month, I will retire after eleven years as a non-profit executive. Now that it is finally happening, I’m forced to make up the rules as I go.
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.
In the last 50 years, not a single minister had survived at First Community Church for more than five. There were many theories as to why. The generally accepted rationale was simply that “First Community chews up its pastors.” Pastor Bethany, who had received plenty of warnings before accepting the lead minister role at First Community, was determined to unearth the reasons for this phenomenon.
A pastoral transition is announced. One era of leadership winds down as the promise of a new one beckons. People are naturally drawn to the excitement of beginnings; however, a healthy beginning with a new pastor depends on a good ending with the exiting pastor. The problem is, people avoid and minimize the losses associated with endings.
When we are attentive, mid-career can be a time for us to deepen the “conversation with the elements” of ministry.
Confidentiality is a term of art in ministry. It evokes the seal of the confessional: most people expect, when they talk to clergy, that what they say will go no further. This is perhaps the most widespread expectation people have of clergy, and one most of us try hard to honor. Unfortunately, keeping confidences is not as simple than it sounds.