What Pastors Wish Their Church Members Knew: Helping People Understand and Appreciate their Leaders
What Pastors Wish Their Church Members Knew reviews the results of a survey distributed to hundreds of Protestant, evangelical pastors, to give congregants insight into the challenges and burdens unique to pastoral ministry. From the beginning, Denise George stresses that pastors often have no confidants with whom they can share their struggles; their closest friends are often their parishioners, and few feel comfortable sharing information that might undermine congregants’ confidence in their pastor. This survey was a rare occasion for them to communicate their fears and frustrations. Although the pastors surveyed varied widely in income, location, ethnicity, etc, their problems were often the same; here, George reviews those shared issues and suggests ways that parishioners can better support their priests as they engage in ministry together. Although there’s a disappointing lack of liturgical clergy represented here (Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Catholics), from my friendships with several priests over the years I imagine much of this applies to them as well.
Some of the material reviewed is unsurprising like the financial stresses incurred by pastors: although some mainline churches can afford healthy salaries for their clergy, most churches are smaller and their pastors depend on tithes, which can fluctuate widely. Of more interest is the fact that clergy are often isolated; they are subject to the same stresses as their parishioners, but have virtually no one to share them with, at least locally. Even clergy don’t want to talk shop all the time, and attempts to build relationships with congregants are often derailed by the congregant’s conception that pastors only want to talk about religion, and not football or literature. The pastoral demands placed upon a minister can so consume his time that he’s left with precious little time to be with his family, focus on his own spiritual life, or even prepare sermons. Congregants often expect the pastor to carry the weight of church life, and still look askance if he has the cheek to request a cost-of-living income adjustment. He and his family can also suffer from unrealistic expectations of perfection, and pastors are often blamed for lack of church growth, which is completely outside of their control.
Although there are limits to the book’s usability, I found it helpful on the whole. Pastoral care is a unique challenge, often made more difficult by the people being ministered to –like many positions involving people! — but pastors can be supported, and thereby made more effective, if parishioners care enough to regard their pastors as something more than hired help.