We asked our Pastors, how do you know that a congregation appreciates you as a Pastor? How do you know a congregation that is seeking a pastor appreciates pastors?
Be specific—what do you need?
Just so we are clear—it is good to ask for what you need. (Luke 11: 9-13)
Their Responses: (in no particular order)
Super hard questions. I think a lot of things go into knowing that a congregation appreciates you as a Pastor; notes of thank you, encouragement to take time away, and the volunteers to allow that to be a time of not worrying if something is going to get done (I admit that is probably a personal challenge for me, not the congregation). The second part of your question is also challenging. If a pastor is in search and call, the conversation seems to always revolve around fit; if you fit that church’s mission, and if the church is a good fit for you. I think pastors would have a very hard time determining if a church that they are talking to appreciates pastors. The only way would probably be for the pastor to talk with former clergy of that congregation to see what their experience was like. Related to both questions, I think clergy as caregivers have a very hard time naming what we need, I know I struggle with that.
I think on a basic level just not being abused and seeing a clear recognition of your humanity. Do the members treat the pastor as they want to be treated?
Functioning PRC committee. Congregation understand Matthew 18 implications for corporate and individual behavior.
When a congregation:
- Does not see staff salary/benefits as low-hanging fruit to balance the budget
- Addresses toxic behavior in the congregation
- Suggests closing the office the week after Christmas and Easter to give EVERYONE a chance to rest, reflect, and plan for the new season
- Makes it easy for staff to take a real vacation (and not just do all their work in advance. For example, a member of the congregation could be responsible for finding pulpit supply or a substitute musician, or put together the week’s liturgy instead of the pastor having to do it)
- takes care of their building and does not assume that the staff would love to be there for the 7am boiler appointment on their day off
- value the pastor’s personal time (for example, provide a wedding host to open the building and be present on Friday while the party is decorating or on Saturday while the party is getting fancy for 4 hours before the wedding and having 2 hours of photos done after the wedding)
- models functional relationships (for example, by clarifying that “Somebody” does not go to this church so if you have a problem, attach your name to it)
- Shows that they value the youth with their time, attention, and resources
- takes good care of their homebound members, fostering a relationship between the pastor and the homebound member, but not requiring that the pastor will visit 35 homebound on a monthly basis.
- takes good care of their members and neighbors who are in need, building a network of people who can help with emergency needs so that the pastor isn’t stuck driving somebody to rehab in the next state over because “there’s nobody else to do it”
- understands that the pastor is human, and that human bodies sometimes break. BEGIN the relationship with a well-defined bereavement/sabbatical/medical leave/parental leave/disability policy. Don’t wait until your pastor is having chemo and radiation, or a hysterectomy, a baby, a mental health crisis, or battling long covid before you define what grace you will give the pastor, because any discussions amid the crisis are going to do nothing but add additional hurt/harm to the pastor.
- understands that the maintenance of the status quo (building, worship service, programs, memorials, etc) is not the mission that we have been called to
- can navigate crises together, without grasping onto false hope/conspiracy theories, without attacking each other, without expecting staff to fix it all. And can look back on a crisis and say “this is what went well, this is what we need to work on now so that we’re better prepared next time.”
In search and call they could give examples of what they have done previously to support and appreciate pastors. I suspect this has not often been brought to their attention by the regional leader who is working with them, so thank you for being aware.
- 4 week vacation minimum. I won’t express interest in any congregation who offers less than that in the S&C profile as it tells me they do not understand the 24/7 mental load of ministry.
- 7-10 days for spiritual enrichment/continuing Ed including at least one Sunday.
- budgeting for General Assembly expenses separately from other ministerial professional expenses, and counting it as “work time.”
- I’ve always thought a little questionnaire for an incoming pastor would be nice, asking
- what tokens of appreciation do you especially find meaningful? Ex: sweets, restaurant gift cards, notes, annual recognition in worship, other?
- what’s your favorite beverages (alcoholic and non)?
- what dietary restrictions do you try to follow for your best health?
- favorite snack?
- favorite meal, restaurants?
- how do you want to be addressed, in writing, in public, one-on-one?
I’ll also add that if the schedule is heavy in a week (due to meetings, conference, Vacation Bible School, funeral, etc.) that everybody take a mental health day the next week. An inward retreat, a nap, and a snack, tidying up at home, whatever makes us happy. . . Too often congregations are glad to take the above and beyond weeks of a pastor’s mental, emotional, and physical labor, but don’t recognize the need for the recovery time afterwards. . . I think EVERYONE needs to take that break after a difficult week.
They speak directly to me about any concerns they have with my work. They pay me adequately. They respect my time off. They follow their written policies and procedures. They do not micro-manage my time but trust me to prioritize the multiple ministerial tasks before me at any time. They stand up to bullies in their midst and do not allow triangulation of relationships. They do not hold meetings after the meetings. They take active and interested part in Bible study, worship, and faith development. They prioritize Jesus and the gospel over the agenda they pick up on the news, “Christian” talk radio and vlogs posted by preachers who’ve not done critical study of the Bible and theology. Gifts, cards, “good sermon today” compliments, cookies, etc. are always warmly received, but those aren’t the ways that truly show a congregation’s appreciation.
I agree with everything listed but would say that the first two, about compensation and addressing toxic behavior, are the baseline. If those two can’t be met, then nothing else really matters.
This shows where we really are… “I feel appreciated when I’m not being abused.” Not being abused… is that the bare minimum???
And the fact that people think we’re asking too much when we ask to be treated with courtesy and respect…
They need to treat the pastor like an actual employee. I have seen pastors not get paid because the Church didn’t have money for payroll. I remember being physically threatened and harassed and the leadership shrugging. I remember coming to this congregation, being given 4 weeks/yr vacation (and a week for GA and a week for retreat) and submitting my vacation dates to the board at the beginning of the new year and being told by a member, “but we only budget for 3 Sundays worth of pulpit supply so you will only be able to take 1 week of vacation. Or being expected to provide childcare, run errands, or drive people around.
You’re hitting the nail on the head. Pastors should be treated as employees without being treated as “the paid Christian.” (Speaking from experience, I’ve had people call me “the paid Christian.)
Sabbatical policy. Family leave policy.
Non-bullying policy that protects staff and members alike.
Paying for regular spiritual direction and counseling for pastoral well-being.
An avenue to discuss contracts regularly. Been here for 5 years and haven’t even seen a cost of living increase. Had to put it as a question in my board report last month because I didn’t know how else to ask the board to consider the fact that I essentially make $7,000 less now than when I came due to the rising cost of living.
These have been excellent suggestions, I’m going to repeat some, and hopefully give new ones but even if not it should serve to underline the importance.
- Not expecting full time hours for part time pay. Essentially fair compensation.
- Create a culture of mutual support, not at the expense of the pastor. Yes, address toxic behavior and don’t force the pastor to address it to end it, but also create a culture where healthy supportive behavior is the norm.
- Seeing the pastor as a valuable part of the community and expressing it not only financially (which is important) but by inviting pastors to celebrations/parties (don’t just tell me that this is happening I need an invitation), and other social gatherings.
- Respect boundaries and time off, whether that’s Sabbaths, vacations, or otherwise.
- Offer grace for mistakes.
- Do not tie feedback to raises.
- Don’t treat church like a business, treat it like a community.
Oh, and how could I forget… if someone has an issue with how the pastor is doing something, the pastor needs to hear it from that person not “someone said to me”
I think the thing that says most about a congregation appreciating a pastor is longevity. If they don’t appreciate you, they don’t keep you, and if you don’t feel appreciated you don’t stay.
One mark would be how much members support days off and vacation time. Another is keeping up with cost-of-living increases on salary and benefits.
On a smaller/super-practical note – I was serving a church when my spouse was deployed to Iraq as an Army chaplain. Members of my Pastoral Relations Committee went out of their way to support me: one invited my kids and I over for Mother’s Day lunch so I wouldn’t have to cook/clean myself; one volunteered to watch my kids while I went to funerals and youth group events; another member paid to have my driveway plowed after a big snowstorm. I recognize my situation was unique, but every pastor has their own unique situations. Even aside from WHAT they did, what really made me feel appreciated is that they put thought into anticipating needs I hadn’t even named – then carried them out.
Also? As a pastor’s kid (and as a pastor), I always LOVED it when church members gave us homemade baked goods. I know some pastors have allergies/aversions or would rather not receive that, but those are my absolute favorite gifts.
I have a friend whose PRC is always the one to take her to the airport, so spouse didn’t have to pack up the kids. They looked out for the family too while she was gone, knowing single parenting is hard with four high needs kids.
For pastors and their families whose extended family are not close, inviting them to Thanksgiving or Easter dinner is a thoughtful thing to do.
Don’t lie to me in the interview. If you can’t pull that off, the later appreciations will likely fall flat or sound tinny & false, however intended. I will say anything that’s not a wall hanging, or Christian themed piece of office decor is nice: got SO many Footprints plaques and tapestries….
Just because it semi-relates and it has come up before: in my opinion, a contract is a blessing even when negotiating one can be stressful (front loading your stress, I’d suggest). Across 40 years & 7 ministry positions, I had two contracts. Everyone else provided a “letter of call” and an open-ended annual debate over compensation & benefits, let alone leave. At two there was frequent discussion of drawing up and approving a contract, but it never happened. To be fair, I never said “if I don’t get a contract next month I resign”… but I thought about it.
Grace for when I miss the mark, forgiveness when I am wrong. Understanding in all circumstances.
Somewhat reasonable pay and benefits
Assumption that I take time off.
Asking what my family’s needs are.
When a congregation asks a pastor to come do pulpit supply on a Sunday, that congregation should pay them. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but I recently provided pulpit supply in a congregation and received nothing, not even a thank you note. (Please note that I do not expect to be paid for pulpit supply in the congregation of which I am a member; I consider that a gift of my time and talent. And there are struggling congregations for whom I would gladly preach gratis.) However, unless there has been a discussion that indicates otherwise, I expect to be paid.
You are free to say most anything about me, as long as I’m the first one to hear it, face to face.
If plans for a sabbatical are included – adequate time after a reasonable amount of service, plus a funding plan – that’s a good sign.
I think congregations would benefit from direction to provide for and encourage mental health and spiritual formation for pastors. The congregation’s insistence- not only support for, but directive (and attendant support)- that pastors care for their own spiritual health is so critical, especially now. I’m specifically thinking of this as accompanying a sabbatical policy. How do congregations commit to the ongoing renewal of clergy between the every-seven-years sabbatical?
Between every 5-7 years sabbatical…. In reality sabbaticals get “pushed off” to another year all the time. If we shoot for five years, the sabbatical may actually happen in year 8 (since they really want you to complete seven years before you “take” the constractually/coventally agreed upon sabbatical).
If you’re sharing with congregations entering/in S&C – it is SO vital that they check a box on the compensation range on their profile. Even if there are things that could be negotiable, they can articulate that in comments, but not even checking a box tells me that 1. They’re wanting to see how little they can “get away with” 2. They don’t really value clergy being appropriately compensated. I’m not saying it’s a dealbreaker for me, but it’s at the very least a red flag.
As someone who has been in S&C for several years now because of my geographically-limited situation, I’ve read so many profiles that don’t have ANY compensation box checked. It’s a waste of the Search Committee’s time, the Regional Minister’s time, and the potential candidate’s time if they can’t afford what the candidate needs for living.
100% agree!!! What a waste of my time to have to contact a regional minister just to see if that church is even financially feasible for my family. No, we’re not in ministry for the money, but at the same time we do have expenses and deserve to be compensated for our educational level. And if they cannot afford an adequate full-time salary, then they need to accept that they need to advertise for only a part-time minister.
I would add (though this may look self-serving coming from the Region) that congregations should understand that work with the Region or the General church or local colleagues or whatever beyond the congregation (as long as it’s not to excess) should be considered part of their job as the pastor of a Disciples church. If we want to be a movement for wholeness, we can’t penalize people for moving beyond their fragments.
I know I’m appreciated, because they say it with words. They’ve shown it with actions, too. They show up for me when I need their living compassion.
Resources to help you support your Pastor.
From the Pension Fund:
Through our Ministerial Relief and Assistance programs, we can help churches create and sustain a parental leave policy and more. You can learn more about those here: https://pensionfund.org/ministerial-relief-assistance/new-active-clergy-staff-students.
Excellence in Ministry is geared toward ministers earlier in their career and can be life-changing to be sure. (Bethany Fellows is also awesome.)
Pension Fund also offers a free and confidential financial service Your Money Line and free and confidential mental health resource Learn to Live.
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