Churches want to find leaders who can address the everyday concerns of congregations. People want to bring their problems and concerns to the church, but they want the Church to have on hand, a counselor for the kids, and financial planner for the husband, effective family programs, after school programs, employment training and referral, senior citizen centers, medical centers, attached affordable housing, a school and a good college preparatory program. They want the pastor to teach the neighbor how to be a better person, the husband how to be a kinder father, and the mother how to stay home and take care of the kids while working two jobs going to college at night. They want a relevant Jesus and an understanding God, and they want to hear about him in sermons lasting no longer than twenty minutes.

During the period of time spent as a seminary intern working on my Master of Divinity fieldwork assignment, I was placed in the Good Shepard United Methodist Church. I was sent to represent the pastor at one of the training sessions for the Parish/Staff/Pastor relationship committee. There needs to be a Pastor’s Forum for individuals who are involved with working in the field of caring for the spiritual needs of individuals. In the process of caring for congregations, it must be remembered that pastors must have a team of individuals dedicated to taking care of them and the challenges they will face. We need to update the model of the church, the old model of the church as a hospital for sinners has resulted in some churches becoming halfway houses for the functionally mentally and emotionally disturbed. This model is needed, but it leaves no place for the people who are not challenged, to come and learn the fellowship of life. How and where do we learn to love God and love our neighbor without driving away our clergy and those who seek to do good and walk peacefully in this world?

Young men are deciding that ministry is not the field for them, they may hear “the call” but experience and observation has taught them that there is something wrong with the Christian church and they may not be the person to solve the problem. Some young men learn this before taking on the responsibility of a church and congregation, other sadly only after they have invested a considerable amount of money in student loans and emotional spiritual and psychological energy.

 

The Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee had as its presenter, Rev. Varlyna D. Wright of the Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church. She was tough and forceful, and she did not pull any punches with respect to how things are supposed to run in churches.

Rev. Wright started strong and stated the following points concerning individuals who are working on this committee, these were:

 

  • Ÿ You must have a clear understanding of the job
  • Ÿ You must be a spiritual leader
  • Ÿ You must demonstrate a financial commitment to the church
  • Ÿ If you do not like the pastor, then you should not be on the committee
  • Ÿ Your job is to support the pastor
  • Ÿ You should be building relationships with each other
  • Ÿ You should have 9 spiritual leaders, but if you cannot find 9 then go with 5
  • Ÿ One person on the committee needs to be a young adult or youth
  • Ÿ What goes on in the committee meeting are confidential, and should be kept among yourself as leaders
  • Ÿ You may have to go out of your way to get a youth member, even making arrangements to pick them up
  • Ÿ Lay leader and lay members to the annual conference must be on the committee
  • Ÿ No employee of the church or staff member can be on the committee
  • Ÿ No member of the pastors family can be on the committee
  • Ÿ The Pastor is on the committee
  • Ÿ Say to the congregation, “ We are looking for spiritual people.”
  • Ÿ Family members should not be on major committees, they can be on outreach
  • Ÿ Lay leader and lay member are part of the 5 minimum number
  • Ÿ Lay member is the person who goes to the conferences
  • Ÿ Delegate is a member of the PPR
  • Ÿ No member from the same household should be on the committee
  • Ÿ Chairperson of Administrative Council cannot be a member of the PPC
  • Ÿ People should not have multiple decision making ability
  • Ÿ Manual tells who is on the committee
  • Ÿ Lay leader reports to Administrative Council
  • Ÿ You need to go and, ”Folks we have been doing it wrong, and we have to start to do it right.”
  • Ÿ When you start informing people about doing things right, they will fall in line
  • Ÿ Do we want to make a policy that we want spiritual leaders on our committee

 

 

At this point Rev. Wright turn her attention to some of the problems that some of the attendee were expressing. She spent a lot of time on church conflicts. She stated that some people do not understand their roles. She also suggested that people should not be on a committee for longer than 6 years. She indicated that retired committee members should not come back, if there is a vacancy on the committee, which cannot be filled, and then it should be left vacant. If you do not have a spiritual leader, leave the position vacant.

In the St. Mark’s church, the same people held committee positions for years. The same people remained in the leadership position, there were no opportunities to challenge individual in these powerful positions. St. Marks had not only lost its courage, it had lost its spirit. No pastor had survived going into the lion’s den with the heads of these powerful committees. The members were old, but they were seasoned and articulate. They could control the direction and the outcome of any focus group. They now had to deal with the fact that the Methodist conference was considering breaking up the church and possibly selling the facility. The power was taken out of their hands. They began to realize that they were the problem.

 

The training leader at the conference addressed this issue.

 

If you are small, form a leadership team. She suggested that a lot of people do not want to take on the job because they do not know what to do. She stated that Doug Ruffle is available to come in and help small churches work out methods for committee in a small church.

 

She said that churches should stop having positions where no one does anything. If you have a committee and no one wants to assume the chair, then the church should consider bringing in a trainer.

 

The question of the responsibility of the PPRC in receiving a new pastor was discussed. She reminded the group the Methodist Church has an open Itinerancy policy, which suggest that whom ever is sent to you is your pastor. The committee should discuss this point will all of its members. She stated frankly that if you have a problem with women or ethnic pastor, you should, “get off the committee.” Start having the conversation about receiving different pastors.

 

She stated that there are no secrets in the PPRC. It is the PPRC obligation to get to the bottom of any and all rumors. All concern should be made in writing and signed. A concern that is not signed will not be reviewed. The committee encourages anyone who may have a concern with the pastor, to make an appointment to speak to the pastor in person. If the individual is shy about speaking to the pastor alone, then a member from the PPRC will accompany that individual in the visit to the pastor.

There are no secrets. All rumors must have a name attached to it; all complaints must be in writing and signed by the person making the complaint. She stressed very strongly that the PPRC responsibility is the support of the pastor and his ministry. At any point where that is not the prime directive, then such individuals should remove themselves from the PPRC.

Someone on the committee should have the responsibility of staying in contact with the pastor’s wife to see if she needs anything. There cannot be any conversation with the wife about issues involved in church meetings. There should be someone who is responsible for the comfort of the pastor and his family, this especially true for new pastors and families coming into the church. There should be a visit of once a month during the first 6 months of arrival.

 

Conclusion

Sometimes it is necessary to bring some people back to reality. Churches are not private clubs owned by members. The United Methodist church has rules and procedures for handling problems and concerns. Some of the members forget that when they join the church they agree to abide by the rules. Each church denomination is different. The United Methodist church is not a congregational church. The congregation does not dictate the rules of the church. The church follows doctrine and procedures. When a pastor forget his or her assigned role, then members of the congregation will attempt to change those roles to fit their own personal interest. Churches should not represent personal conflicts, relational conflicts, and in some cases emotional conflicts. The reality is that churches often are the place where some people work out their worst problems and frustrations. Some pastors are good at nursing members through problems and frustrations and some are not. Some churches are becoming more therapeutic centers than religious centers. The postmodern generation may be uncomfortable with the concept of the church as a hospital. The image of the church as a wellness and wholeness center rather than a place when the sick come to complain and die may require some rethinking of some of the seminary programs. Perhaps there is a similarity between in experienced pastors and inexperienced teachers. In the classroom, if the student get the perception that the teachers is unsure of his or her role, the students will make the teachers life miserable. If a congregation perceives a new pastor as someone who seeks to please as a strategy of avoiding conflict, the congregation will assign the role to the pastor, and proceed to take over the church.

The more conflict there is in a church the stronger the evidence is that the Religious education program and spiritual leadership has more challenges to work with. It is also an indication that the leadership style is weak. If people are gossiping and talking about other people, rather than talking about the Bible and God’s word the church is in trouble, and the handwriting is on the wall with respect to the continual survival of the church. The further we get away from the word of God, the closer we get to the thoughts and words of man. The church is the house of God, not man. The pastor leads the people back to the heart of God.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                         Bibliography

 

James Michael Lee, The Shape of Religious Instructions (Birmingham, Ala: Religious Educational Press, 1971. pp 309-310

 

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