This year I have been mentoring and journeying with pastors for 20 years. Over this time we have reflected together on hundreds of challenging personal and ministry issues. Mentoring does not provide easy answers in these areas of concern. It rather creates space for sharing, questioning, exploring and seeking creative pathways. In future posts I would like to share some resources in each of these areas. For now I will list the top 10 personal and ministry concerns raised with me by pastors I have mentored..
- Maintaining personal spiritual growth and formation
Pastors often struggle to deepen their personal relationship with God. Finding meaningful ways to pray, meditate and personally encounter God is actually a key issue for people who spend a lot of time talking about God to others.
- Balancing marriage and family relationships with ministry demands
Unlike other marriages and families, pastor’s live with significant pressures and expectations around their personal relationships. Personal family life is not separated from ministry in the same way it is for people with other positions. The pressures family life place on ministry and the pressures ministry place on family are key dynamics for exploration in mentoring.
- Managing emotional health
Most pastors are deeply engaged with people. Pastorally guiding families through trauma, conflict, grief and loss consumes significant emotional energy. This is on top of personality differences, issues from the past in every pastor’s live, differing pastoral skills and abilities. All pastors need to watch their levels of emotional health and exhaustion. This is not just about expectations and time management as important as these are. Vicarious traumatisation, stress and burnout are key issues in mentoring.
- Responding to conflict, complaints and criticism
When pastors lead, and especially when they lead into change, there will be conflict, complaints and criticism. Few pastors have training in conflict management either at the interpersonal or at the collective and group levels. Conflict is the number one reason pastors leave ministry. A lot of my mentoring has been to support pastors in conflict and to assist them develop frameworks and skills for facilitating healthy processes in their congregations.
- Growing a healthy staff team
It is increasingly common for pastors to work in team environments with both paid and volunteer ministry leaders. Learning about how to lead a team and to support ministry leaders in forming and leading their own ministry teams is a critical area for pastors. Again many have had little preparation for this in their college or seminary training.
- Sexuality, power and trust relationship issues
There are unique aspects of pastoral ministry which connect closely with high trust relationships. Ministers rarely understand the dynamics of their power relationships with their church members. They often experience themselves as powerless and as victims of unreasonable expectations and demands. Because of the deep disconnect between the significant relational power they wield and their own sense of powerlessness, situations often arise in which power is mismanaged or even abused. It is not uncommon for parishioners to be attracted to clergy and also not uncommon for clergy to feel a sense of attachment to those they work with or minister to. Providing a space to deal with these powerful relational dynamics and creating a place for them to be disclosed and reflected up prevents them from becoming sexualised. Again this is a role somewhat unique in mentoring pastors as the dynamics at work are relatively unique to the ministry context.
- Keeping a growing learning edge
An important role mentors play in pastor’s lives is to keep them on a growing and learning edge. Some pastor’s plateau and stop facing and dealing with the learning challenges that present themselves in ministry. Keeping a pastor resourced with books, articles and processes which support learning is critical in mentoring.
- Practicing Sabbath rhythms
The disciplines of Sabbath keeping are critical to sustaining long term ministry. These include regular days of rest, opportunities for retreat and reflection, space for renewal, re-visioning and recommitment. These also include times of celebration, thanksgiving and blessing. Sabbath rhythms may operate on a daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, annual or even longer term basis. Mentors spend a lot of time planning, debriefing and setting up processes to ensure Sabbath of some form is practiced.
- Nurturing non-ministry supportive relationships
Every pastor needs friends, acquaintances, fellows, etc who do not relate to her or him primary as a pastor. This keeps ministry as an important role but not the whole of a person’s life. Hobbies, recreation and sports allow a pastor to relate to people outside of ministry contexts. Mentors often reflect with pastors around the importance of these relationships and their nurture.
- Decision making and transitioning well
A feature of pastoral ministry is discerning when and how to leave a group of people who have become an extended family and who have often connected deeply with a pastor’s own family. How this is done well without hurt and disappointment so that new relationships can be formed is important in ministry. Again transition is not often taught well at college or seminary. Mentors walk the journey with pastors as they are outside the church the pastor leaves and also the new church a pastor enters.
There are many other challenges in ministry. These 10 are certainly among those I find on the agenda with most of the pastors I work with.