My colleague Mark Tidsworth recently posted a topic on the Facebook page for Pinnacle Leadership Associates that generated a lot of response. The topic was the loneliness experienced by many ministers, especially the senior pastor.
Pastors are involved with people on a daily basis but often disconnected. This circumstance is not limited to senior pastors or to single staff minister churches. A friend who has served as a student minister on a church staff for years pointed out to me that he experienced the same type of feelings. He suggested that everyone needs a “chaplain” to serve as a sounding board, someone outside the church hierarchy or chain of command.
Although we can encourage and work on the development of healthy staff teams, a minister may feel uncomfortable in talking with a co-worker about personal needs or a problem situation. Close friendships with church members can be problematic. As staff members, we want to be available and responsive to church members, but if relationships become too close with a specific person, group or family in the congregation, this may cause dissension within the church body.
Just as every counselor or therapist needs a therapist for accountability, every minister should have such an ongoing relationship that keeps him or her grounded. I am talking about something outside of the supervisory or ministry-related structure. This relationship should be with someone outside the church.
A minister can establish this type of relationship in several ways.
- He or she can join or develop a clergy peer group. This group may include persons from other denominations. It is especially helpful when such a peer group is facilitated by a person with training in helping skills. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Initiative for Ministerial Excellence has provided support for clergy peer groups for a number of years.
- If the minister is under a great deal of personal, spiritual or professional stress, he or she should seek a formal relationship with a professional counselor, a marriage and family therapist or a clinical social worker. Most insurance programs now provide coverage for such services in their medical plans.
- If a minister becomes aware that he or she does not have the skills to properly perform certain acts of ministry (preaching, pastoral care, administration), a mentoring relationship with a person who is skilled in the area of need would be beneficial. This is especially helpful for new ministers.
- If the minister is reasonably healthy and not involved in an overly stressful situation that requires a therapeutic approach, establishing a relationship with a Christian life coach will help the person work on his or her “growing edge” — the place where the minister perceives the greatest need to develop.
If there are not other means of funding any of these approaches, the church should provide the cost with the understanding that these are all confidential relationships. There should be no strings attached and no reports should be provided to the personnel committee or any other administrative body of the church. The investment will pay off for the church and for the minister.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.