Saturday, June 27, 2009

Everybody Needs Somebody

My colleague Mark Tidsworth recently posted a topic on the Pinnacle Leadership Associates Facebook page 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.

There are several ways that a minister can establish this type of relationship. First, 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. CBF’s Initiative for Ministerial Excellence has provided support for clergy peer groups for a number of years.

Second, 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, marriage and family therapist, or clinical social worker. Most insurance programs now provide coverage for such services in their medical plans.

Third, 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.

Fourth, 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.

(For information on clergy coaching, please check the Pinnacle Leadership Associates website or talk with your denominational judicatory leaders.)

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