Yes and No. Obviously denominations have for decades focused like-minded people to accomplish strategic missions around the world. They have recruited, trained and led in staffing the pulpits in churches across North America. Millions of dollars are raised and utilized by them in Kingdom work.
Denominational leaders are some of the best, brightest, most gifted and caring people in Christ’s Kingdom. But, despite good intentions, and all that is going for them they go off the tracks when it comes to the care of the Christian Leaders under their leadership. They dysfunction. Yes, they simply derail when it comes to caring for their pastors and missionaries. Before you click away from this article assuming this is one more useless or angry rant please at least look at the reasons denominations and denominational leaders dysfunction and begin thinking and praying with me about a better way.
Do Denominational Leaders Care About Their Clergy?
It is important to underscore most denominational executives seek the best for the Christian professionals under their care. I have yet to meet a denominational leader who is not sincerely concerned about the clergy who labor on his watch. Yes, I’ve met executives who were in denial, thought they were doing their best when they were not and some who believed there was no other way than the way they were doing their ineffective pastoral care. As a group, however, across a broad theological and denominational spectrum denominational leaders wish to care for their pastors as much or more than their pastors wish to care for their congregants. Why then do so many pastors burnout, fail morally, and leave the ministry?
Of course, some denominational leaders have been promoted to levels which exceed their competence. Others are not suited for the stress of maintaining financial viability and denominational traditions in a day when denominational commitment is waning, church attendance is declining and our mega churches are either independent or so large they become the tale which wags the dog. It is my observation denomination executives care deeply but are just unable to meet the needs of the clergy in their care. What factors contribute to the breakdown of clergy care?
Reasons Why Denomination Executives Fail to Meet the Needs of Their Clergy:
1. Denominational Leaders are Hampered by Hierarchy.
One of the statements which we hear most at CRN is, “We had nowhere else to turn.” This is as likely to come from the mouths of denominational pastors as those who serve churches which are independent. Whether implicit or explicit, whether implied or stated; pastors and missionaries know the leaders of their denomination have a measure of power over them and their future. They do not perceive these leaders to be safe resources when they are struggling most deeply. If a pastor is struggling to survive spiritually, driven because he is afraid to fail, exhausted, prone to porn or experiencing the stress of family conflict the last place he goes with this information is to the person he perceives as being “over” him. No one wants to tell his boss about these important potentially life altering issues. Instead we seek naturally the approval of those we perceive as higher in the food chain.
Though increasingly vulnerability is a sought after commodity in Christian speakers, the kind of vulnerability required to thwart burnout, stop moral failure and care for clergy persons’ emotional, spiritual and family health requires a deeper more daunting vulnerability. Baring ones soul to the “boss” is counterintuitive. Even when a pastor trusts his denominational executive to maintain appropriate confidentiality, he recognizes his leader is someone who must formally or informally makes judgments about his performance, guides church search committees and has the inherent power to strongly influence his future. Pastors know if they really expose their neediness as human beings to their leadership it will be impossible for the same leaders of denominations to recommend them for or appoint them to larger or more desirable churches. A pastor can ruin his future by being honest enough to get the help he knows he needs at the hand of his denominational shepherd. Even when a denominational leader discounts and downplays hierarchy, it relentlessly creates an insurmountable barrier for any pastor who might be otherwise inclined to seek help from his leader.
2. Denominational Leaders Must Maintain Denominational Purity.
There is consistent pressure on denominational executives to require pastors in their care to meet various doctrinal and moral standards. The result is a counterproductive promotion of legalistic and puritanical purity which is written into denominational policy. This is especially true regarding sexual matters. Polices intended to keep pastors pure become overly punitive and sexually regressive. This contributes to the problem of the moral failure of its pastors. Seemingly innocent policy demands unwittingly increase the fear and shame pastors feel when they struggle to be spiritually and sexually healthy. When a culture is dominated by policy generated fear and shame, it feeds and nourishes the precise sins these policies were intended to eliminate. When fear and shame are used in any culture, whether family or denomination, in an effort to control the purity of its members, they generate the opposite of their intended purpose.
Instead of appropriate and graceful moral codes and initiatives which could contribute to the sexual health of their pastors, denominations create and maintain long held counterproductive policies. If someone challenges these fear and shame based policies, this person is branded as being unbiblical or weak on matters of sexual purity. For example, instead of creating, modelling and gracefully enacting common sense computer monitoring policies; rigid codes, procedures and disciplines against any kind of moral impurity remain denominational law.
One denominational executive had me review his denomination’s policy regarding the sexual purity of its pastors. He was sincerely concerned about the moral failure of pastors in his care. Policies regarding the non-sexual behavior of this denomination’s pastors were relatively brief. They were mostly a restatement of the King James Version of the requirements found in the Pastoral Epistles for clergy. Then I came to the voluminous section on the sexual behavior of pastors. Despite the Pastoral Epistles not specifically citing sexual purity or impurity when they speak regarding the behavior of church leaders, the section of this denomination’s policy regarding sexual matters was larger than the rest of the policies regarding a pastor’s behavior combined! The policies regarding a pastor’s sexual behavior seemed to have been written by Puritans only a generation removed from America’s founding fathers. It was interminably laced with fear and shame. I was surprised when there was no policy regarding the evil of looking at a woman’s ankles. I was not surprised to know sexual immorality was a significant problem among the clergy in this denomination.
3. Denominational Leaders Must Face the Challenges of Internal Religious Rigidity and External Cultural Fluidity.
Religious denominations are aging while our culture is changing. Leaders of denominations cannot ignore the rapid evolution of our culture or the fixed nature of the religious systems they lead. There was a time in North America when the length of a man’s hair, the wearing of pants by women and whether one danced or attended movies were religiously defining issues. Sometimes one’s eternal destiny seemed in the balance depending on your approach to these cultural issues. Though religious mores have shifted in my lifetime; worship wars continue. We are still selfish enough to want what we want and to like what we like. We still tend to feel most safe when our church and pastor do things the way they have always been done.
In addition to less important cultural issues like those just cited, more significant cultural matters impact the lives and health of our pastors. One is the increasing complexity of the pastoral role. Its twin is the intensification in expectations which hounds every pastor like a junk yard dog with a leg in his mouth. On top of the overriding desire a pastor feels to do pleasing work for God, he is often feels compelled to please his Church Board, their spouses, the Denomination’s Executive, each church member, each attendee, every visitor, his pastoral peers, his wife whom he pastors, his children and his own sense of self. To fill the roles he serves sometimes as counselor, discipleship leader, preacher, IT person, Website Designer, Board Chairman, teacher, CEO, pall bearer, author, vision castor and hospital chaplain. Too often he plays every role except best friend.
The complexity is exacerbated by the increasing demands to communicate with everyone in every way. He must also competently compete with the best of the best each time he opens his mouth. Church members know good preaching and teaching. The availability of the most gifted pastors in the Kingdom is iPad and Internet close. Just get the App. The modern pastor is compared with the best and expected to compete admirably. These pressures are unprecedented historically. Denomination leaders must be competent change agents in rigid religious organizations to stay abreast of these pressures gobble their pastors alive.
Resistance to change infests every aging system. Denominations are aging. When denominational leaders know polices are destructive to the spiritual and emotional health of their pastors, eliminating these destructive policies and generating healthier ones is usually a battle royal. Human beings resist change. Christians who are motivated by fear and shame or are unconsciously influenced by their role in the tradition and history of their religious organization’s DNA are especially resistant to change. Change which reflects the grace and freedom of genuine Christianity is particularly unwelcome in such organizations. Too often, the roots of our more traditional Christian cultures find their nourishment far below the surface in the dark soil of fear and shame. No wonder our clergy policies are also dominated by the same.
Judgmentalism thrives in the same soil as fear and shame. As a result, a denominational leader who genuinely seeks the emotional and spiritual health of his pastors must face the harsh judgment and normal systemic resistance which accompany healthy change. On one hand his office requires him to produce ever more funding and church attendance. At the same time he must stare down contributors and attendees who will judge him harshly if he pushes for healthier policies. Parishioners are not likely to support graceful policies for their pastors when they believe a pastor has not preached unless he steps on everyone’s toes. For too long Christian cultures have adored angry narcissistic pastors who can really teach the Word instead of more balanced pastors who live the Word. Denominational executives who sincerely desire changes promoting pastoral health must battle the judgmental spirits of those in his denomination who serve the evil twins of fear and shame.
4. Executives of Denominations Are Required to be Political.
Being a denominational executive means one must be aware of and responsive to the political forces which are at work placing him in his position and keeping him there. The road to being a Bishop, Denominational Superintendent or Convention President is paved with political good will. Whatever the name of the denominational position one fills, the position is a political one. Yes, being a pastor is also political in nature but every denomination’s leaders must maintain their political good will across a broader base while dealing with considerably less direct contact than a parish pastor. In every discussion or question regarding pastoral health in general or the health of a specific pastor, the political ramifications are a significant factor for the individual denominational leader.
More to follow . . .