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A Letter from the Senior Associate Minister to Presbytery

Expectations: Are pastors and congregations on the same page?
October 2, 2014

The pastoral staff of the presbytery recently went on a retreat together to Crestfield Camp & Conference Center.  As a focus for our retreat, we used the book Healthy Churches, Faithful Pastors: Covenant Expectations for Thriving Together written by David Keck.  The book grows out of research done by the author on what it takes to establish healthy relationships between clergy and the congregations in which they serve.  He makes a bold claim. He quotes a pastor as saying, “The biggest killer of churches is unrealistic expectations, when people are expecting very different things from each other.”  The author goes on to write that many times congregations and pastors not only have different expectations of what the pastor-congregation relationship should look like and how ministries and priorities are negotiated, but that they lack the skills and knowhow to work through problems when issues arise.

I have been a pastor for 31 years, having served a small church as well as a medium and large multi-staff corporate church as head of staff, before beginning my ministry in the presbytery.  I found the book very descriptive of what pastors encounter in the everyday reality of ministry.  I have witnessed how divergent expectations between pastors and their congregations have destroyed good ministries; however I have also witnessed some churches work through “bumps” in the relationship caused by unreal expectations on the part of one or the other.  In many cases, an outside voice can be very instrumental in helping a pastor-congregation relationship, which has hit upon hard times, move to a new place of health and vitality.  This is where the presbytery can play a role and make a difference.  I know those of us who work in the presbytery are humbled and honored when we get asked by a session or pastor to come alongside of them to work on clarifying healthy expectations.

In his book, David Keck outlines what healthy congregations can expect of faithful pastors as well as what faithful pastors can expect of healthy congregations.  For example, healthy congregations can expect faithful pastors: to understand ministry is about God and not about them, to have a “pastoral imagination,” to desire more for the congregation without becoming brokenhearted, to preach on difficult subjects even if it makes them unpopular, etc. Likewise, faithful pastors can expect healthy congregations:  to serve God above all, to be clear about the current purpose of the church, to believe churches are called not just to survive but thrive, to trust money will follow mission, to take risks for the sake of the gospel, and to let the pastor be a pastor.

I commend this book to all pastors and sessions.  I believe it can be used in a preventive way to identify growing divergences in expectations so such differences might be addressed before the relationship is forever damaged.

I want you all to know we pray for all pastors and churches on a regular basis as we go about our work in the presbytery.  We desire, more than anything else, that all churches would strive to be healthy, even as all pastors strive to be faithful.  As we serve Christ together, may this be so.

In Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Portz, Senior Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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