Thursday, January 07, 2010

You Have to Love the People

There is a theory that clergy should move every 5 or 6 years to avoid getting "too close" to the people in the congregation.  IMO this is hogwash.  What does "too close" mean anyway?

Is it harder to keep some sort of clinical detachment when grieving with the congregation?  YEs.  Suck it up and deal with it.  But one of the blessings of ministry is to share the lives of the people with whom one lives and works and ministers.  OBviously there is always the need to have some professional distance and so on.  But it is a blessing to grieve with them and to laugh with them (I note that people rarely worry about the "too close" thing when it comes to sharing the joys of life, just about the supposed problem of loving the people whom you are burying).

I was reminded of this yesterday while doing the funeral of a charter member of the congregation.  It is one of the few times when looking down at the family I had to pull myself together as the service started.   But it is a blessing.  Not a hardship.  Not a problem.  A blessing.  TBTG.  Amen


  1. find Alban's stuff on long term pastorates ... and talk to people who have been in longer pastoral relationships ... the emphasis on distance and boundaries is ALL talk ... it's about having healthy relationships that are nurtured over time ... I've found those who are adament about maintaining distance and boundaries and having finite terms in their pastoral relationships wouldn't know a healthy relationship if they tripped over it ... what you've noted here sounds healthy and human - and God forbid that we as clergy are either !!
    Blessings for you and the congregation you are in ministry with Gord ...

  2. Anonymous8/1/10 10:59

    Unless you're reinventing yourself, it becomes less about boundaries, and more about knowing exactly what you're going to say on "said" issue. The church has heard your opinion on certain subjects, grown to love your affectations, heard your best material, and eventually moves on.

    Like Leno after so many years, you just have to move on, lest "ratings" dip.

  3. I've been told that old chestnut about 5 years, blah blah blah by several people now. I think it's nonsense.

    Yes, it becomes difficult to bury the people in your pews whom you have come to love.

    Yes, it is an honour and a privilege to do so.

    I wouldn't trade those relationships for anything. The idea of moving on just to protect my own heart from grief sounds so....cold and to some degree at least - downright unfaithful.

  4. All that said, and speaking as a member of a clergy family (which means from experience), there is wisdom in the dictum, even if the reason cited isn't a good one. (In fact, I'd agree it's downright bizarre)

    There is such a thing as going stale from being in a position for too long (I heard it as 7 years and let's not forget that it's a rule of thumb: you won't find it in the polity manual).

    There is such a thing as the people having heard it all before and both congregation and staffer needing a fresh perspective.

    There is such a thing as a congregation needing another spectrum of ministerial gifts for their own growth as people of God every so often (speaking in terms of years).

    And there is such a thing as complacency--it's a staleness that is comfortable and for that reason the worst of all worlds for a congregation, not to mention the minister.

    We are constantly being told from the pulpit that God is a God of change and of upsetting of our expectations and "settledness". Why should ministry be exempt from that notion? I'd suggest heeding those words of accumulated wisdom and experience, and allowing for the possibility that there is a right time to move on, and being open to doing so when that right time, that kairos, appears.