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Hope For ‘Failing’ Pastors

All sorts of jobs have particular pressures today. My work as a minister certainly has. There is all sorts of pressure against whatever might be regarded as failure:

* In the light of numerical church decline, many churches are looking for a hero to ride over the horizon and come to their rescue. I have seen Methodist profiles where circuits explicitly seek a minister ‘with a proven record of church growth’.

* In a culture where we are increasingly regarded as employees in principle, even if not (yet?) legally – appraisals and reviews, ‘letters of understanding’ about new appointments – people think they can have their say, and if they don’t think ministers are meeting their expectations – whether they are reasonable or not – they turn the screw.

* It is seen in other professions. Politicians think they can harvest extra votes by more quickly dismissing ‘failing’ teachers.

* Alongside the above reasons, there are cases where a minister has behaved in a manner unbecoming of their calling, and the church authorities have glossed it over.

* The opposite has happened: a congregation has been allowed to get away with bullying its minister, and the church hierarchy has been more interested in preserving a fictional facade of niceness that a wounded minister limps off elsewhere, or maybe is lost to the ministry.

* As implied in the last point, there is a culture of ‘pretend’, if not of outright dishonesty, that pervades too many churches, which makes it difficult for people, ministers especially, to be open and vulnerable about their fears.

In the light of all this and more, an American pastor called J R Briggs organised a conference last year called the Epic Fail Pastors’ Conference, and he’s doing the same again this year. It’s in the USA, so my expenses won’t quite stretch, so I won’t be there (although apparently last year one delegate flew from Australia). They are deliberately not meeting in a flash convention centre in a fashionable city. They aren’t announcing any big names. Much of the schedule is taken up with ‘time together’.

I nearly typed that I wished them a ‘successful’ conference, but that would open up an interesting conversation about what truly constitutes success. But I do wish all the participants healing, hope and peace.