In my office, I often receive comments such as these: “our pastor is not a good preacher,” “our pastor does not listen well,” “our pastor is tearing down our church,” or “our pastor is making too many changes.” When I receive these comments – and others like them – I feel a pain deep in my heart, because I know that our pastors are trying their very best to be good, faithful, spiritual leaders. The question that comes to my mind is, “why can’t people focus on the good their pastors do instead of looking only at one thing a pastor does that they do not like?”
Our pastors work very hard – elders, deacons, licensed local pastors, pastors in the preparatory process – all give their best to serve. They are tasked with many challenging responsibilities. They do not have regular hours. They are often burdened with many emotional and psychologically draining demands. They have weekly responsibilities, but also have many varied and unpredictable duties that no one can predict. They shepherd dozens – sometimes hundreds – of lives, and are responsible for the spiritual development and well-being of Christians becoming disciples. They have commitments to their communities and to the Conference. Most parishioners see only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to truly knowing the work and ministry their pastors do. And when there is disagreement? Instead of actively seeking a way to work together and support the pastor, they complain and blame the pastor.
Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that the pastor is always right, and I am well aware that sometimes pastors create many problems for themselves. But what I do want to say is that our pastors are only human and they can be no more effective or successful than the support they receive from the members and participants in our congregations. Conflict within a congregation becomes just one more challenge a pastoral leader must tackle, and the time given to conflict is time taken away from mission and ministry. Pastoral leadership is both a rare and a limited resource. Working together to make our pastors effective is critically important. Each and every pastor has specific gifts for ministry, and no one pastor is good at everything. I am asking, in this upcoming Advent season, to think of your pastor as a gift to your church. Set aside their deficiencies; ignore their faults; and focus on their gifts and graces. What is your pastoral leader good at? How is your church blessed by this pastor? How might the congregation step up to strengthen or support an area that is not your pastor’s strength? How can you show appreciation for what your pastoral leader does well (and not just focus on something the pastor does poorly or wrong)?
As your bishop, I want to express to you how valuable and important it is when I receive your appreciation and thanks. It creates in me a well of gratitude from which I draw when things are difficult. I know that when I say something that some people don’t like, or I do something that is disapproved of by some, that I am still well-regarded and supported. That is so important to me. And it is important to all who are called to serve God and the Church. I am so fortunate to be supported by so many laity and clergy who tell me “good job!” from time to time. I could not do my job alone; not without the generous support and encouragement of all of you.
As we begin a new Christian year, use this Advent to reflect on what your pastor does well, and right, and good, and celebrate them at Christmas with the gift of gratitude and thanksgiving.
Grace and Peace,
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).