Balanced pastoral leadership: Healing the healers

What are the marks of a well-balanced, healthy pastoral minister whose work and leadership results in the practice of good ministry? My experience in working with and training pastors leads me to list four teen important marks.

James R. Newby, D.Min., is the executive director of the Trueblood Yokefellow Academy, and the minister for faith and learning at the Wayzata Community United Church of Christ in Wayzata, Minnesota.

What are the marks of a well-balanced, healthy pastoral minister whose work and leadership results in the practice of good ministry? My experience in working with and training pastors leads me to list four teen important marks.

1. Passion. Passion is a slippery word that is difficult to define, but one knows when she or he has it, or when he or she has lost it! However that passion may be expressed, it will carry within it the element of intensity. Intense passion is the fuel that ignites one to drive toward an ideal to be attained.

2. The ability of the pastor to share his or her pain. Is the pastor willing or able to be real and honest about his or her pain within the congregation he or she is serving? Henri Nouwen has written, "The minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his time in his/her own heart. . . his/her service will not be perceived as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he/she speaks."

3. Perspective. Does the pastoral minister have a clear institutional perspective that recognizes that, in the end, the institution cannot love you back? The church is not one's wife, husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Does the pastoral minister recognize the limitations, as well as all of the possibilities, within the church as an institution?

4. Balance. Does the pastoral minister maintain a healthy balance, creative tension, and wholistic understanding between the human need for relationship and aloneness, thinking and feeling, i.e., keeping a clear head and a warm heart, and a personal certainty of belief while holding an openness to the mystery of God? When ministers seek to live holistic and balanced lives, good ministry is possible.

5. Discipline. Good pastoral leadership results when pastoral ministers can maintain a covenant of discipline with themselves that includes the physical disciplines that maintain the health of the body, the mental disciplines that keep the mind active and expanding, and the spiritual disciplines that help develop an authentic relationship with God.

6. Vision. Good leadership in ministry fol lows when one has a vision toward mission and sees what the church could be, rather than being willing to simply settle into maintaining what it is. The pastoral minister needs to be able to articulate this vision and lead the congregational leadership and membership to embrace and implement this vision.

7. Ability to nurture community. Congregations are communities where pain can be processed, care for one another expressed, and joy celebrated. To put the words of Paul in query form, How do we encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11)?

8. Ability to understand the concept of faith development and know, experientially, about transformation. By knowing about faith development theory and transformation, the pastoral leader can relate to where his or her parishioners are spiritually, as well as being personal in sharing his or her own spiritual experiences.

9. Ability to recognize one's limitations in pastoral ministry as well as one's gifts. The demands of the ministry are many, and with in most congregations the pastoral minister is called to be the jack-of-all-trades. Good ministry results when ministers recognize their limitations and are able to be honest about these limitations within the congregations they are serving. Likewise, when pastors are cognizant of their gifts, and are able to nurture these gifts, good ministry and good leadership result.

10. Ability to empower others and delegate responsibility. Good ministry is shared ministry. This is the recognition that the pastoralminister cannot do it all, and does not have the gifts to do it all.

11. Understanding and coming to terms with the issues of power and control. Such issues weigh heavily in pastoral ministry, and if not checked or dealt with can undermine good ministry. Again, Henri Nouwen is helpful: "When I ask myself the main reason for so many people having left the church during the past two decades, the word power comes easily to mind."

12. Maintaining a balance between being sensitive to the pain within the congregation— divorce, death, the problems of affluence and poverty, etc.—but not becoming de-energized by it. Empathy is important, but becoming so depressed and burned out over the ills to which one is ministering will stifle good ministry.

13. Maintaining a balance between family, friendships, leisure, and -work. The institutional church tends to reward pastoral leaders for workaholism, with many churches not understanding the risks of such behavior to a pastor's family life, friendships, and his/her need for leisure. Institutional rewards can be very seductive to the pastoral minister, and one can subtly yet easily move out of balance.

14. Commitment with boundaries. Good ministry results when a pastoral minister is committed to his or her faith and the institutional expression of that faith. However, such a commitment needs freshness and boundaries.

Many other marks can be listed. Much could be written on what a congregation can do to encourage a pastoral minister in the practice of good ministerial leadership. After all, congregations are partners with pastoral ministers and not just bystanders offering a critique of leadership. Both are needed in ministry for the building up of the faith community.

We and our congregations are indeed living through a time of transition involving the challenging implications of an unprecedentedly global society. Good leadership is essential in all areas of our life together. We need to develop the kind of leadership that will give us the strength not merely to survive within our current situation but to thrive as committed, well-balanced, passion ate, and encouraging followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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James R. Newby, D.Min., is the executive director of the Trueblood Yokefellow Academy, and the minister for faith and learning at the Wayzata Community United Church of Christ in Wayzata, Minnesota.

July/August 2005

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