Friday, August 31, 2018

How Churches can fail their Struggling Pastors

Photo by Elisey Vavulin on Unsplash

Please forgive me, but I cannot undo my past. Nearly 20 years I spent in the field of industrial relations, brokering peace between employees and managers through my role as a health and safety professional. My job was to advocate for the person who was bullied, to investigate incidents for the truth, and to understand and improve the systems and processes that supported a safe workplace.
My experience in the secular workplace, within industrial relations systems, was with large organisations that were committed to best practice. Whilst the cultures in these workplaces were not perfect, they were certainly workplaces, for the most part, that respected and backed their employees. I would have had a great deal of problem staying with an organisation that couldn’t respect and back their employees. It’s just the way I am. The caveat here is that I have heard plenty of horror stories, and seen a few, but it wasn’t my experience for the greater part. The companies I worked for always seemed to be striving for excellence in the right way.
When I contrast the church workplace with the secular workplace, through all of what I read and know by experience, it still amazes me how woefully struggling pastors can be treated.
When people are below their best
they perform at below their best.
We all perform poorly at some point.
Where’s the support
so we can rise again to our best?
Pastors are people too.
The church could learn a lot from the way that high-reliability organisations operate. For starters, they endeavour to have a Just Culture. That their heartbeat is the mantra ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ Culture is everything because everything is consumed culture. And, yes, churches also have their own culture, a kind of DNA that epitomises the way they operate.
It is commonplace industrially for employees to have the security of an Employee Assistance Program. This entitles the employee and their family members to thoroughly confidential psychological support and counselling. I know that policies suggest that there are, by a norm, 3 to 6 visits made. But I know the reality in organisations with an employee-friendly culture. They don’t place such a limit where there is the need for more support.
In fact, my experience with the organisations I’ve worked for is they will do anything reasonably practicable to support an ailing employee. And any employee who had a truly honest relationship with their employer could negotiate anything, because the employer truly wanted the best for the employee.
The employer was investing in not only the worker, but in the mental, social and emotional environment of the worker. It was their moral obligation in understanding the ‘system’ that underpins human factors.
Churches must invest in their pastors,
just as pastors invest in their churches.
The more a church invests in their pastors’ health and well-being,
the more pastors’ will perform acceptably for their church.
It was the same with employees who had alcohol and other drug problems; I helped facilitate programs to augment rehabilitation, and so long as the employee was able to remain honest, there was nothing we would not do to support them. Everything was negotiable. This philosophy underpinned the application of policies that were written.
Now I know that some churches, and probably many, would assist their pastors and paid ministry workers to this degree; to the actual degree of having faith within the relationship that neither is going to be screwed.
I guess, however, there is a possibility that some churches do not, or won’t, or cannot, assist their pastors and paid ministry workers to this degree. Some of the reasons may be very practical. Sometimes it is what it is, and we can’t do anything about it. But I really do wonder if more can’t be done to check in on pastors and paid ministry workers, regarding their health and well-being, to understand their issues, and to give them redress into counselling and other forms of support.
If we can allow an employee in the secular workplace to take time off or to make other reasonable adjustments to their work, or to give them counselling support, and to be on the front foot in checking in on them, to see how they’re going, why can’t we do that in the church for our pastors?
If we can understand when an employee in the secular workplace is maximally stressed, or who is bound up in conflict, or they are unhappy or upset for any logical reason, why can’t we extend this to the church workplace?
If bullying and harassment and mistreatment can happen in the secular workplace, it can happen in the church workplace. I have seen mediation in both workplace settings, and the church, from my experience, has a lot to learn. If there is an issue that requires mediation, so all parties are supported, surely it is incumbent on secular management or church leadership (whatever the context is) to arrange a genuinely independent and skilled person or team to do it. So root causes of conflicts can be established and reconciliation brokered.
Can churches not see that the
working environment for pastors is hazardous?
It is wonderful leadership when churches acknowledge
the health risks that pastors and other ministry workers are exposed to.
It is exemplary leadership when churches commit
to protecting their people in such a hazardous environment.
I think there is an opportunity for the church to understand it is an industrial relations environment, and have policies and systems and procedures to deal with a range of problems, so that pastors feel adequately supported, and churches can feel protected.

I will finish with this. I find it is reprehensible that an ordinary employee might get full and fair support from their employer, and they should, (and I know that many still do not) yet churches are not willing, in many situations, to support their pastors to that same kind of degree.

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