- Pastor’s parent/spouse/child dies.
- Pastor acknowledges addiction (but only when he/she is headed into a treatment facility.)
- Pastor’s house burns down/floods – assuming parishioners’ homes were not also destroyed. If Pastor’s house was merely one of several homes lost in a disaster, the Pastor still has to be The Strong One.
- Pastor has cancer or some other life-threatening disease.
- (Possibly okay) Pastor is going through a separation or divorce.
One of the nourishing things about clergy support groups is that we clergy can be vulnerable without fear of breaking boundaries or confusing roles. My group is called the Preaching Roundtable and we just finished our 18th gathering.
Most of us clergy were trained to be pastoral caregivers and not to be pastoral care receivers. This means that some of us are in need of pastoral support but we don’t know where to find it and we – for some reason – have not yet found a therapist, coach, mentor, and/or spiritual director, not to mention a team of cohorts. (Get on that, my friends.) I need Team Jan. Your pastor needs a team as well. And that deep vulnerability support team cannot come from our congregations.
Nevertheless, it’s important for us to show our brokenness. I am an imperfect mess sometimes and that fact not only makes me feel real; it is real.
I remember a friend telling me about her church’s interim pastor whom she loved because he spoke about his own disappointments and imperfections in such a way that those in the pews felt like they could do the same. His sharing made him more approachable. And – perhaps most importantly – he didn’t make the stories about him nor was he the hero of his stories. He was sharing the stories in self-deprecating ways to make a theological point related to how God works in human life.
Every caregiver – whether you are clergy or not – needs space to be vulnerable from time to time. If you have a pastor, you are doing her/him a favor by recognizing this.
I know pastors who suffer great loss (death of a loved one, family catastrophe, health crisis) and the congregation doesn’t want to hear it. Or at least they don’t want to hear it for long.
Perhaps the congregation will allow the pastor to grieve for a week or so, but then the pastor is supposed to snap out of it. (Yes, this can be true when people in the general population suffer great loss. Others hope that the broken will move on and stop talking about it. But it’s even more true for spiritual leaders.) The pastor is often our spiritual mother or father. We don’t believe they need much in the self-care department because it’s their job to care for us.
My hope for all clergy is that each of us has a group with whom we can be vulnerable. Because sometimes we are The Broken Ones.
Image is of a statue in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val d’Oise, France. I thank The Roundtable for being part of Team Jan as I head to my next thing today. And I thank God for my friend and brother Jeff Krehbiel on whose team many of us have found ourselves, especially over the past five weeks. We remember today that in life and in death, we belong to God.