The Christian Century highlights an article by William Willimon, Why Leaders are a Pain.
One of the challenges within any institution is the work of aligning people to do the work. Pastoral care, the work of caregiving, becomes the priest’s central role. But there are some unintended consequences: taking on the emotional weight of a parish often leads to burnout and ill health. To be sure, all clergy are called to be kind and should have the skill to be tenaciously present with those around them. But it is through the sacramental life where we must primarily enter this work. We cannot be psychotherapists, nor is the burdens of others always our own.
At tension with the view of pastor as primary caregiver is the old community organizer’s adage: never do for people what they can do for themselves. Instead, the pastor’s role within the church is to help align parishioners to do the work of that specific church. They have the role of offering feedback to a parish, challenging them, creating tension that requires action.
The church gets stuck. Our familiar codewords – “evangelism,” “stewardship,” etc become a fairly insular language that inhibit us from engaging and transforming the world. Instead of being satisfied with such vocabulary, priests are called to train people to do the work of listening, collaborating, and acting. This requires people change how they think church should be. It will always require reorganizing.
The skills of institution building require learning. The Anglican and Benedictine tradition, if taken seriously, are deeply congruent with these skills. And they are necessary in a world where individuals feel their power truncated. On one hand our technology makes it seem like we have the world literally at our finger tips. But our inability to work together to build strong foundations demonstrates what power we have lost.
It’s easy for congregations and clergy to be satisfied. But when we have done the simple task of sitting down with each other and listen to what makes us passionate; when we have gone into the world to discover where we are dissatisfied, then we may know where the spirit is leading us. It’s difficult work, because it means acknowledging that we are dissatisfied.
But the reward may be great.