4 Reasons Why Pastors Should Love Numbers

May 31 brings to close another statistical year for many churches. Whether your fiscal/statistical year aligns with the calendar year or not, I know many pastors dislike statistical reports, and they come up with many reasons for why traditional statistics don’t really matter.

But pastors should love numbers. Here are 4 reasons why I love numbers.Numbers!

(1) You can’t have smart goals without good numbers

An acronym I hear often is that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. In other words, if you set a goal for yourself and it is not measurable, then how will you know when you have achieved it? If your goal is to get in shape, a way to make that goal “measurable” is to determine to lose 10 pounds by next month, or to ride 100 miles this month on a bike. One month later either you will have met that goal or not, and most likely if you meet that goal, you may be on your way toward your larger goal of getting in shape.

Numbers help make vague goals specific, and in so doing, they bring focus to our work.

(2) Numbers are stubbornly honest

“Figures don’t lie, but liars sure do figure,” goes the old saying, and I’ve known people who operate that way. Look no further than Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. When the Patriots were accused of breaking NFL rules earlier this year in #deflategate, Belichick held a press conference where he claimed to be quoting scientific data to prove that his team had not cheated, but “what he said didn’t make any sense” (according to Bill Nye the Science Guy). There are certainly cases like this where data or statistics have been twisted or manipulated, but that often means ripping statistical data out of context, or deliberately misinterpreting the data (because even good statistics need accurate interpretation most of the time). I am certainly not condoning any kind of number-twisting. And if you engage in that sort of number-manipulation, you will eventually get caught because numbers are stubbornly honest.

Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” He meant that, while you might want to make excuses for why your team is better than they appear to be, your win/loss record tells the true story of how good your team is.

Numbers are not opinions. They are stubborn facts. They are objective, not subjective. They are sometimes subject to interpretation, but when you overdraw your bank account, it’s no sense saying, “I don’t see myself as being broke.” If the numbers say you are broke, you are broke. Numbers are stubbornly honest that way, and they will sometimes tell us what no one else has the courage to say.

(3) Trends and perspective

Some things happen gradually and thus are almost imperceptible. We have a spot in our house where we mark how our kids are growing. Of course I know that they are growing all the time, but sometimes it’s astonishing when I see how tall they were last year compared to today.

An awareness of trends is a really key aspect of leadership. Attendance numbers may fluctuate year to year, but if your attendance numbers are dropping steadily over five years, you might want to take notice.

Numbers are meaningless without knowing where they fit into the big picture. Numbers can give a sense of perspective. If your church attendance is down, but every church in the neighborhood is down, too, then maybe there’s something bigger going on beyond your control (meaning you may need to adapt, not just make excuses).

I know of one church that has a startling trend of decline, and yet its leadership shows no concern. Instead, they consistently argue that traditional church statistics don’t measure the right things. Yet when you ask them what their goals are, all of their goals are unspecific and immeasurable (therefore, not very S.M.A.R.T.).

How do we measure up to others? How do we measure up to where we were a few years ago? What decisions do we need to make right now to be ready when we get where we are headed (or to avoid going there)?

(4) My primary care doctor loves numbers

I have a great primary care doctor. I drive 70 minutes to see him, even though there is a good doctor right in the small town where I live. I drive to see Dr. Charles because he’s thorough, we are at the same stage in life, and because I trust him.

Dr. Charles loves numbers.

Every time I visit Dr. Charles’ office he writes down all sorts of numbers. Height, weight, pulse rate, and blood pressure. He sends me down for bloodwork, and the results come back as numbers. I’m on a Vitamin D supplement because of those numbers, and he’s given me peace of mind in previous visits because my numbers look good.

But Dr. Charles doesn’t just look at the numbers.

He also looks me in the eye and asks me about my family, and my job. He talks about the journey he’s seen me go through from a newlywed in grad school to a father and husband with a full house and many responsibilities. When he looks in my eyes, I can tell he’s not just being polite: he’s being a doctor.

I want a doctor who pays attention to all of those numbers, while also paying attention to the look in my eyes. And I want a pastor who knows the value of numbers, but also the value of stories.

Assessing ministry health must always be a mixed-methods study: quantitative research (numbers and measurable data) and qualitative research (interpreting codes, analyzing comments, and identifying trends).

The Rest of the Story: Why Christians Count

As I was putting the final touches on this article, David Drury posted his article “Why Christians Count: It’s not all about the numbers, so why do Christians count?” Waves of disappointment swept over me as I was sure his article was going end up being a better version of what I tried to write here. And I was right, but in some senses I think our two articles are complementary. In any event, I highly recommend his article to you.

© Steve Dunmire 2015

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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). For more articles visit SteveDunmire.com

“In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” – Free MP3

“In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross”
Written by Brooks Ritter and Rebecca Elliot
Performed by Steve Dunmire (Guitar, Banjo, Vocals)
SteveDunmire.com

Download the MP3 for free here:
stevedunmire.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/in-the-shadow-of-your-glorious-cross-steve-dunmire-mastered-on-april-10-2014.mp3
(Right-click on the player, and it will give you the option to save the MP3 to your computer).

“These crowns I’ve clenched with fisted hands, I cast them down before the throne of Christ my God the worthy lamb. Christ crucified, the Great I AM.”
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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director of and an instructor in Houghton College’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.

7 Ways to Care for Your Pastor as a Person

I am committed to using my voice to give unsolicited advice to congregations and church leaders when it comes to how they care for their pastors as people. In a previous post, IMG_4607b“10 Ways to Keep the Pastor You Love,” I urged Christians to care for the pastor at home, but it’s hard for someone who has never been a pastor to know what helps the most.

Here is some of good ways to start based on what I’ve seen, experienced, and heard from pastoral families.

1. Shorten the Distance for a Pastor Who is Far From Family

As a general rule, most pastors do not live near their families. That can be hard for a multitude of reasons. If your pastor has young children, it’s hard to be far from the support of grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. If your pastor has elderly parents, it is hard to provide care from a distance. If your pastor has grandchildren in a different part of the country, it can be excruciating. Of course many careers can move you far away from family, but it is the norm for those in the ministry and the military. If your pastor can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, think about extending an invitation to join your family at the table. If your pastor has an ill loved one back home, see if there’s anything you can help with to make it easier for your pastor to make the trip home (consider buying the plane ticket). Those little things can do a lot to alleviate the isolation of living far from family, care for your pastor as a person, and also reduce the temptation to look for a position closer to home.

Consequently, if your pastor is far from family, that probably means they spend most of their vacation time traveling to visit family. That is another reason to be generous in the vacation time you give your pastor (I’m a big proponent for at least 3-4 weeks for pastors since the average full-time lead pastor works 6-7 days per week and 60+ hours per week).

2. Give the Gift of Quality Family Time

If you are going to give your pastor a gift, give the gift of quality family time. One family years ago gave our family tickets to a Buffalo Sabres game for several years, and then gave us season passes to the local zoo. Those were little indulgences that were rare for us, and we made many wonderful memories as a result of those gifts. In the end, those gifts communicated to me that they valued my family in a way that went beyond the cost of those gifts (and they WERE generous gifts). Another year my board gave my family an all-expenses paid trip to the Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, NY). We had a great little getaway, and created wonderful memories. And I felt both valued and that they understood one of the pressing needs in that season of my life: quality family time. They also set it up so that we could schedule the trip when it was most convenient for us, which also meant a lot. Part of caring for your pastor at home can be creatively finding ways to provide quality family time.

Some people are better gift givers than others, and some people are hard to please with a gift, but give the gift of quality time.

3. Boundaries

One of the perils of pastoral work is that most of the people we work with serve the church in their free time, so many pastors work normal “work hours” and then also do church work in what would otherwise be their “free time.” You may not think it’s a big deal to call your pastor at home in the evening, but in a church of even 100 people, if everyone calls the pastor at home once every year, that’s two calls at home at night every week. Before you intrude in the evening, on a weekend, or on your pastor’s day off, ask yourself, “Can it wait?” Part of caring for your pastor at home is recognizing that your phone call can usually wait until the morning.

4. Plan for Retirement

An oft-repeated joke about ministry is that the “The pay isn’t great, but the retirement is out of this world.” That’s cute, but one pastor’s son wrote to me: “My dad had a total of about $1,000 contributed to his retirement by churches over around 40 years of church ministry. So, he self-funded much of his retirement out of the meager salaries he received. They’re OK now, between social security and their parents’ estates, but that’s always grated on him.”

My last pastorate contributed generously to my retirement savings, but I know it is not the case for everyone. Helping to provide a secure future can go a long way toward caring for your pastor at home right now.

5. Parsonage & Homeownership

Having a paid-off home is one of the biggest ways for a pastor to prepare for retirement, and it’s one of the reasons I argue against parsonages (a church-owned home). I have searched high and low for a study to prove homeownership results in pastors who stay longer than their peers. While I have not found a study to prove it, I cannot find a study to refute it. I have also found countless advisors who say it’s true (or that it MUST be true). I also cannot find a single person who believes the opposite (that providing a parsonage encourages a longer pastorate, or prepares a pastor best for retirement). In a future post I plan to share my argument FOR a parsonage and my argument AGAINST a parsonage, but suffice it to say that I think helping your pastor become a homeowner is one of the best ways to care for your pastor at home.

6. Food

It’s a little thing, but it can be quite a boost to find a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup sitting on your desk.

Over the years of ministry some of the most memorable food gifts I have ever received have been:

  • a gallon of maple syrup
  • fresh concord grapes
  • homemade cookies
  • homemade pies
  • homemade cakes
  • candy bars
  • snacks for a Super Bowl party
  • an unexpected cup of coffee
  • restaurant gift cards

Of course, not all food is a treat. My wife and I were once invited over to someone’s house for dinner, and as our hosts were serving us coffee after dinner the milk in my wife’s coffee looked like it had curdled. She didn’t want to embarrass our hosts, but also didn’t want to drink coffee with cream that had gone bad. Our host realized what was going on and said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. I know it looks bad, but we stock up on milk when it’s on sale and throw it in our freezer. After you thaw the milk it only LOOKS like it’s curdled, but don’t worry – it’s fine!”

Of course it helps if you know what kinds of food or treats your pastor likes (and to avoid your pastor’s allergies), but it can be a real treat so long as you don’t serve curdled milk.

7. A personal story: 4 Deaths in 72 Hours

In the first 72 hours after we brought my youngest son home from the hospital we had four deaths in the church I was serving.

I had planned to take some extra time off to savor having a newborn son in the house, but instead I didn’t even get a single day off for two weeks while I made funeral arrangements with those families. Looking back I can’t think of anything I could have done or should have done differently because I was the pastor: I needed to be there in those moments. But it was nearly overwhelming. I was dealing with (1) my own grief for those who died, (2) my sadness over the lost time with my family and newborn son, and (3) my frustration that this was yet another scheduled vacation that would be interrupted by church work. But then I also felt extremely guilty for being so frustrated. It was really just an inconvenience for me, but these poor people had lost loved ones (this is part of the tension pastors feel).

I may never forget what one friend did in the midst of that dark week, though: he stopped by with coffee. I was surprised to see him, and actually as he walked through the door I was disappointed, thinking, “Oh man – I wish he had called. He went out of his way to see me, and I don’t have time to talk because I have a funeral in 2 hours.” Actually, he drove miles out of his way to deliver coffee to me because I was officiating my fourth funeral in two weeks. It was a simple gesture that said to me, “You’re a pastor, but you’re not a robot. This is hard for you, and I know it.” He didn’t stay long. He didn’t pry. He just showed me he understood by that simple gesture. He drove all that way to be with me in one of my deepest lows of ministry and then turned around and drove back home. And it meant a lot.

Do that.

Do that even if you don’t ever fully understand what it means to be a pastor, even if your pastor seems unflappable in tumultuous seasons. Be attentive to the highs and lows. Your pastor is often the one who is there for others when they go through a difficult time. If you want to care for your pastor at home, be the one who goes out of your way to be there like that for your pastor.

 

What do you think?

What did I miss? Anything you would add or take away from this list?

© Steve Dunmire 2015
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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director and an instructor of Houghton’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.

5 Ways to Avoid Having a Bitter Family in the Parsonage (Part 2 of 2)

Living in a church parsonage can be challenging at times. A pastor friend of mine wrote this two-part article about life in the parsonage and asked for my opinion, which I found to be challenging and helpful. The author did not want to publish the article with his or her name attached for several admirable reasons, so it is with great honor I share my friend’s thoughtful reflection on life in a parsonage. You can find part one of this two-part reflection here.IMG_1763b

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In my previous post (When Pastor’s Vent Too Much in the Parsonage), I blogged about the potentially dangerous results of pastor’s venting about church problems in their homes. Sometimes this venting produces bitterness against the church in the hearts of the pastor, the spouse, and their children. If this bitterness festers in the family, they can end up demonizing members of their very own church family.

How might we prevent this from happening? How does a minister maintain open and honest communication with his/her family without subjecting them to this sort of temptation? I’d like to offer 5 ways to eliminate this demonization from the church parsonage.

First, the pastor needs to guard their family time… even when they’re spending time with family. Too easily, family time can become just another context for talking about the church. It’s okay to talk about the church and ministry, but there’s also lots of other great things to talk about! Pastoral families need to have fun together, laugh together, play together, etc. Sometimes the bitterness that develops toward the church is not the result of the pastor’s venting about problematic people, but the pastors neglect for his own family.

Second, I think it is important for the pastor’s life to be openly and honestly shared with his/her spouse. The answer to this potential problem is not to completely remove the church from the conversation. That being said, it is probably unwise for a pastor to share everything with his/her spouse. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to not burden your spouse with an ugly piece of information. A mature pastor, I think, learns what to share and what not to share.

Third, it is important for pastors to make sure that they speak positively about the people in their church in the presence of their families. Pastors tend not to vent at work. It could endanger job security! It becomes tempting to be positive at church by day and negative at home by night. It might be especially worthwhile to verbalize the good qualities of the more stress-inducing people in the church.

Fourth, I would encourage all pastors to actually deal with conflicts! Venting is the result of unresolved conflict. Sometimes there simply hasn’t been opportunity to resolve the conflict yet and the venting is might actually be a healthy way to prepare ourselves for that opportunity. But, if we’re being honest, a lot of times we simply avoid dealing with conflict. It’s easier to complain about a problematic person than to talk to the person about the problem. Don’t allow your avoidance of an issue to become an annoyance for your family.

Fifth, at risk of ending a list of spiritual-to-do’s in a very clichéd way, I’d beg you to pray. The reason prayer is nearly always mentioned in lists like this is because it makes a difference. Pray about your heart. Pray for your wife. Pray for your kids. Pray for the person that is stressing you out. Pray for their family too. Pray for your whole church. Pray until you are genuinely in love with that person again. Love, done rightly, is even more contagious than complaint.

In closing, there’s one more issue I’d like to briefly address. What if I see evidence of this phenomenon (the demonizing of church members) in the life of a colleague or his/her family? How might I confront the situation in a way that keeps me from being demonized myself? Most of the same advice applies. Pray for that pastoral colleague and his/her family. Confront them in love. Interrupt negative venting with reminders of positive truths. Don’t add fuel to the fire by sharing every negative thing you come across with every other minister. And spend time together in life (not just ministry) so that your relationship allows for all of this advice to be applied. By all means, beware of the temptation to demonize a fellow-pastor over his/her habit of demonizing parishioners.

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This post was written by an anonymous guest writer.

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY).

When Pastors Vent Too Much in the Parsonage (Part 1 of 2)

Living in a church parsonage can be challenging at times. A pastor friend of mine wrote this two-part article about life in the parsonage and asked for my opinion, which I found to be challenging and helpful. The author did not want to publish the article with his or her name attached for several admirable reasons, so it is with great honor I share my friend’s thoughtful reflection on life in a parsonage. I will post the second half of tIMG_6190bhis reflection next week.

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This blog is about a very real phenomenon that I fear happens in many parsonages and pastor’s homes across North America. It damages many lives and destroys some local churches. The scariest part, though, is that it can all happen somewhat innocently.

Let me start by saying that pastoring a church is an awesome privilege that can also be seriously stressful. Pastors are people. They can get frustrated just like ‘normal’ people get frustrated. They sometimes need to vent those frustrations just like everyone else does. This venting may take place among colleagues, but it often happens at home.

Imagine a pastor going through a particularly frustrating time at his church. At the end of the day, he vents his frustration to his wife. She hears about how parishioner #1 popped-in to the office for what turned out to be a 2-hour visit to talk about nothing in particular in the midst of a very busy ministry schedule. She hears about how parishioner #2 is upset that her 2nd cousin didn’t get visited by the pastor in the hospital. She hears about how parishioner #3 had the nerve to disagree with her husband at the monthly board meeting.

All of these things are clearly weighing on her husband. They’re stressing him out. She’s concerned not only for his sanity, but his health. And, truth be told, she’s concerned about her future. She doesn’t want to move again. It’s unfair that these church-people can ruin a perfectly good evening at the parsonage. The kids soak this in this stressful atmosphere.

It’s very tempting, if this sort of cycle persists, for the pastor’s spouse (and possibly children) to begin to demonize these ‘problem-parishioners.’ While, most likely, the pastor was just (somewhat innocently) venting… the pastor’s spouse & children (motivated by love for their husband & father) defend him by making these members out to be the enemy.

All of this is understandable. Pastors need to vent and venting at home is often a good place to find sympathy. The spouse and children of the pastor love him dearly and hate anything (or anyone) that seems to be getting in the way of his happiness. There’s not necessarily any ill-will in this scenario, but the results can get ugly in a lot of different ways.

The supposed sources of the stress are real people too. And sometimes they start getting dirty looks from the spouse. The church, as a whole, might start to be viewed very negatively by the pastor’s children. The pastor himself can start to feel like his venting is validated and begin to demonize the people too. Very quickly, in some cases, the local church members are given labels as angels or demons.

I am a married pastor. I have pastor’s kids. I don’t want my wife, my children, or my own heart to stop loving and/or start demonizing the people in the church. Right? But how do I best protect them from this temptation without holding back from them what’s truly going on in my heart?

In my next post, I’d like to offer 5 key suggestions.

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This post was written by an anonymous guest writer.

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY).

Minor Leagues & Second Fiddle: What I Learned from Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres About Paying Your Dues

Tonight the Buffalo Sabres (my favorite team in the National Hockey League), will start their 2014-15 season in Buffalo with Jhonas Enroth entering his first full season as the Sabres’ starting netminder. Head coach Ted Nolan said, when Enroth showed up after the offseason, “He had that determined look of ‘You’re going to give me this job.’ The way he performed and the way he played, he certainly earned it.”[i]

Minor Leagues

I saw Jhonas Enroth play in the minors several years ago with the Portland Pirates in Portland, Maine (the Buffalo Sabres’ minor league affiliate at the time). I was hoping to see Enroth play, but because he had been called up to start for Buffalo on Wednesday night that week (and Thursday was Thanksgiving), I didn’t expect to see Enroth in net on Friday night. But there he was.

That night I just kept thinking about how hard it must be to get excited to play in the minor leagues again 48 hours after starting a game in the NHL. Wednesday night, in a Buffalo arena that seats 18,690 people, he played against Pittsburgh Penguins superstars Syndey Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (neither of them scored on Enroth that night, by the way). 48 hours later he was back in goal for Portland playing against minor leaguers in an arena that seats only 6,733 people. I wondered to myself, “How do you get excited for this game after playing in that game.” How do you get excited for this game in front of a small crowd in a small arena so soon after sharing the ice with the best players in the top league in hockey? As I watched Enroth play well whether he was playing in the minor leagues or against future hall of famers, I became a Jhonas Enroth fan.

Second Fiddle

After that season, Enroth got his permanent call up to the NHL … to back up Ryan Miller for the past three years. For three seasons in Buffalo, Enroth played second fiddle. As backup, he played an average of 22 games per season (compared to 54 games per seasons as a starter in the minor leagues). At times Enroth struggled in his backup role, and at times he had streaks of genius (including a 9-game winning streak) where some of us in Buffalo seriously questioned whether he should replace Miller (a Buffalo legend). At one stretch he had a 14-month winless streak,[ii] due in large part to his limited playing time behind Miller. And no one was cheering for him more during that stretch than me.

Leonard Bernstein was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play. He thought for a moment and then replied, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”

Meanwhile, I wondered whether it was better to be the backup goalie in the big leagues, or the starter in the minor leagues. Given the choice for myself, I wasn’t always sure which I would choose.

Paying Your Dues

All of this is part of why I’m an Enroth fan: most of us have to pay our dues by playing in the minor league or by playing second fiddle before we will ever get our day in the sun. No shortcuts, no moving to the head of the line, no special treatment: paying your dues to get where you want to be. I am a Jhonas Enroth fan because I’ve watched him pay his dues, and now that it’s his time to shine, I hope he burns brightly.

Every day I watch college students who are paying their dues taking classes and studying for exams, putting in the work that is preparing them bit by bit. I am a Buffalo Sabres fan, and as a sports fan (especially a fan of Buffalo sports) I’ve learned to remain somewhat detached from the players who play for my teams. But I’m a fan of Jhonas Enroth because he is an athlete who paid his dues, took his turn playing second fiddle, and put in his time in the minor leagues.

Tonight, I’ll be cheering for Buffalo, but I’ll also be cheering for Jhonas Enroth.

Let’s go Buffalo.

© Steve Dunmire 2014

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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, Director of Ministry Resources
at Houghton College (Houghton, NY), and a Commissioned Ministry Coach.

[i] http://sabres.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=733414&navid=DL|BUF|home

  1. [ii] (http://www.rantsports.com/nhl/2013/03/14/buffalo-sabres-tuesday-win-was-a-big-one-for-jhonas-enroth/)

10 Ways to Keep the Pastor You Love

“Being a pastor was SO much easier than what I’m doing now,” said no former pastor ever. Not one.IMG_9464c Instead, I meet pastors every month who say to me, “I thought I knew what this would be like, but being a pastor is so much harder than I expected, and most people have no idea.”

I am not writing this for pastors. This would be a very different article if pastors were my intended audience, but I am writing this for lay people, board members, district superintendents, and anyone who loves his or her pastor.

Here are ten simple things you and your church can do to help your pastor feel fulfilled and appreciated in pastoral work, and to try to hold on to your beloved pastor.

  1. Think Twice Before Criticizing

Someone is always mad at your pastor about something. Seriously. You cannot please all of the people all of the time, but having some people mad at them all of the time is the harsh reality many pastors live with. And it can wear a good pastor out. There are angry emails, scathing remarks in the church foyer, and people who will snub you in public once they have left your church.

On the night I was ordained, Dr. Earle Wilson said to us, “If you fail, you’ll be criticized. If you succeed, you may be even more criticized.” Some studies have shown that 40% of pastors experience significant conflict with someone in their church at least once every month. In my years as a pastor, I cannot think of a time when at least one person wasn’t angry at me about something. Many pastors have said it’s a death by a thousand cuts. To say “pastors just need to have thick skin” is both flippant and it fails to take into account how stress makes a person more likely to suffer from depression, more susceptible to temptation, and also makes a person more vulnerable to illness. Every time someone chooses to leave your church, or complains about a sermon, or ignores you out in the community, or sends an anonymous letter, or feels the need to “speak my mind,” it takes a little bit of the air out of your pastor’s tires. Every week I meet with pastors who carry wounds from years of serving cranky Christians, and I look in the eyes of good pastors whose souls bear the cumulative damage of the relentless criticism and anger vented toward pastors. I can assure you that having a callused pastor is much worse than having a pastor who takes criticism and attacks personally.

Do you love your pastor? Think twice before criticizing, and if you are going to be critical about something, make sure it’s for good reasons (and be calm and kind as you do so). Assume that your pastors’ critics are taking shots at them, even if you don’t see it or hear about it.

  1. Housing: Be the Best Landlord in Town.

If you provide a parsonage, be the best landlord in town. I facilitated a Clergy Tax Event last year where we were talking about how to determine the “Fair Rental Value” of the parsonage, and one person in the group asked, “Do you take into account the fact that no one else would actually want to live there?”

As a rule of thumb, keep the parsonage nicer than is necessary. Never let “good enough” be the standard. Most pastors I know are shy about asking for work to be done on the parsonage, but if you want to keep the pastor you love, you won’t wait for the pastor to ask for work to be done on the parsonage. The parsonage is your pastor’s home, but it is the church’s house. You cannot control everything that happens in the life of the church, but you can make sure your pastor has a comfortable home – a haven to which your pastor can retreat at the end of every day.

Of course, pastors who own their own homes tend to have longer pastorates than those who live in parsonages. Homeownership provides the chance for a family to live where they want in a house that suits their needs, and a mortgage has a way of “encouraging” people stay in one place longer. If you have a pastor you love, be an advocate for helping them move from a parsonage into their own home.

  1. Care for the Pastor’s Family, and for your Pastor as a Person

In some ways, caring for the pastor’s home is a big way of carrying for his family (see point #9), but it can go beyond that. Whenever I hear that a colleague is leaving a church, I always pray that their spouse and children get to hear how much their spouse or parent has meant to the congregation as pastor. When I left my last church, I was so touched by the number of people who said they were going to miss watching my kids grow up, and the people who gave gifts to my children. The gifts and cards people gave my children meant twice as much as the ones they gave me. One family gave my kids money for college every year on their birthdays, and became like surrogate grandparents for our children. It makes it harder to entertain leaving when people in the congregation have truly become like family to you … and especially to your children and spouse (I’ll write more about this in my next post).

  1. Vacation Time & Weekends Off

Most full-time pastors work 6-7 days per week (yes, I know of a few lazy full-time pastors who work 4-5 days per week, but those are the exception, not the rule). So if a pastor has a 6-day workweek and only gets 2 weeks off per year, the pastor will work 302 days per year. By comparison, a person working a 5-day work week with 2 weeks off who will work 250 days per year. That is an extra 52 workdays per year for your pastor! If you give that same pastor 4 weeks of vacation, the pastor will still work 38 more days than the person who has a 5-day workweek and two weeks of vacation!

I am a big proponent of hardworking pastors getting AT LEAST three or four weeks of vacation not because they deserve MORE time off than their lay people, but because even with “more” vacation time they will still work more days per year than the average lay person.

  1. Salary: Give Your Pastor Raises

Finances are always a factor, and every pastor would be able to work for free in an ideal world, but you can’t afford to do your job for free, and neither can your pastor. People often have the idea that a pastor ought to make sacrifices for the sake of the ministry, and therefore they ought to make less than they deserve. Many pastors, likewise, know the financial needs of the church better than their lay leaders, and will decline raises or even voluntarily take pay cuts for the sake of the ministry. Even if the pastor declines the raise, it is important for morale that you are generous in what you offer. A cost of living increase (at the least) should be offered as standard operating procedure every year for your pastor.

As I was writing this, I realized something: the only way I ever received anything more than a cost of living increase in my years as a pastor was by moving to a new ministry. I never thought of it that way until now, and I never went looking for those moves, but they always found me. Again, I’m not writing this as career advice to pastors, but as a word of advice to congregations who want to keep the pastor they love: if you don’t give your pastor a raise, someone else will.

What can you do when there isn’t money in the budget for a raise? In the current financial climate, many workplaces and institutions have experienced years when raises weren’t an option, or even years when painful cuts were necessary. Your pastor will understand better than anyone (and sometimes before anyone else) if a raise isn’t possibly because of the budget. I have heard of churches who told their pastoral staff, “There isn’t room in the budget for a raise this year, so instead we are giving everyone an extra week off this year.”

Pastors enter the ministry for the call, not for the money. Pastors pay the same price for milk, gas, and coffee as anyone else, though. Make it happen, somehow, someway, and be creative if you must. If you don’t give your pastor a raise when it is deserved, eventually someone else will.

  1. Give Your Pastor Tools To Get the Job Done

Your pastor’s reimbursement account is not part of the pastor’s compensation: it is the tools the pastor needs to get the job done. Reimburse the pastor’s ministry mileage, provide a pastoral expense account, and a budget for buying books. An adequate computer, office space, books, mileage, and reimbursed expenses is not a luxury – it is the tools your pastor needs to be effective. Don’t ask your pastor to make bricks without straw.

  1. You Want Your Pastor to Be Flexible, so Give Your Pastor Flexibility

Take in to account how much of a pastor’s ministry conflicts with family life on weekends, evenings, and holidays. Free your pastor up to attend school functions, and to use the flexibility of the pastorate to be there for family during “normal work hours” because weekends and holidays are so often crowded by ministry responsibilities.. The old saying fits some pastors who are “invisible for six days and incomprehensible on the seventh,” but most of my friends who are pastors work too hard, not too little. Flexibility is a free benefit your church can afford to give your pastor.

  1. Be Dependable

When a pastor leaves a church, the hardest people to leave are the dependable ones. Make it hard for your pastor to think about leaving by your actions: be dependable, be consistent in your attendance, and be the type of person of whom your pastor can say, “We’re building with people like that.” When workers are not dependable, and members are sporadic in their attendance, it doesn’t take much for the grass to look greener somewhere else. Do you have a pastor you love? Then be there, and be dependable.

  1. Send Compliments Over Your Pastor’s Head

Your pastor probably reports to a board, elders, a bishop, or a district superintendent, so make sure you tell them that you love your pastor. And do it now, before those types of people ask you what you think. The chronic complainers will not hesitate to go over your pastor’s head with their criticisms, so you should not hesitate to go over your pastor’s head when you have a pastor you love. It will be refreshing to everyone involved.

  1. Send Specific, Handwritten Notes to say, “Thanks.”

In an age of tweets and text messages, a hand-written note is a lost art, and a rare treasure. Here’s a little secret: many pastors have a file of handwritten notes they’ve received over the years. A handwritten note is most likely the sort of thing your pastor will not quickly discard. Express your appreciation in writing and it will stand out.

Research has shown that possibly the greatest predictor of career satisfaction for pastoral ministry is for pastors to know that they are making a difference. Don’t be vague when you say thanks. Be specific. Don’t just say, “Thanks for all you do.” Say thanks for things your pastor does, or characteristics your pastor has, and ways your pastor does things.

Did you learn something you didn’t know during your pastor’s message, or find yourself thinking about it days later, or did God speak to you in a powerful way through a message? Then tell your pastor what it was, specifically. Tell your pastor, “That sermon helped me understand ….” or even, “That story your shared in your sermon really helped me see ….”

Other examples are:

  • “Thank you for taking time away from your family to be with ours in a difficult time.”
  • “I know that situation was difficult, and I appreciate the way you handled it.”
  • “I can tell you put a lot of time and preparation into your messages, and I just wanted you to know that it shows.”

Pastors are willing to endure a lot if they know they are making a difference. So show them. Tell them. I have never once heard a pastor say, “My congregation expresses too much appreciation to me.” Write it out with pen on paper and put it in the mail.

My Point

I spend an average of almost 30 hours per week with pastors and ministry leaders. Believe me or not, but if any of these ten things seems like “too much,” or if you neglect these ten things, I guarantee the pastor you love will leave sooner or later. On the other hand, I don’t know of any pastor who would casually leave a church that does these ten things consistently.

What do you think?

What did I miss? Anything you would add or take away from this list?

© Steve Dunmire 2014
Photograph also © Steve Dunmire 2014
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Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director and an instructor of Houghton’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.