Churches Are Failing Their Pastors



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Please forgive me, but I can’t undo my past. Almost 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 procedures that supported a safe workplace.

Whilst the cultures in these workplaces were not perfect, they were certainly workplaces, for the most part, that honored and backed their workers. I’d have had a great deal of trouble staying with an organisation which couldn’t respect and back their workers. The caveat here is that I have heard plenty of horror stories, and noticed a few, but it was not my experience for the larger part. The companies I worked for always seemed to be striving for excellence in the ideal way.

When I contrast the church workplace with the secular office, through all of what I read and know from experience, it still amazes me how woefully struggling pastors could be treated.

When people are under their best they perform at below their best.

All of us perform poorly at some stage.

Where is the support so we can rise back to our very best?

Pastors are people too.

The church could learn a lot from the way that high-reliability organisations operate. For starters, they endeavour to get a Just Culture. That their heartbeat is the mantra’culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ Culture is everything because everything is consumed civilization. And, yes, churches also have their own culture, a kind of DNA that epitomises the way they operate.

It’s commonplace industrially for employees to have the security of an Employee Assistance Program. This entitles the employee and their family members to completely confidential psychological support and counselling. I know that policies suggest that there are, by a standard, 3 to 6 visits made. But I know the truth in businesses having an employee-friendly culture. They do not place such a limit where there’s the requirement for more support.

In actuality, my experience with the organisations I have worked for is that they will do anything reasonably practicable to support an ailing worker. And any employee who had a really honest relationship with their employer could negotiate anything, since the employer truly wanted the best for the employee.

The employer was investing in not only the worker, but in the psychological, social and psychological environment of the employee. It was their moral obligation in realizing the’system’ that underpins individual aspects.

Churches must invest in their pastors, as pastors invest in their churches.

The more churches invest in their pastors’ health and well-being, the more pastors will perform acceptably for their own churches.

It was the same with employees who had alcohol and other drug problems; I helped facilitate programs to fortify rehabilitation, and so long as the employee was able to continue being fair, there was nothing we would not do to encourage them. Everything was negotiable. This philosophy underpinned the use of policies that were written.

Now I know that a few churches, and likely many, would assist their pastors and paid ministry employees to this degree; into the actual degree of having faith within the relationship that neither will be screwed.

I guess, however, there’s a chance that some churches do not, or won’t, or can’t, assist their pastors and paid ministry employees to this degree. A few of the reasons might be quite practical. Sometimes it is exactly what it is, and we can not do anything about it. But I really do wonder if more can not be done to check in on pastors and paid ministry workers, regarding their health and well-being, to understand their issues, and also to give them redress into counselling and other types of support.

If we can allow an employee in the secular workplace to take time off or to make other reasonable adjustments to their job, or to give them counseling support, and to be on the front foot in checking in on them, to see how they are going, why can’t we do this in the church to our pastors?

If we can understand when an employee in the secular workplace is stressed, or who is bound up in battle, or they’re unhappy or upset for any logical reason, why can not we extend this to the church workplace?

If bullying and harassment and mistreatment can occur in the secular workplace, it may happen in the church office. I’ve seen mediation in both workplace settings, and the church, from my experience, has a great deal to learn. When there is an issue that needs mediation, so all parties are encouraged, surely it is incumbent on secular management or church leadership (whatever the circumstance is) to organize a genuinely independent and proficient individual or staff to do it. So root causes of conflicts could be established and balancing brokered.

Can churches not see that the working environment for pastors is hazardous?

It is exemplary leadership when churches devote to protecting their people in such a hazardous environment.

I think there is an chance for the church to understand it’s an industrial relations environment, and have systems and policies and procedures to deal with a selection of issues, so that pastors feel adequately supported, and churches can feel protected.

I find it is reprehensible that a typical employee might get full and fair support from their employer, and they should, (and I know that many still do not) yet churches aren’t willing, in many circumstances, to support their pastors to the same kind of degree.



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