Thursday, June 18, 2015

Not a fish bowl but a desert island. . .

Years ago the point was often made that a pastor and his family lived in a fish bowl, that is, their lives were lived on display before the congregation.  People from the pew were interested, watching, evaluating, and judging what went on in the parsonage.  I recall hearing this perspective often as I began my service as a pastor some 35 years ago.  It was probably true then, though always more true for Midwestern parishes and more true for smaller parishes.  Now it is probably not so much the case.

As a fresh, new, untried pastor in my first parish, I was invited often into the homes of members for social purposes and had to turn down some of them because there were too many to accept.  No holiday came without an abundance of invitations for me and my family to join in the families of the parish, understanding our own families were far away at the very seasons when family normally draws near.

That has changed.  People do not invite folks into their homes like they once did and this is very true for pastors and their families.  I seldom get invitations into the homes of my people and I do not invite people into our home like we once did.  Homes have become less places to entertain and more a refuge from the hustle and bustle of crowded lives and over burdened schedules.

In a parish with two services, the pastor's family are often strangers to half the parish.  My family normally attended the early service and the Sunday school hour and those who did not attend the educational activities of Sunday morning and only attended late service would not even regularly see my family.  While the beginning of your ministry might expect the family to attend all services, such expectation cannot continue without a strain upon the family.  It is also not good to bounce around from service to service since the pastor's family deserves to have their own routines (sans dad) just like other families do.

In the end the pastor and his family no longer live in the fish bowl where everyone is interested, watching, evaluating, and judging.  People are too self-absorbed or too busy on their own to pay all that much attention to the pastor and what happens in the parsonage.  In fact, just the opposite.  People in the pew do not even care all that much about the pastor and his family -- at least personally.  I do not mean to imply that they are mean or rude or uncaring people.  It is more a reflection of our times and our lifestyles than intention.  That said, the pastor and his family are less likely to complain that their lives are lived out in a fish bowl before the congregation than they are to lament that they are lonely and their lives lived out in the isolation of a desert island.

Loneliness always was a component of life within the parish for both the pastor and his family.  What was once a small cost has become a huge issue.  Pastors feel more alone now than ever.  Pastor's families feel even more this isolation.  It drives pastor's families to socialize outside the parish, usually through the natural connections of their children and their children's friends.  This is not all bad but the loneliness of pastor's study and pastor's home is critical and having a big impact upon the health and the faithfulness of our clergy.

This is especially true where the fellowship of other clergy, especially within the circuit or Synod, is lacking.  Distance (I am 45-90 minutes away from my brothers in the LCMS) is one factor.  The growing tendency of the parish and its pastor to function almost completely in isolation from other congregations and pastors of their own church bodies is another factor (especially true in the LCMS since the 1970s).  One more factor is the way we have filled our children's schedules to the point where we have little time for anything other than work or home responsibilities.

As we send out new pastors into the field, I would urge parishes to pay attention to the men and their families.  Don't let the pastor's home be a desert island any more than you make it into a fish bowl.  But make sure that your pastor and his family do not find themselves so alone that they must bear the burdens of parish and parsonage all by themselves.  Support them with prayer.  Invite them to meals or fun events (especially at the beginning of their ministries but especially at holiday times).  Too many pastors and their families find themselves hurt, lonely, and disillusioned at the very start of their calling.  This is an impossible burden for them and a ripe opportunity for the devil's work. 

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Good words as we install a new pastor (who comes with a wife)! Important to remember with our current minister! It's been too long since we (husband and me) were hospitable. Parish members fail in their vocations when they allow this to happen to their pastor/s. The pastor is the "soul healer," but he and his family have souls that need that same healing. We cannot be confessors, but we can be friends, helpers, and family in Christ.