Friday, April 23, 2010
An Odd Progression
I am speaking today to the ordinary practice of placing a new Pastor in a small congregation and how each succeeding call goes to a larger and larger congregation until when he retires the Pastor has reached the zenith of accomplishment in a large congregation. Now I know this is not true in every case but it is still the ordinary pattern in the minds of most of us. When a Pastor takes a call to a smaller parish, and it does happen, it is often seen as a "step down" or demotion. It is counter to the way we have learned to think.
As the Pastor of a larger parish (with a staff of 30 including the Preschool), I have some experience with the bigger picture and as a Pastor of a small parish (attendance of less than 75 in the beginning), I have some experience with the smaller setting as well. I have a radical proposal. The Pastors of larger congregations have additional staff to support them and assist them. They can afford to be specialists and often specialize in leadership, preaching, and Sunday morning worship -- with assisting clergy to visit the sick, do the funerals and weddings, and the other stuff that Pastors do. Again, I am generalizing. A Pastor in a smaller parish is almost always the only full-time person there and is a general practitioner who wears many hats and does everything -- including those things that are never in the call (a Pastor's job description among Lutherans). He must do many things well. So why do we put inexperienced Pastors where they must learn to do many things instead of placing them in larger congregations where they can afford to specialize? Why do Pastors move from small congregations to larger ones when it would seem logical that the more experience and skills they develop along the way would prepare them for the generalist role of a smaller congregation?
And, the truth is, I am thinking this way... there is a part of me that longs to be in a smaller parish (granted this small ideal parish is in my mind only and I do not know where it actually might be). I find that in the last 10-15 years of my full-time vocation, I would like to be in a setting where I know each family in the parish very well, where I am involved more in their daily lives, and where I can capitalize on the full range of experiences, wisdom, and skills developed over more than 30 years of church work. I think that we might have it wrong and should continue to move down in size until we reach that very small congregation which is in most need of someone with many generalized skills and abilities for the many hats a Pastor in a small parish must wear. And if salary were not a part of this whole equation, it might take the incentive to move up away and free up some of us to move down without cost to our reputation or pocketbook...
So there you have it.... a few radical ideas.... not well thought out, mind you, but the germ of an idea which has been ruminating in the back of my mind for a long time.... what do you think?