Pressure Points (December)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

Every once in a while a column generates a bevy of Internet and telephone activity.  The last column (November 2008) was one of those columns.  Briefly summarized, the concern raised was the work-ethic of a particular pastor who was seen as lacking in passion, intensity, and commitment.

I suggested that conversations be held that would lay on the table those things that were troubling and that, in prayerful conversation, these matters begin to be addressed.  I further suggested that time should be given for a number of conversations, and that outside consultation could be considered.  I also recommended that the pastor take seriously the concerns raised and, with counsel, begin to address directly the work-ethic concerns.

Responses were quite diverse:

  • As a circuit counselor, when confronted with such items as this, I like to suggest to one of the elders that he take the pastor in hand (gently) and help him with some of these types of calls.  In some cases, this is all that is needed to help the pastor move along.hartung.gif
  • Agreed, with enthusiasm!  One of the things that sometimes happens is that disputes, disappointments, and rifts in the Body of Christ are left to fester and grow, without either party offering direct conversation or the development of strategies to help remedy the concerns.  It is even possible that a pastor or other church worker may not even be aware of the concerns.

    We all have a responsibility to help each other grow in our abilities and gifts so that all people are encouraged as followers of Christ.  We cannot help each other grow if we stay on the sidelines and criticize.  We can help each other grow if we partner with each other as sinful and redeemed children of God in Christ.

    As one writer stated:

  • It is difficult, if not impossible, for a pastor to care for his congregation without the cooperation of the congregation.
  • This comment was written in the context of a pastor wanting congregational members to be more forthcoming with information about other members, such as when they are hospitalized, and to see themselves more in partnership with each other in the service of the Gospel.

    This was echoed by another writer:

  • I have no idea who the pastor is!  He may be lazy or have a questionable work ethic.  The laity, on the other hand, many times regard all church work to be done only by the “hired help.”
  • The plea here is that we are all in this together.  As members of the community of those who are brought together in our baptism, we work hard — empowered by the Holy Spirit — to be useful, helpful, encouraging, forgiving, and reconciling in the name of the Christ who redeemed us and the whole world.

    There is certainly an emerging theme throughout many of the responses.  At times, there are real issues, disagreements, and conflicts in our congregations.  Some of these have to do with the amount of work, energy, and commitment of both the workers of the church and the laity of the church.  But there is also a common bond together, won by Christ’s redemption of us.  Building on that bond, we have a responsibility to be in prayerful and direct conversation so that concerns are resolved and the mission of the church is enhanced.

    Let the conversations begin, or if they have begun, continue, keeping in mind these steps:

  • Reflect on one’s own position, praying for guidance and repenting for missteps.

  • Address the concerns in a spirit of prayer, seeking specific and behavioral remedies with accountability.

  • Continue to meet in follow-up sessions, seeking to support and encourage the ministry of everyone in the Body of Christ.

  • If conversations are stymied by genuine impasses, find an outside consultant to help.
  • Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and can be reached at

    Posted Nov. 20, 2008

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