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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Promoting health

Following these steps could save clergy-parishioner relationships

From the pastor to the pew-sitter, practical steps can be taken to promote healthy relationships in congregations. Doing so may cut down on conflict, especially bullying toward pastors — which seasoned church consultant Roy Oswald said is heightened in days of church budget shortfalls.

In times of falling numbers (attendance and offerings), Oswald said clergy blame themselves ("If I were just more charismatic") or parishioners blame the pastor ("If she/he were just more charismatic").

Oswald is executive director of the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Skills and for 31 years was senior consultant at the Alban Institute in Washington, D.C., a center of learning and leadership development with a focus on congregations. Bullying — pastors and others — is a phenomenon undergoing a resurgence, he said. He offers pastors these suggestions:

• Ignore anonymous complaints. Make it clear that you don't take seriously something that's anonymous. If a church council member says, "I promised I wouldn't say who said this, but ...," stop the speaker and say we won't deal with anonymous complaints. One pastor announced: "I received a letter with a complaint. ... It wasn't signed so I threw it in the wastebasket. If you have something to say, sign your name and I will take it seriously. That's our mature norm."

© istockphoto.com / Diane39• Establish a mutual ministry committee. Don't confuse this with the personnel committee or the group that evaluates the pastor and decides on salary. Choose a few people whose job it is to try to understand what it's like to be a pastor in the church. If there's a gossip or antagonist in the group, the pastor won't be able to honestly show his/her pain and frustrations. Meet regularly—the pastor shouldn't call the group together only when something "comes up."


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