[Editor’s Note: I think it is important to make sure everyone understands our limitations and to establish boundaries. I wrote the article below to put in the newsletter of the church I now serve, Grace Presbyterian in Spring Hill, Florida. One never knows, when coming into a new situation, what folks expect of their pastor so I felt it was important to let them know what not to expect. If you are a pastor or church leader (or any other kind of leader for that matter) and you haven’t shared something similar with those you lead, then get to it. Hopefully it’s not too late . . .]
With more than 35 years of professional ministry, I’ve learned that it is important that I have some rules. These are not because all folks step over the line or particularly need to have guidelines for dealing with their pastor, but because some do. Because some folks have unrealistic expectations of their pastor’s abilities, gifts, strengths, limitations, and patience, I find it is better that I express publicly these ten simple rules so that nobody can say that I didn’t tell them. So please read these rules in the spirit in which they were intended: To help me be a more effective pastor, and to help you to understand the limits of my abilities, gifts, strengths, limitations, and patience . . .
1. Please remember that I am not clairvoyant.
I think I may have been when I was much younger, but I clearly am not now (just ask my wife!) If you have a problem or concern, if you’re sick or in the hospital, if I’ve done something to make you upset, and I haven’t responded to your needs, it’s probably because you didn’t tell me about it. I’m pretty good at addressing the things I’m aware of – things I have no clue about, not so much. Please help me out here.
2. Please share your concerns to my face, not behind my back.
This one is partly a result of not being clairvoyant, but not completely. If I knew what your concerns were, you wouldn’t have to share them with me. But I don’t, so you do. I’ve also found that I’m much more effective if these issues are shared face to face. In my experience, talking behind someone’s back never solves anything, but it sure is a good way to create more problems!
3. Please don’t “Triangle” with or about me.
Triangling is when Aunt Gertie has a problem with your mother, and comes to you with it, and expects you to solve it, even though it’s not your problem. The result is that Aunt Gertie feels like she’s rid herself of the problem by dumping it on you. It’s bad enough that Aunt Gertie dumps her problem on you, but now, if you don’t solve it, Aunt Gertie is mad at you too (and, probably, so is you mom)!
Triangling never works well as a problem solver (see the end of Rule 2.) Churches are famous for being hotbeds of triangling, and pastors are popular dumping grounds. If you have a problem with me, please don’t dump it on someone else, and if you have a problem with someone else, please don’t dump it on me.
4. Please don’t bring me a problem before worship on Sunday.
Now that you understand that I’m not clairvoyant, and that I appreciate dealing with issues face to face, please understand that before worship on Sunday morning is not the time to practice this type of communication. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in prayer, preparing myself for the task of bringing you God’s Word, but it only takes a minor catastrophe to kill the mood. Please wait until after both the services, and then we can deal with catastrophes, both minor and major.
5. Please don’t ask me on Sunday morning to remember something important.
This is because of the reasons listed in rule #4, and also because I’ve got a million things going on, and after preaching my brain is generally mush on Sundays. If you ask, I’ll forget, and we’ll both be disappointed. Call me at the church office on Monday (I’ll be less mushy), or send me an email anytime (my iPhone is never mushy), and I’ll be happy to address your issue.
6. Remember that I’m your pastor, not your parent / policeman / fireman / attorney / bodyguard / miracle-worker
Though it is my desire to help y’all out in whatever way I can, there are ways in which I cannot. I’m real good at praying, preaching, and pastoring. Most of those other things I’m either not qualified, not trained, not gifted, not prepared, or not brave enough to do. I am pretty good at pointing you in the direction of those who are, though, so go ahead and ask and I’ll try to find you the right person to help.
7. Remember that I’m not in management, I’m just in sales.
While I’d like to take credit for good weather, a bull market, world peace, and other such things, I really don’t have any say in the matter. God sent me to be a messenger – if you don’t like the message, please don’t shoot. I’ll be happy to pray with and for you, but I can’t guarantee results, only effort.
8. Please remember that I’m called as your pastor, Tracy isn’t.
My wife is a wonderful person and would love to be able to do all kinds of things in, and for, the church. However, she isn’t trained, it isn’t her calling, and she isn’t on the payroll. Besides, she’s a very specialized Registered Nurse – we can’t afford her! She’ll be involved where and when she can, and she’ll love getting to know all y’all.
9. Please respect my sermon prep day (Thursday), my day off (Friday), and my home.
I hope you like my preaching; it takes a lot of work. After more than three decades preparing sermons, I’ve discovered that I’m way too gregarious to try to prepare them in the church office. I’m easily distracted by folks coming in the office, because I can always find an excuse to talk to them. This is counter-productive to completing my task. So for the last decade or so, I’ve worked on my sermons from home. My preaching has improved greatly in that time.
I also really need time to decompress. When you sit at a desk most of the week, you need to move around a little bit (read: chase a little white ball around).
On both Thursdays and Fridays, please try to honor my request for space. If there is an emergency (like the church is burning down), my cell phone is always on. However, if it can wait a couple hours, please send me an email. I promise to read and respond to it.
10. If my office door is open, you are always welcome.
And it is most of the time. If I’m doing something that can’t be disturbed, I’ll close my door. If my door is open and I’m typing, please wait until I finish my thought – I’m getting old, you know, and I may not be able to get it back!
You’ll find that I’m mostly a happy-go-lucky guy who feels very blessed to serve Grace Presbyterian Church as your pastor. I am human, though, and I have my moments. If you follow my rules, I guarantee that I’ll have less of them.
Rev. Dr. Keith Posehn