As a pastor, I deeply care for the members of the congregation I serve. And although pastors often spend time talking about good boundaries for keeping our relationships with our congregations healthy, I’m not sure we’ve done a very good job of teaching you, dear members, what you should be able to expect from a healthy pastor, loving you well.
So, along with some friends, I’ve put together a list of promises a pastor might make to a congregation. They are a guideline for how a healthy pastor could care for you well. I can’t promise on behalf of your pastor, but you could use these guidelines to think about your relationship with your pastor, and to start discussions if you need to.
These promises would be especially important in any congregation that has experienced pastoral misconduct.
Jessica Harren, Ann-Marie Kennedy, River Needham, Heidi Carrington Heath, John Michael, Becky Swanson, Bryan Rust, Stephanie Shockley, Anna Hurley, Anastasia McGee, Becky Swanson, Bethany Ringdal, Rachel Gooneratne, Presley Darnell, Kate Wulff, J Pace Warfield-May, Peggy Yingst, Jeanna L. GunderKline, Deb Loudin McCann, Chris Becker, Samantha Warburton, Jess Davis, Akie Kutsanai, and a few anonymous folks contributed to this conversation.
Promises about my Role with you:
I am among you to teach and preach Good News, to attend to your spiritual and emotional life, and to serve your congregation. I will place these commitments above my own personal agendas and emotional needs.
I will never reject you. As long as I am the pastor of this congregation, and you are a member here, I will be your pastor. When it is time to end that relationship, either because I am no longer going to be the pastor of this congregation, or you are no longer going to be a member, I will do so lovingly, honoring the relationship we have had, and with clearly stated boundaries.
Individual Pastoral Care:
I will pray with and for you.
I will trust that God is at work in your life beyond my work and influence.
I will listen to you without judgement, and keep your confidences. I will not shame you.
I will not make assumptions about what I think is best for you and try to lead you to that decision.
I will honor your questioning, doubt, struggles with faith, and leaving this church, and/or faith, should you so choose.
In matters of life and death, I will show up if it is humanly possible.
I will come to support you, and be with you, and advocate for your well being if you are arrested, charged, or incarcerated for whatever reason.
If you decide that I am a safe person to disclose abuse, violence, or other trauma, I will believe you and honor your decisions with how to proceed. If it becomes an issue of mandated reporting, I will let you know when we seem to be nearing that kind of conversation.
I will keep your confidences, but will never ask you to keep secrets for me.
I will not make promises that I am unable to keep.
Keeping Relationships Healthy:
If we are alone together, if will always be someplace where other people either can see us, or where someone else could conceivably see us at any time.
(For example, we might be the only two people in the church building, but only during hours that someone else could walk in at any time.)
You may always request someone else be present with us, for any reason, at any time.
I won’t touch you without your consent. When I touch you, it will be part of our pastoral relationship, and will not be romantic, sexual, or to meet my own emotional needs. I will communicate with you what my own touch boundaries are, and work to create a culture of consent in our congregation.
I will not have special friendships inside the congregation. My relationships with congregants and leaders will be unique, and I may be working more closely than some people with others, but this will be based in your needs, and not on my own favoritism.
I will share things with you about my own life, in as much as they are helpful for you. But I will not confide in you, or rely on you to emotionally care for me.
Keeping your Pastor Healthy:
I will cultivate my own spiritual life. I will pray regularly, read Scripture outside of what is required to prepare sermons and Bible Studies. I will at least occasionally attend worship that I’m not planning and leading. I will cultivate a faith community and pastor outside of this congregation.
I will attend to my own physical, emotional, and intellectual health and growth. If I am having problems with my own physical, emotional, or intellectual health that compromise my ability to be your pastor, I will seek help, and tell both you and my bishop.
I will consistently read relevant and challenging texts and participate in educational opportunities to improve my awareness of and ability to influence the world around us in alignment with the gospel. This will be in concert with appropriate continuing education requirements the congregation, synod and denomination have set for me.
I will model healthy living by intentionally and regularly taking time away from the congregation.
I will have a spiritual director and/or therapist to whom I turn for help and guidance and to work on my own issues. I will remember what it feels like to be the one asking for help.
I will maintain a community of practice with trusted colleagues. I cannot do this work on my own, and it is not responsible for me to do so. I will ask them to call me on my stuff, help me love you better, and to help me be the best pastor I can be. I will remember the importance of community in my own spiritual and pastoral development.
I will ask for help from colleagues when I am unsure of my role. I will sometimes share confidential things with colleagues, asking them to keep confidentiality as well, in order to consult with them. When I do this, I will attempt obscure personal details as much as possible.
I will build healthy and supportive relationships for myself beyond the scope of the congregation so I have places to safely explore my own emotional and social vulnerability.
I will attend to careful use of all substances and medications. With your consent and if it is healthy for you, I may have one alcoholic drink in a social setting with church leaders, but I will never be drunk or be under the influence of illegal drugs in your presence. I will attend carefully to how any prescribed medications affect my functioning around you.
I will be aware of the ways your social location and history impact the ways you hear the stories we tell and are involved with. I will use my awareness to the best of my ability to prevent harming you.
I will attend to my own social location and privilege. I will be paying attention to how pastoral authority is a position of power. I will think carefully about how I use my pastoral authority and privilege, aiming always to use it for the benefit of others, especially those with the least power.
I will value the truth of your lived experiences over civility and good intentions. I will listen even when it's difficult to hear. I am willing to engage in challenging conversations.
If I don't know, I will say I don't know, and commit to exploring the unknowing.
Working together in the Congregation:
I will honor the calling you've heard, identified, accepted. I will treat you as honored co-workers in God’s kin-dom.
I will not take for granted the work you do as a volunteer of this congregation, and I will respect your own boundaries about what volunteering you can and want to do.
I will respect that lay leaders in the Congregation, even when they are younger than I am, often have professional and technical skills that I lack.
I will respect that congregation members may be bound by different professional codes of ethics/ norms than I am.
I will be attentive to care and feeding of all congregational leaders. If our council, ministry team, or worship team has a retreat, it will not be a day or weekend long business meeting.
I will use the best of my ability to show you that busy-ness is not our God. That play and rest are faithful ways to really live.
Along with the council and other staff members, I will be a good steward of all money given to the church. All decisions about money will be made for the benefit of the congregation, by the congregation, and all money spent will be transparently accounted for.
I will not give undue influence to those who are able to give more to the church, or treat people differently on the bases of giving.
In all these things:
I will apologize when I am wrong. I will strive to apologize in healthy ways that do not obligate you to care for me.