With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Following are reader responses (R) to previous columns about resolving “spiritual burnout” among church workers.
R: “I have been closely following your recent columns. I thought this observation could help. We have a school and a [director of Christian education (DCE)]. The DCE and our school teachers are doing wonderful jobs.
“We struggle because of the tough economic times, but we in the congregation and [staff] in the school are confident that we will make it together. Why? We have confidence in God’s care and power. That is central and basic.
“Additionally, we have developed great person-to-person relationships between the teachers and members of our congregation. They are all very involved with us professionally, as well as personally.
“The point of my observation is that the key is in our relationships. We have worked together to build them. Key from my point of view is that the building of our relationships has required, and continues to require, effort and work. We do not always agree, nor do we always ‘get along.’ But we do respect each other and are committed to maintaining excellent relationships.
“I make it a point to greet our teachers, tell them they are doing a good job when I know something about what they are doing, and I bring goodies from time to time, as I love to bake. I just believe that building relationships is a key to excellent church worker and congregational member relationships.”
R: “I know that there are churches that have lots of conflict between the pastor and members. I am happy to write that our church of several hundred members does not have this.
“As I read ‘Pressure Points,’ I wonder what is going on in our church that is making things go so well. Here is what I think it is: Over the years … we have had serious study on dealing with differences between people so that the differences of views, opinions, and even personalities might not blow up into larger and more serious conflict.
“Boiling it down, we have discovered that it takes courage to work at our relationships by speaking directly to each other about our agreements and disagreements. This is wonderful [and], at the same time, it is hard. If I have a concern with my pastor, I speak to him about it. I do not talk to 10 other people about it before I talk with him. This has been hard for me and others to do, but it really does pay off. Our pastor does the same. And … most of the time, [we all] receive what is said in a way that is not defensive, and we work together on understanding the other person. Over the years, this has made a lot of difference in our congregation.”
These points from two of our readers deserve applause and reflection, and are worth following. Working at developing and maintaining relationships, one with another, is vital to the health and well-being of our congregations, schools, and all of our organizations. In my view, there is far too much conflict that has escalated into side-taking and far too little “courageous work” being put into relationships. This robs us all of the energy that could be used for much more constructive things. The courage of working on relationships in the body of Christ demands direct communication, openness, vulnerability, humility, and the greatest of these — love.
A request: I am currently beginning work on a project that could be enriched by readers sharing with me the “best practices” of relationship-building and church worker support and care that are practiced in their parishes. How does your congregation support its workers? How are relationships between the workers of the church and members of the congregation enriched, nurtured, and maintained?
Please communicate these practices directly to me. I will then gather the best of the best practices into the project — actually, a small book. Credit for the practice will be given.
Please let me hear from you.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is the dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Nov. 30, 2009