This is a guest post from my very own dad! He’s a United Methodist pastor serving in Bend, Oregon. I enjoy chatting church leadership with my dad and it’s fascinating to see how our generational differences bring different perspectives to our calling as pastor. We need each generation to walk with each other as we figure it out in this new world. We’ve been reflecting lately as I finished up a renewal leave and he prepares to retire this June.
By David Beckett
I fall into the category of experienced clergy which is a polite way of saying I am old. I’ve been pastoring for nearly 40 years. When I was a young pastor my role models were mostly white males who presented an image of success that equated with dedication, overwork, and sacrifice. My first senior pastor talked about the 20 hr/wk he invested in sermon preparation. And he expected his staff to work beyond their stated hours. During those three years of full time seminary and a large youth group I put in up to 80 hr/wk. Many experienced clergy have some form of this story drilled into them. This is the reason we have difficulty watching as younger colleagues take renewal leave to care for themselves. The thinking is, “We got through it. Why can’t they?”
Why can’t we cut some slack for the generations that follow us? My daughters ask their parents and in-laws to watch their kids so they can have a date night or two with their husbands. I can feel that old grumbling in my heart, “We never got this help when we were young parents.”
Add to this grumbling the fact that experienced clergy are passed over by young clergy when it comes to appointments. When we were young the system was more fair in the sense that if we put in our time serving small churches we would be rewarded later in ministry with larger appointments.
But all the while we were working beyond our capacity, we complained! If we did not voice it to others we surely felt the bitterness creeping into our hearts. And many of us suffered damaged marriages, broken families, and wounded hearts.
I will be honest. We older clergy need to get over this attitude! Guess what? Our younger clergy have heard our complaints. They have watched us burn ourselves out. They are learning from us and trying not to sacrifice their health, their families on the altar of trying to be all things to all people! Just because we have been shaped by a generation of sacrificial pastors does not mean we have to perpetuate the myth that overworking equals success.
Our world is changing which in my mind means that our ways of thinking are changing. Younger clergy are open to admitting their flaws. We older clergy are fairly uncomfortable with this because we were shaped to think differently. But they are tapping into a spiritual hunger in many people who no longer feel the church is relevant. They want a place and a community where they can be real! The first step for us as Church is to have leaders who are not willing to pretend that all is well all the time. It’s not, and our young clergy understand this. We experienced clergy need to stop judging them for their self-care.