Pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) annually complete a Confidentiality Report for their respective bishops, in which they reflect on their experience in ministry by responding to a series of questions.
“What significant events and developments occurred in your ministry and/or life during the past year?” “What are the personal faith and life issues with which you are dealing at this time?” These are two of some eight questions, including information on salary, allowances and benefits, which are posed.
The responses, writes Michael Pryse, bishop of the Eastern Synod, “are a humbling and enlightening exercise that helps me to gauge the vocational spirit of our synod’s clergy.”
Collectively speaking, the spirit of our 868 pastors is remarkably positive and enthusiastic. While our clergy find their work extremely challenging, it is also intensely fulfilling.
Although Lutheran ministry has provided a qualitative level of vocational satisfaction, this is not to say that there are not frustrations and disappointments, including crises and burnout.
Some pastors report that they receive inadequate support and encouragement from those whom they serve. Others face minimal congregational ownership of the ministry in their parishes, while still others are subjected to hurtful comments and petty criticisms. Unfortunately, there are also pastors who are inadequately compensated according to synodical remuneration guidelines and who, therefore, feel underappreciated.
While demonstrations of discouragement and discontent are not uncommon, parish ministry for a select few has simply failed to realize the kind of positive and joyful sense of vocational accomplishment it once did.
Hence, the perennial question of the continued viability of the church as an occupational system is a valid one. Yes, most ELCIC pastors perform parish ministry admirably; but there is a growing number of pastors who experience a loss of confidence in the church. Why? Because there are significant strains in the current systems – the educational and calling system, the work and reward system, the support and ownership system, the family and personality system.
The “solution” is that pastors and parishioners must work together in partnership by correcting the system already in place. They must meet the immediate needs of the parish through mutual support and encouragement. There must also be a recognition that pastors are not paid to perform as employees but rather to free them for their commitment to serve the Lord through a ministry of Word and Sacrament.
“It’s not simply a matter of getting the kind of leadership we deserve,” says Bishop Pryse. “It’s more a matter of receiving precisely the kind of leadership we choose to call forth and then support.”
Because God the Holy Spirit has entrusted us with the treasure of his church, it is our task to continue to reform that which needs reforming, so that both clergy and laity can rejoice in the church as a vocational vehicle.
Rev. Dr. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications.