Transitional Presbytery Leader

Rev. Rhonda Kruse


Rev. Rhonda Kruse  Transitional Presbytery Leader

Transitional Presbytery Leader Report 2-17-24

I want to talk with you today about your pastors. Those of you who ARE pastors in congregations, or another validated call, are welcome to listen, but I’m really talking to the elder commissioners this afternoon. Some of your congregations have full time called and installed ministers, though that’s becoming less common. Some of you have part time pastoral leadership provided by either ordained clergy or a Commissioned Ruling Elder. Regardless, if your church has someone preaching on a weekly basis, providing pastoral care and other ministerial services, consider yourself very, very fortunate.

I encourage you to take good care of your pastor, because if you lose them, it could be a very long time until you get another one. How many of you here are part of a congregation currently in a formal pastoral search process? I urge you all to chat with these folks about how their search is going. They’ll tell you how long they’ve been looking, how few good candidates there are out there, how frustrating the process of working with the Church Leadership Connection platform has been, and how the number of open positions in PC(USA) churches far exceeds the number of candidates looking.

It’s a whole new world when it comes to searching for a pastor in 2024. You all need to be aware of this new reality. Meanwhile, I regularly receive articles with titles such as “Burned out, exhausted, leaving: A new survey finds clergy are not OK;” and “Why Your Pastor Is Tempted To Quit – And What To Do About It.” I recently received an invitation to a two-day online “State of Pastors Summit” that promises to explore emerging trends related to pastors’ overall health and take a closer look at the challenges they’re facing in ministry right now.

On Wednesday, 75 or so presbytery leaders from across the denomination had an online conversation about these very issues. 2 So, here’s where we find ourselves today in the Presbyterian Church: (Fact #1) we’re in the midst of a critical pastor shortage; AND (fact #2) at the same time, many of our current pastors are increasingly physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually unhealthy. What are the solutions, you ask? Addressing the ordained clergy shortage is difficult. Many are retiring or simply leaving ministry, and fewer people are choosing to attend seminary, reluctant to take on educational debt for a relatively low-paying job that is no longer respected in our culture and often doesn’t accommodate a partner’s career.

One thing we CAN do to address the scarcity of pastors is to raise them up from our own congregations. There are ruling elders in our churches with gifts for preaching, teaching, providing pastoral care, and encouraging discipleship. You probably already know someone in your church who would make a good pastor. Take that person out for a cup of coffee and let them know you’ve noticed their gifts; and encourage them to consider whether God might be calling them to either ordained or commissioned pastoral leadership. Both of our presbyteries have Committees on Preparation for Ministry who can help them with their discernment and share options for getting the necessary training. We especially need more commissioned ruling elders to serve as pastors for our smaller churches. They’re already here among us—we just need to find them and encourage them! Regarding the health of our current pastors, I beg you to provide your pastor with the care, support, and compassion they need and deserve. Pastoring today is not the same as it was back in our parents’ day.

The world has changed, life has sped up considerably; the church is asking pastors to do things they were never trained to do, placing far greater stress and expectations upon our pastors. The trauma of the pandemic and post-pandemic years has only made 3 everything harder. If you ask, your pastor may say, “Oh I’m fine.”

To be perfectly honest, I would question that response from anyone serving a church today. What can you do? While it’s always a good idea, please don’t expect that sending your pastor flowers, candy or a Starbucks gift card will solve everything. Even giving them extra days off isn’t helpful if they have twice the work to do when they get back. And don’t put the burden on your pastor by saying something vague like “Let me know if I can help with anything.” The key words here are what can YOU DO? One of the top stressors for pastors these days is finding volunteers. Others include dealing with complaints and conflict, following up with non-attenders and visitors, and coordinating outreach in the community. None of those things should be the pastor’s exclusive responsibility. Find something you and others can take off the pastor’s plate and just do it; and do it well so she doesn’t have to ever think about it again. This will give your pastor time to address some of their other big stressors such as finding a healthy family and work balance, setting aside time for personal prayer, getting exercise, or just doing something they enjoy.

Over the last year or so, the transition team has scheduled quarterly gatherings of pastors (clergy and CREs) from both presbyteries for time away to spend with colleagues and friends, and we’ve consistently had 15-25 attendees. We’ve offered a number of conversation topics, but it seems that the most popular part of these mini retreat days is that it gives them time away to just “be,” allowing them to spend time with others who truly understand the challenges of ministry, time to laugh, share a meal, and take a deep breath before they get back to it. Some of your pastors don’t come to these gatherings because they say they “don’t have time—they’re too busy.” Frankly, those are the ones I worry about the most.

We’ve planned an important gathering for June 24 (see handout) with Carol Howard, who has co-written a book about what she calls wounded pastors. Please encourage your pastor to attend whether they consider themselves wounded or not. The Board of Pensions understands how difficult ministry is in 2024 and has begun offering what they call Clergy Wellness Grants. I’ve sent information about these grants to pastors enrolled in the pastor’s participation plan. Again, encourage yours to take advantage of this gift. Friends, we need to work together to address both the shortage of pastors available to serve our congregations AND to take care of the pastors we’re already blessed to have. If you have questions or concerns about anything I’ve said today, please feel free to call or email me. I’m happy to help in any way I can.

Blessings. Rhonda Kruse

Transitional Presbytery Leader                                                                                                                             610-360-8823