For many of us, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are a time when we give ourselves permission to overindulge in rich dishes and irresistible desserts. January brings the time to take stock of all that feasting and make a resolution to lose weight and get in shape.
Churches can also benefit from the opportunity that the New Year provides to re-think priorities. One issue to consider is how to improve communication between the pastor and the congregation. Among the most effective methods for strengthening the lines of communication is the formation of a Pastoral Relations Committee.
By Rev. Dr. Sara Day, CFP®
What is a Pastoral Relations Committee?
A Pastoral Relations Committee is usually comprised of three to five people, in addition to the minister. The goal of the committee is to give support to the pastor and facilitate healthy communication with the congregation. The Committee serves in an advisory capacity to the pastor and also advocates for the pastor’s leadership.
In its advisory role, the Pastoral Relations Committee contributes to the church’s ministry by sharing the concerns and hopes of the congregation with the pastor. The Committee also acts as the primary support group for the pastor by conveying the needs and functions of the pastor to the congregation. For a church with a large staff, this committee can function as a Church / Staff Relations Committee, providing a liaison between all church staff and the congregation.
Why have a Pastoral Relations Committee?
A Pastoral Relations Committee:
Fosters spiritual health and connection between the pastor, congregation and staff. When the body of Christ has a healthy way to share expectations and issues of concern, the life of the church is lifted up, and the congregation is likely to be more connected and engaged as a whole in the ministry of the church. The committee also offers an arena to address misunderstandings before they become more serious problems.
Ephesians 4:15-16 states that “…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint…makes bodily growth and up-builds itself in love.” This reminds us that there are multiple ways for a congregation to reach out, but the church is meant to be one ministry in Christ with diverse means of touching lives.
Offers wide-ranging support to the pastor and church staff. Pastors need to have confidence that there is ongoing support for their leadership and a real understanding of the high level of stress they experience. The committee provides a supportive environment for pastors — and their families. This is critical because a frequent cause of stress is negotiating the time and tension between pastoral duties and private / family life. This committee serves as the space wherein pastors and pastoral staff can honestly state their needs and concerns.
Provides an avenue for regular communication
When communication between pastors and people is consistently conveyed and pastors feel supported amidst the stress of the multiple responsibilities they handle, the church is able to focus and respond to ministry needs with far greater impact and scope.
The functions of the Committee include:
• Advocating for the pastor in financial matters and assisting in communicating to church members about issues such as compensation, housing, ministry-related expenses, benefits and flex-spending accounts for health and dependent care.
• Understanding the responsibilities of ministry, the role of the pastor and other staff persons in relation to the congregation and its ministry.
• Serving as mediator in matters where conflict arises and discerning when outside assistance needs to be brought in to resolve escalating tensions.
• Participating in the pastoral and staff review process. This includes establishment of performance goals, assessing job performance against these goals, making recommendations on compensation, and advocating on behalf of the pastor and staff to the budget committee or other group responsible for personnel.
• Supporting the pastor in broadening his or her knowledge and skills through continuing education opportunities.
• Assisting with hiring and departure of staff. This is especially critical as pastoral transitions can be one of the most vulnerable times in the life of a church.
Select Committee members carefully
Both the pastor and congregation need to have input in selecting the committee, but it is essential that the pastor has a good relationship with all members. The pastor needs to be able to share with the utmost trust, safety and confidentiality — to “remove their robe” without judgment.
Committee members need to:
• Be examples of Christian character and integrity
• Exhibit a love and knowledge of Christ and commitment to
• Be supportive of the minister, but also sensitive to the concerns of the congregation and minister
• Be patient and discerning listeners, aware of body language and tone; skilled in active listening
• Be knowledgeable about human relations, communications and
• Operate with the utmost confidentiality, including with spouse and partners
• Be free from conflict of interest with other groups in the church; in other words, they should not sit on the church Finance Committee.
When the Pastoral Relations Committee partners with the pastor, meets regularly, remains focused on good communication and brings an open spirit, it provides long-term value to the church’s ministry. As you think about your New Year’s resolutions, why not consider placing the formation of a Pastoral Relations Committee at the top of your list?
Rev. Dr. Sara Day, CFP®, is Director of Employer Relationship Management for MMBB Financial Services in New York.
READ “FINANCES & ADMINISTRATION FOR CHURCH LEADERS” IN EACH ISSUE!
Upcoming installments in this much-needed new series will focus on:
• The clergy housing allowance issue
• Retirement planning — how to know if you (and your staff) are on the right path
• Negotiating compensation without emotion
• Year-end tax & portfolio planning for pastors