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The tone of ministry

In this Drinking the Cup, the Rev. John Boley reflects on clergy morale … it’s good.

Clergy Assistant to the Bishop

I am still basking in the afterglow of another Annual Conference session at Grand Traverse Resort. The GT Resort is a terrific place for us to gather – hospitable and comfortable. It sets a tone for our AC session that is positive and inviting.

The sessions themselves lived up to this setting. The worship, the TOM talks, the reports, and even the legislation held a consistent tone – one of good folks being positive in and about ministry. And the good will of the people of both conferences, coming together, cast positive vibes over the whole conference.

The Bishop, with his presiding personality, enhances this positive tone. He is uniformly positive, open, inviting, humorous, humble and gracious. The combination of the GT resort setting, and Bishop Bard’s personality, almost guarantees a positive, hope-filled, productive event. Benton Heisler’s blog last week captured that reality as he offered profuse thanks to so many people for hard and fruitful work.

“Setting the tone” is often described as an important, and perhaps the most important, characteristic of leadership. I believe that now more than ever.

Upon my return from Annual Conference, still reflecting on our Annual Conference experience, and meditating on the importance of tone, I randomly read an article in The Christian Century about the morale of clergy. (“The Pastors Are All Right,” by Amy Frykholm, The Christian Century, May 9, 2018). For a long time now, there has been a general understanding that clergy morale is bad. That has been supported by one prominent study, the seemingly reduced number of people going into the pastorate, and general perceptions of the difficulty of being in pastoral ministry at this time in history.

But this article challenged that understanding, offering another view. It states that the main study which found bad clergy morale was flawed. It cited new research – including studies by the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke University, and a 2017 report by the Barna Group on “The State of Pastors,” providing a whole new set of statistics showing that clergy morale is much better than believed. Certainly, there are major challenges to clergy – health risks, family stresses, compassion fatigue, burnout, etc. – but the picture is much more positive than the conventional wisdom suggests.

This is my belief as well. Beyond the very positive tone of Annual Conference, I discover clergy morale to be rather good – that the vast majority of clergy are fulfilled and motivated in ministry. So I suggest that rather than focusing on the negative of challenges to clergy well-being that leads to low morale, we focus on the great joys of pastoral ministry. Focusing on such joys will set the positive tone surrounding our ministry. Here are a handful of joys that are real for me that can  transform the tone of our individual ministries:

  1. What a gift it is to have a claim on your life as a call from God to be entrusted with the mission and message of Jesus Christ.
  2. What an absolute privilege it is to be invited into people’s lives at those moments of transition – births, deaths, weddings, baptisms, hospitalizations, etc.
  3. What a miracle it is that normal, rational people are willing to come and listen to you on Sunday morning, anxious for a good word of truth and comfort.
  4. What a gift it is to be able to fashion the worship of God that is pleasing in God’s sight and uplifting and challenging to the worshippers.
  5. What a gift it is to have such an important role in the Body of Christ to represent Christ and Christ’s Gospel in this world.

The list goes on.  Make your own list.  And focusing on these great gifts from God will improve the tone of our ministry and help overall clergy and church morale.

The Michigan Conference