pXhDS6uThis week’s question wonders how we can make a healthy transition from pastor in the pulpit to pastor in the pew.

Dear Matriarchs,
I work in a specialized ministry outside the local church context and find it hard to know how to fit in as a person in the pews. I would like to be involved at church, but I also want to have excellent boundaries and be nothing other than fully supportive of the pastor(s). When you have non-parish clergy participating in the life of your church, what forms and levels of service, presence, or involvement feel appropriate to you?

Trying to Get It Right

Our Matriarchs are ready to welcome you into their congregation!

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath
Dear TGR- As one who has been on both sides of this question, I have valued honest conversation with my colleague about how we might best support each other. It’s not fair to make assumptions about what you’d like to do in the parish. Not everyone in your position has the time to get involved in a lot of parish activities, while others would like to be called “Pastor” and would supply preach on any given Sunday. On the flip side some parish pastors feel blessed to have another pastor in the community while others are somewhat threatened. So I think it’s a matter of one to one conversation and negotiation. Ask permission. Make offers. Set boundaries. But do it all as a part of your particular relationship.

Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
I rejoice when there are fellow clergy in my congregation. I am a solo pastor and miss the days of working with other pastors on staff. I have welcomed other pastors to lead worship together, teach classes, and visit members at home and hospitals. There is always enough of God’s love to go around. As mentioned by Heidi, it is important for there to be healthy boundaries and invitation by the parish pastor.

Anne Andert
We have had bishops and retired clergy in our congregation through the years, and always appreciated their presence. They were only there to worship and never meddled. Now that we are retired clergy, we enjoy worshiping from the pews. When we joined our current congregation I offered my services to fill in as needed occasionally for the pastor(s) as part of my gift to the ministry of the congregation. A pastor had offered that to us when we were working, and we really appreciated it.

Heidi Rodrick Schnaath
I agree with you Anne and I know that those kind of offers are really great to receive. I also know that when pastors in the pew make those offers and there is no response, it can be hurtful. So if a pastor in the pulpit doesn’t want assistance, they need to be clear in their communication.

If you are new to being a pastor in the pulpit, I highly recommend Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church. It was a big help during my first year of being in a specialized call. It affirmed things about my own experience and helped me become more comfortable being in the pew.

Dee Eisenhauer
I really appreciate having someone who knows the congregation and is known by them to call upon for occasional preaching/worship leadership, especially when I am away on vacation or at conferences. While outsiders bring their own gifts, not having to explain everything about one’s worship traditions and rhythms while preparing to be away is a great relief. I have also appreciated having other ministers around for occasional consultation about thorny issues, or perspective from the pew. I enjoyed a season with a retired minister in one church who would call me up about once a quarter and offer to take me out to lunch just to chat. He offered advice if I asked for it but otherwise made it clear he just wanted to offer support. It was nice to have a confidential outlet there since he knew the community but wasn’t involved in governance.

* * * * *
Thank you, Matriarchs, for showing us how a pastor in the pew can be a positive presence in a church.

It’s your turn, dear reader. How can a pastor in your pew best serve in your congregation? Add your best practices in the comments below.

The Matriarch panel is here to help! Are you facing a pastoral challenge? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and receive some Matriarch wisdom and support.

Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

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One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: Best Practices for the Pastor in the Pew

  1. As a clergywoman in extension ministry for 18 years after 12 in the parish, I appreciate being able to hear other pastors preach and being able to receive from other lights. My own ministry is quite full so I do not feel I have time to be overly involved in my local church but I participate in our bimonthly homeless shelter ( we host families at our church for a week and my husband and I do an overnight), sometimes I supply preach for my pastor or others, and in the past I have led a study group on a topic. Sometimes I miss parish ministry but mostly I love my own setting and very much appreciate the energies and callings of my colleagues and the ability to worship without being in worship leadership


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