Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale

In the past most congregations’ attempts to demoralize their ordained leadership have been haphazard and ad hoc, although still surprisingly effective. In the interest of bringing more rigorous and systematic approaches to these efforts here are some of my modest proposals:

1. Schedule a weekly meeting for your pastor to sit down with the treasurer (or, better yet, the assistant treasurer) to “go over” every business expense. Be sure to inquire if certain expenses are legitimate, such as the purchase of a Marilyn Robinson or Gail Godwin novel from the pastor’s book allowance (“Should we really be paying for your chick-lit?”) Or a long-distance call to a neighboring pastor friend from seminary. Do such expenses really profit the church? And what about this big expense for 14 volumes by this Barth guy? Do you really need all of these? And his title sounds so, well, dogmatic!

2. Plan a regular talk-back session after worship so that members can query the pastor about her sermon, or the worship service, or about anything else, for that matter. It is always good to question why the pastor chose scripture lessons that are so negative, referring to such old fashioned concepts as sin, unrighteousness and repentance. Suggest more uplifting themes in the future. “And, by the way, why don’t we ever sing Christmas carols in Advent?”

3. Make sure to have an annual customer satisfaction survey where every member of the congregation fills out an anonymous questionnaire about their views of the pastor’s performance during the previous year. Make sure all the negative (or ambiguous) comments are read aloud at several meetings, and publish them without attribution in the church newsletter.

4. Vote to hold all meetings in the living room of the parsonage during the winter as a way to save money on heat, but be sure to pitch the idea as good stewardship of God’s creation so your pastor will feel too guilty to protest.

5. Cut the mission budget to balance the budget. Better yet, ask your pastor to choose between a raise in salary or an increase in the mission budget. This would be a good subject for an extended conversation at a congregational meeting. You can never talk too much about clergy compensation at a congregational meeting.

6. Set up a pastoral oversight committee to regularly monitor the pastor’s performance. Focus attention on any negative (or ambiguous) comments from the questionnaire (see # 3). Make sure to put into place measurable metrics and target goals for new members received and money raised. Hourly work logs are always effective as well.

7. Whenever your pastor goes away and returns from denominational meetings or continuing education events never miss an opportunity to ask, “How was your vacation?”

8. Make sure the pastor is made aware of the two biggest complaints, namely, that he is never in the office, and he doesn’t make enough home visits. That the two cannot both be true will not diminish their use as morale crushers.

9. Tell the pastor that there are anonymous complaints that a. your sermons are too long; b. your voice is too soft to be heard (especially by the deaf); c. your spouse is not involved enough (or too involved) in the life of the congregation; d. your child shouldn’t have been given the lead in the Christmas pageant; e. your lawn needs mowing; and f. you were seen in shorts at the supermarket. This is just a sample list. Use your imagination.

10. Constantly compare your pastor to his long-tenured saintly predecessor, with special attention made to his never asking for a raise for himself or his staff.

If your pastor balks at any of these attempts, just mutter words such as “accountability,” “transparency,” “standards,” or “professionalism. Pastors are loath to appear to be against any of these concepts so cherished by the managerial class.

(Picture:  “The Scream” by Edvard Munch)


  1. So close to the truth that I want to weep

  2. My dear Wormwood,
    I see that you have hit upon an approach that will not only incline a pastor to turn away from the Enemy and towards our Lord below, but even better, that will protect several church members from ever falling into the disastrous habit of trusting others in the name of the Enemy. Well done! I look forward to hearing how this progresses.

    Your affectionate uncle,

  3. Matt,

    I must admit that I thought of Screwtape as I was writing this, and especially Lewis' observation about how easy it was to think like a devil. Sadly, too true.

  4. Richard - this is priceless! It's definitely getting linked to my FB page ... and I'm seriously considering sending a link to my vestry (Episcopal governing board) in advance of our scheduled "mutual ministry review" (which, of course, are never mutual).

  5. These are so close to home, Richard, that I've done a short post referring to them on our own website:

    While pastors will read these (and weep), will the congregations read them - and see themselves?

  6. You are on a roll, brother!

  7. OMG... Dianne and I are still laughing out loud - and weeping - because these are ALL greater than great. I am linking this, my friend, and celebrating it, too. Many thanks!

  8. I amlaughing out loud at this and an Associate Rector considaring my own parish!

  9. @ Mike Crowl: My experience of the Church suggests that being appalled by the all-too-close-to-home Truths published here is something to which the Church is often immune.

    Frank Crumbaugh
    Rector, The Episcopal Church of The Holy Innocents
    Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, New Jersey

  10. WRT #6 - I used to keep a weekly log (admittedly, not granular to the hour), which tracked what I did each day. It also served as the means of tracking my mileage in a rural, multi-point parish. (Had I been incumbent over the same amoount of territory in England, I'd have been the Archbishop of York.)

    Early on, the parish asked me to stop turning these in at the parish council meetings. I later discovered that it wasn't because they trusted me, but that they preferred there be no documentation to support my cliamed mileage - allowing them to insinuate that the claims were inflated.

    Unfortunately for them, I had kept on with the logs, and was able to turn in the lot at a particularly heated parish council meeting. Since the allegation had been written in a letter to the bishop, I was advised that I probably could have won a lawsuit for slander and libel.

  11. Well said! You are a genius. I've seen most of these deployed against me!

  12. Just add a 3 page unsigned letter that is the mind of the church on everything else you are doing wrong with this list and that would sum up my first pastorate.

  13. So sad, but so true! Very well written.

  14. I am presently engaged in experiencing many of the things you have listed. I would add one more to the list as well. When the pastor knows that something is not right, asks about it and is told that everything is fine.

    BTW I used to live in a Pittsfield, only in Illinois not Massachusetts. It was proclaimed as the Pork Capital of the World.

  15. This are hilarious, if only because they are so sadly true. I am blessed to serve a congregation that does not afflict me with any of the above on a regular basis, but I am sharing this via FB for those who are so afflicted.

  16. Thank you for reminding me why I should not ever, ever leave my current parish, where no one has ever used any of these techniques (although Lord knows I've been the target of them in the past!). I fear they've spoiled me for anywhere else. Please don't hate me, colleagues! I'm grateful every day!

  17. Suggested book: "When Sheep Attack" by Dennis Maynard. When egos flare up, there is no telling the evils parishioners can accomplish.