One of the most rewarding aspects of pastoral ministry is the relationships you develop.
One of the most frustrating aspects of pastoral ministry is the relationships you are expected to develop.
The question asked of our Matriarchs this week speaks to that frustration...
I am having some issues with some people in our small community, mainly women that are members of other churches.
It seems that their male pastors, many of who are quite conservative theologically, don't have a lot of time to listen or counsel them, so they are coming to me seeking this service. It wouldn't be so much of an issue, except for the fact that many of them are asking me to be a "spiritual friend" or invite me to "visit with them," even going so far as to call me at my home, and expect me to come out that very evening. (I've taken to screening my calls on my day off!)
How do I balance being a pastor for people outside my congregation (of which I don't have a lot of time available for this) with encouraging them to go to their own pastors, with gently teaching them that this young female is a pastor in their community, not a girl to be taken under their wing!
Two of our matriarchs chime on this situation. Jan, who blogs at Church for Starving Artists writes:
Ugh. I also had this experience as a twenty-something pastor fresh out of seminary. People called me "as friends" and then often asked for pastoral care, etc. One woman phoned me at midnight each night because she was lonely and wanted to talk about soap operas (and I was single and she was only waking up one person: me).
1- let the presiding officers of your congregation (elders, whatever) know that this is happening. It's important for them to know that you are seen as a person who is approachable to others in the community and that this is taking some of your time.
2- set boundaries. Let the women who are calling you know that - if they are calling you at home with a personal spiritual emergency, you can certainly talk with them, but if they are calling "as friends" they need to respect your work responsibilities and need for sabbath time.
One of the phenomena that we clergywomen deal with (and other female professionals also deal with this) is that people talk with us about professional issues as "girlfriends." They share issues with us as if we are pals rather than professionals who are "on the clock."
It's not easy to do this (strengthen boundaries) but it will make your life more sane.
Clearly you are a blessing to this community.
Singing Owl also testifies to the importance of setting boundaries:
I can relate to having women who have conservative male pastors wanting to seek you out! I face this one periodically as well, but I haven't had anyone want to be my buddy and call me at home.
My only word of advice is to be honest. It is harder to go back and fix it than if it was clear from the beginning (I say from bitter experience), but since these women do not seem to know where the boundaries are, you must tell them--gently, but firmly. If they do not know, they won't change. Screening your calls only goes so far. That is reacting instead of acting, and if you want to control your own schedule eventually you will have to "speak the truth in love" and they may well be hurt or angry. That is the risk you will take to get your badly-needed time back.
I had a related problem with a woman in the church calling me on my day off to discuss church issues. I was too "nice" and it went on too long and I got frustrated. Boundaries are hard! Eventually I said, "This is my day off. It is my one day not to think about church. Please don't talk to me about church things at home. Call me on Tuesday at the church." She was a bit hurt, but she also seemed to see the point of what I was saying. You probably can't teach them that you are not a girl to be taken under their wing—but you can remind them that you are a pastor and that means you have a limited amount of time.
As for encouraging them to go to their pastors…ah, don't you wish you could feel comfortable doing that? Sticky. It is hard to know what is best without knowing something about those pastors, and their church ladies. I wonder, do these women need a pastor or do they just need a Christian friend? Maybe something could be done to bring some of these women together? Just musing about that….or other possibilities for women who really just need to be heard by someone.
Defining your role and setting boundaries are best done as you begin life in a call and community. Readers, do you have some insights or experiences to share?
May you live in God's Amazing Grace+