Visit our new site at

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - The Pastor's Report

How does the pastor make an accounting of her work to her congregation? While some might see this as just one more administrative obligation to be gotten out of the way, our questioner this week sees it as a true leadership opportunity. She would like some help in thinking through how better to shape this report. Here is her question:

In my denomination, I make a pastor's report monthly to our church governing board.  I've heard many after being a member of this group prior to seminary.  It always seems a bit like "justifying" the time spent during the last month.  I have divided up my report in areas:  church, pastoral care, community, administration, presbytery, and self care.  Essentially much of the report does not change from month to month...the worship prep...sermon prep...newsletter...monthly ministerial meeting...etc.  Of course, Advent and Lent planning occur at appropriate times and there are months when pastoral care issues are above normal (note:  I do not list people or number of calls made).

I do give a verbal report and the last two months have expanded it to begin including some of the new ideas on church from Phyllis Tickle and Carol Howard Merritt. 

Any ideas on how to not make this seem like a "report card"?  I would love to begin to shift this into something much more constructive and life-giving (for all). 

Thanks for your wisdom.

Muthah+ offers:
I find that lay folks really don't have a clue to what we do and the kinds of energies we use.  Most folks see time as the primary coin of the realm since it is for them in the secular world.  At the same time it falls on us to understand our  vocation well enough to explain it to them.

When I could describe a service taking the same amount of energy as teaching a day of school--or that writing a sermon took as much energy as running  10 K race , they began to understand.  And when they recognized that funeral planning took whatever energy it took it began to understood.

If you chart a typical day for them, most of them will get the idea that you are doing your job.  There will always be those who think that they are your boss.  Try your hardest to help them realize  that God is your boss--that you answer to God first and they may begin to understand you work with different standards.  At the same time you can't be a slacker, they have to trust you will be there when they need you.  The longer you are there, the less it will be a problem.

And Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming!, writes:
I wonder whether there’s some way to make this more about the work of the church and less about you and your time?

I once tried dividing up a group’s agenda according to the 5 marks of mission ( tell, teach, tend, treasure & transform: see for more detail)  : so that it was clearer that what we were doing was not just ‘stuff’ but was part of our desire to join in with God’s mission.

Is there some way of doing something like that? If you talk about the mission of the church you will of course talk about what you have been doing, but the focus is less on your time and more on God’s work.

What about others of you? Have you found constructive ways to make your report less like a report card and more vision-setting and missional? Please do share in the comments.

We are low on questions in the queue, so if you've been pondering a problem or a question that you'd like the matriarchs to address, now would be a great time to send it in. Email us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.


  1. In seminary I learned about the Pastor report as a kind of "I drove 70 miles and visited 4 people and made 30 phone calls" kind of report intended to justify my salary. I was cautioned to be careful not to tell them that I wrote down my mileage when I went to a home for dinner because they would get their feelings hurt if I considered dinner with a member "work."

    When I first arrived at my church that's the kind of report I presented. Much to my surprise the Board told me they don't want mileage reports or to know how many phone calls I made. They wanted to know about meetings I attended, upcoming conferences & local events I was involved with, and our relationship with community groups. My reports might include requests from the local 12 step area to hold a pot luck in our hall, a request to send our choir director to a national musicians conference, or a story about a homeless woman who was helped to find a room.

    I've discovered that this kind of report frequently spawns conversation on justice issues or questions about things going on in the denomination. It's much more about my work as pastor than my work as administrator.

  2. I think my monthly report is part "what I've been up to" and part "here's what I'm hoping to do next" Last month I had just came back from my First Call Theological Conference and I included a report on what I had heard from the presenters, this month I am preparing for a program that I hope to launch in Feb and along with my update on that will come with an invitation/challenge that as council members they sign up.

  3. In my first call, I quickly realized that my seminary training had never mentioned how to do this. I made it up as I went along, and eventually settled on a written format that had different sections:

    *since our last meeting
    *upcoming in the next month
    *upcoming in the next liturgical season

    I always asked for questions when I gave my report, and inevitably there was one ornery elder who asked me every month to please name the names of the parishioners I met with, and the nature of the meeting. I explained--every month--that some of my meetings/visits were of a confidential nature, and that if he needed to know more than that, I would ask those I met with if he (the elder) could come along on my pastoral visits with me (which is not unheard of in our tradition). Every month he declined. But like clockwork,the next month, he made the demand again. Month after month. Yes, I was glad when his three years on the board were done.

    I think in my next call, I will try a different strategy.

  4. Perhaps my board is very trusting, but I use the "report" mostly for inspiration. I mention when the pastoral calls and requests have been heavy and give thanks for their work alongside me with visits and calls. I speak of where God may be calling us and ask them to consider things in thought and prayer.

    I don't keep to a standard format and at times I fail to give this opportunity significant thought in advance. Perhaps it will be a goal for the new year to use it to better advantage.

  5. As someone who's not the pastor but a member of a church Board, I really am not interested in how much time has been spent on what but rather on what is going on in our congregation and our community and in how our pastor might need support/encouragement/suggestions from us. I also see the report as a chance for me to catch up on the significant things that I've missed due to being out of town, lack of attention, etc. I really like the idea of hearing a bit more about conferences or meetings that she attends. We've come up with ideas for mission and education (some good, some not so good!) that probably no single individual would have thought of as a result of hearing her perspective on our community and sharing ours.

    But, of course, I don't have a clue what she does or what kinds of energies she uses.

  6. When I started my seminary internship, I presented my first report to my supervisor in advance of the council meeting. It was a list of "where I've been and what I've done." He discouraged me from presenting it and explained the reason, "If they trust you to do your job, they won't need that kind of report. And if they don't trust you, you don't want to be their pastor."

    It made sense to me so, while I keep those kinds of records for my own benefit (it's how I track my visits and maintain a healthy rotation of shut-ins), I have tried to make my pastoral report one of reflection, inspiration and hope.

    Because my congregational leadership isn't always good about following through with the 'stuff' that arises at council meetings, I also do what Jules mentioned, though not simply in connection with myself and my work.

  7. Like Beth my internship pastor steered me in the right direction. His advice was to "make it 20% what you've been doing and 80% where the church is going, should go, could go," in other words inspiration. LOOKING AHEAD is a category I use in my list.

    At my current and first call I ran across from the former pastor on the church computer. It was not a pretty sight. They were extremely detailed as to how he spent his time. It indicated a lack of trust on the part of the church and probably this contributed to him not being here.

    I have found that jotting down notes all month long makes the report easier to write in the end.

  8. We don't make that kind of report in my tradition, but I am very grateful for what Muthah+ said about how "a service taking the same amount of energy as teaching a day of school--or that writing a sermon took as much energy as running 10 K race" because it is helpful to ME to be able to articulate that some things are more emotionally exhausting and when I am dealing with them I might not be as productive in other areas and that's okay. (Thinking about how this week a complicated pastoral care situation has sucked up all my energy and I've been a little hard on myself for not getting more other stuff done.)

  9. Crap. I just lost my long answer, so maybe that was God's way of saying - - keep it simple. Here's my ordinary report format that I think has a good balance of "report card" (which can be a way of protecting ourselves, too, since some of the things we do are hard to see) and narrative/visioning

    1. Items for report - - number of pastoral calls, worship services led, home communion served, denominational and community meetings attended, etc, etc.

    2. Items under consideration - - things I'm thinking about, reading about, praying about that may or may not become formal proposals in the future

    3. Recommendations - - some routine, some not, but over all items that need the board's approval to go forward

    That said, I'm taking a two month break (along with the rest of the board whose committees usually report just with their committee minutes) from this report format. We are all reporting by answering these missional questions for ourselves, our respective committees and ministries, and the congregation as a whole:
    1. Where have I/we been a part of God's work in the world?
    2. I/we think God might be calling us to...

    We will revisit this at the end of our trial to decide whether to extend, tweak, continue, or dump.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.