Charles M. Wingard
How to Care for Your Pastor: A Guide for Small Churches, by Kent Philpott. Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, 2008, xiii + 128 pages, $13.99, paper.
Disappointment is a routine part of pastoral life and is especially acute in small churches where personal and financial resources are few and prospects for growth slim. Many pastors wonder if anyone in the congregation really cares about them. Pay is often meagre; expressions of concern for the pastor and his family’s well-being come infrequently or not at all. In some churches little energy is spent caring for anyone in the church. The hurt can be deep. Pastors would like to articulate their hurts to the church, but do not—they do not want to offend, appear self-pitying, or expose themselves to rejection.
What many smaller church pastors are afraid to do for themselves, Kent Philpott does for them. He writes with smaller churches in mind and counsels them on how they can better care for their shepherds. The author is well qualified; when How to Care for Your Pastor was published he had more than forty years of experience, much of it in a small California congregation.
Through much of the book I nodded my head in agreement. Seemingly little things—like punctuality and words of thanks—are big encouragements. Money for books and classes must not escape the congregation’s notice if they want their pastor to grow as a minister of the Word.
The author encourages a proper congregational mindset. Its pastor is not exempt from the problems common to a fallen world. Not only does he experience the same trials as his flock, but he struggles with many of the same temptations and sins. A fact that should be obvious—the pastor’s humanity—must not be forgotten.
Both pastor and congregation should shed the illusion of omnicompetence (my word). Every minister must recognize his own limitations in knowledge and ability, and his congregation must live with those limits. Just as in a healthy marriage spouses do not let flaws obscure the blessings of their partner, so too the congregation must be grateful for God’s gift to them of a pastor whose faithful care is demonstrated in a variety of ways.
Poor compensation in smaller churches is common, if not the norm. The author helpfully shares his own tentmaking experience and his wife’s work outside the home. He explains how mutual sympathy must exist between the pastor and his congregation as this area of potential conflict and hurt feelings are navigated. I would add that as tight as family budgets are for pastors of smaller churches, financial problems are not always the consequence of poor pay. Pastors and their wives can be financially reckless, accumulating unnecessary debt and nurturing sinful discontentment. In these situations both the pastor and his wife will require the loving but firm guidance of the church’s leaders.
The author is adamant (and correct) that the pastor and his wife parent their children, not the congregation. With thoughtless words and harsh judgments assertive church members can place unsustainable pressure on the pastor and his family to conform to their personal ideals for the minister’s family life.
I found Philpott’s counsel to churches with young pastors particularly wise. Maturation is a process; the minister you have now will not be the same man when his ministry is over. Wise congregations look on their relationship with the minister as a partnership, one that over time, can grow and flourish.
Ordained Servant readers are committed to traditional pastoral care and might raise an eyebrow when they read that the author does not like to make hospital or home visits. Pastoral visitation is such a significant part of the Presbyterian tradition that young men preparing for ministry would be well advised to cultivate a desire for it, even if it doesn’t come naturally. To his credit Philpott does make these visits and is appreciative of a Care Team that assists him.
Contrary to the author and many others, I do not think the pastor’s work schedule is unique. True, “pastors do not punch a time clock and do not work regular office hours.” But neither do most of the physicians, business owners, salesmen, and farmers in my congregation. I encourage my students to establish a weekly work plan. Be flexible, but remember that bad work habits can easily form without a fixed schedule.
For congregations looking for ideas about how to care for their pastors, this book will prove useful. But to treat it as a definitive guide to pastoral and congregational relationships would be a mistake. The author does not make this claim, but people reading this book must keep in mind that no perfect blueprint exists to guide them. While all pastors expect that their congregations care for them, the shape that care should take will vary from pastor to pastor according to his attitudes toward ministry and the specific needs of him and his family. There is no one solution for care of the pastor. The strength of this book is the author’s honesty and openness about his own pastoral experience. With that in mind, I would caution the reader to understand that not every pastor will have the same needs and expectations, or work from the same philosophy of ministry.
To foster enduring relationships there are no substitutes for honest conversations and the cultivation of mutual sympathy and understanding. Get that straight, and this book will provide ideas about how to improve the precious relationship between a pastor and his flock.
Charles Malcolm Wingard is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City, Mississippi (PCA), and associate professor of pastoral theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Ordained Servant Online, May 2020.