Congregational Ethics Paper pt 4: Relationship to Pastor(s) and Other Staff

Posted on October 29, 2013

The Church of the Brethren published a paper in 1996 addressing Congregational Ethics. We are sharing this paper with you one section at a time.  You can read the whole paper here: including the opening preamble we are not including on this site.  Please discus and share your thoughts on what you are reading:

Relationships Within the Congregation

In surveys conducted among delegates to Annual Conference and in much correspondence the committee has received, it is evident that often serious ethical issues are raised in the way congregations treat their staff,
especially in matters relating to compensation, benefits, and personal support.
The committee discovered that the denomination has very clear policies that
advocate and define fair and appropriate considerations of pastors, in particular, and we need only to give some brief reminders in this paper.

First, congregations and districts need to give very careful attention to the call and recruitment of ministers. Congregations should treat with utmost seriousness the calling of qualified persons to the ministry and make provisions to support them in receiving adequate education and preparation
for the vocation of ministry. The tendency to judge a person’s ability before he or she has had adequate time to learn and demonstrate proficiency for ministry should be guarded against. Similarly, one person’s ability or performance should not be compared with another’s in such a way as to disparage the first.

Issues related to the search for and placement of pastors present several ethical considerations.

Denominational polity is to be followed in all searches. 7 Congregations and district executives are to consider the questions of fairness and adequate information to candidates when more than one candidate is being interviewed for a pastoral vacancy at the same time. Confidentiality for the interviewee is very important, especially in cases where the candidate has not resigned from a current position or is not definite about seeking the new position. Pastoral profiles are to be kept in utmost confidentiality by members of search committees. The congregation needs to establish clear understandings with the new staff members as to performance expectations. Those expectations should be equitable.

Congregations have been slow to recognize the ethical issues relating to adequate compensation and benefits for their employees. In regard to pastors and associate pastors, there is a recommended minimum scale maintained and revised by Annual Conference for providing compensation. The scale is a gauge for congregations to measure ethical responsibility in dealing fairly with their pastors. In most cases, abiding by the scale can be assumed to meet the congregation’s duties to the pastor as to compensation. The guidelines for providing medical and life insurance, pension, and other benefits, as recommended by the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Committee, are to be followed as nearly as possible. If congregations find it impossible to meet the scale or to provide benefits, there is an ethical obligation to discuss the reasons and their implications with the pastor and to seek in good faith to take steps toward achieving the recommended scale and benefits as soon as possible.

Another, even more critical issue relates to the emotional and spiritual support of the pastors and other church staff. There should be in place a committee or group that regularly relates to the staff regarding their spiritual, physical, and emotional health and well being. There should also be a regular evaluation of the pastor and the church program that will cite weaknesses and strengths of both staff and congregation. The congregation is to encourage the staff to take adequate vacation and leave time. Sometimes the congregation is too dependent on the staff for functions that members of the congregation could do. Congregations need to work with staff to see that physical and emotional health are not jeopardized by the staff member’s load.

Sometimes congregations are not considerate of the families of their pastors. For example, often a pastor’s spouse is expected to take certain responsibilities in the church, or it is expected that the parsonage is a public meeting place. The privacy of the pastoral family should be respected.

The maintenance of the parsonage is a responsibility that the church sometimes neglects. The congregation needs to have a strategy by which repairs to the parsonage are made swiftly and competently when breakdowns or problems occur. The appropriate congregational committee should develop clear understandings with the pastoral family regarding the monitoring and administration of the parsonage maintenance.

A further consideration of the pastor andfamily relates to their need for an extended family. Pastors’ families often are geographically separated from their relatives.

As holidays are busy times in the life of a congregation, these pastors and their families are often prevented from visiting their own relatives. The congregation has a unique opportunity to become the extended family, providing them with support and friendship that will help them find fulfillment and acceptance. Each of us needs the support of family, or others; the congregation should seek to provide this nurture to the pastor and his/her family.

When it appears that criticisms or other observations of the pastor might adversely affect his or her effectiveness in the church, the executive committee or other appropriate group needs to communicate these concerns to the pastor and provide opportunity for response. Clearly, before conversations are conducted about the possible severance of a pastor, dialog with the pastor is to take place.

Except in cases of blatant misconduct by the pastor, it is unethical for a pastor to be approached with a severance notice without the attempt on the part of the church to engage in such dialog. The Ethics in Ministry Relations paper provides detailed procedures Ethics for for handling matters involving allegations of ethical misconduct.

When it is appropriate for a pastor or other staff member to leave the employment of a congregation, there are several very important concerns. If the separation is amicable, then it is important that the congregation find appropriate ways to express appreciation for the person’s service, as well as recognition of his or her family.

If the separation is not a pleasant one, due to unsatisfactory performance of the employee or circumstances caused by the congregation that led to the person’s resignation, then steps are to be taken to protect the reputation and the peace of both the congregation and the employee. Neither is to take advantage of the other, financially or in any formal or informal evaluations made of each other. There should be an attempt to resolve any and all grievances, taking advantage of the resources of the district or the denomination’s Ministry of Reconciliation to accomplish an amicable separation.

In all cases of severance, adequate notice (as set forth in the Pastoral/Congregational Agreement) is to be given by either the employee or the congregation and severance compensation awarded when appropriate. The district executive is to be consulted early in the separation process and remain involved as appropriate.

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