Matt Bloom, principal investigator for the Flourishing in Ministry research initiative, says a good fit between pastor and congregation is essential for pastoral effectiveness and well-being. His research suggests clergy thrive when there is alignment between the job responsibilities and the pastor’s skills, a match between the values of the pastor and those of the church, and when the position satisfies the pastor’s personal and family needs.
Researchers have long emphasized that a good “fit” or alignment between people and their work environment is necessary for them to perform well and be satisfied in their work. This is true for pastors, as well. In broad terms, pastor-ministry alignment refers to the compatibility between a pastor and the ministry context in which the pastor serves. There are several important kinds of pastor-ministry alignments, and our research results consistently show that each form of alignment is a crucial factor in daily well-being and ministry effectiveness.
1. Competencies-Duties Alignment
The first is competencies-duties alignment, which refers to whether a pastor has the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience needed to undertake the duties of the particular role the pastor currently fills. Can the pastor preach in the specific style that works best at his or her current church? Does the pastor have the capacity to lead the other pastors, staff, and volunteers at his or her church? Is the pastor skillful in providing the kinds of pastoral care needed by the members of his or her church? Is the pastor skilled at managing the unique outreach programs that are a central part of the ministry of his or her church? Clearly, then, in addition to being important for clergy wellbeing, good competencies-duties alignment is essential for pastoral effectiveness.
The importance of competencies-duties alignment for both pastoral wellbeing and ministry effectiveness also points to the importance of having very effective ways to select or appoint pastors to ministry roles. Again, experience with the appointment/call processes used by several different denomination indicates that there is significant room for improvement. One major area for improvement would be to have lay leaders and judicatory leaders (an outside perspective would be crucially important) conduct a candid and comprehensive assessment of the church’s ministry strengths and weaknesses, as well as the church’s ministry hopes and aspirations. This assessment could be augmented by an assessment of the competencies available among the members. Similarly, pastors should do a candid assessment of their own competencies. An outsider’s assessment of pastoral competencies would also be important. A much better match could be made with this kind of information about both the church and the pastor. Competencies-duties alignment would be higher, pastors would be more effective, and they would be more likely to flourish.
2. Needs-Supplies Alignment
Needs-supplies is a second form of alignment that refers to the degree to which a particular pastoral role supplies the resources required to meet the needs of a pastor and the pastor’s family. Does the church provide appropriate professional development opportunities for the pastor? Are the compensation and benefits adequate? Does the local church provide sufficient time away from work for the pastor? Are work duties scheduled in a way that is sensitive to the pastor’s family life? Needs-supplies alignment is often overlooked. Pastors are reluctant to raise concerns with lay leaders when there is misalignment between needs and supplies. Lay leaders may also be reluctant to raise concerns, especially if the church has limited resources. The worst situations are those in which the local church is insensitive or antagonistic to the needs of the pastor and their families. We have heard stories of pastors being required to live in parsonages ravaged by mold or without working bathrooms. We have also heard stories of churches spending money on favorite ministry programs instead of providing adequate pay and benefits for their pastors.
If local church leaders do not respond, pastors may experience a compromised sense of respect and care from their church members. Pastoral effectiveness can be diminished as financial worries and work stressors build. Poor needs-supplies alignment can spill over to life outside of ministry. It is a source of work-family strain and can be a potent source of marital stress between pastor and spouse.
3. Values Alignment
The match among a pastor’s core life values, religious beliefs, and fundamental orientation to ministry and those of the church the pastor is serving is values alignment. Another way of thinking about values alignment is the degree to which a pastor’s theology is similar to the theology of the local church the pastor leads. I use the term “theology” here to mean the deep convictions that a pastor holds about what it means to be a Christian, what kind of life Christians are called to lead, and the role that a local church is called to fill in the world. Churches also have their own theologies about what it means to be a Christian, live a Christian life, and be a church that fulfills God’s will.
What matters for values alignment is what one pastor referred to as “where the heart and soul of ministry is …. [Do] the church and I agree about what are the most important things for us, as Christians and as this church, to do in the world?” Values misalignment matters because it is a disagreement about issues of fundamental importance. Values misalignment requires either that a pastor compromise his or her identity or engage in the difficult work of trying to change the theology of a church.
At this point in time, our research clearly shows that all three forms of alignment are essential for both pastoral effectiveness and wellbeing. When good alignment forms, it is because the pastor and lay leaders have worked together to create a pastoral role that is right for both a pastor and a particular church. Our research has already yielded some important insights into how pastors can create better alignment through a process that researchers refer to as “job crafting.” Job crafting refers to actions pastors take to change the tasks and activities, social interactions, and work style of the pastoral role they are trying to fill. Activities such as preaching, leading worship, pastoral care and teaching are core features. But pastors are able to create better alignment when they “personalize” these core features. And pastors who achieved the best alignment went further in crafting their pastoral role.
This material is excerpted from Flourishing in Ministry: How to Cultivate Clergy Wellbeing (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) by Matt Bloom. The book is available at Amazon. Used By permission.
- “What Promotes Clergy Wellbeing and Why it Matters,” a Leading Ideas Talks podcast episode featuring Matt Bloom
- 4 Practices to Help Prevent Clergy Burnout by Matt Bloom And Kim Bloom
- The Myth of Balance by Karoline M. Lewis