One of the best metaphors relating to life as a pastor is one I first heard from a state convention staffer. He told a story about a pastor and said that every pastor has a bank account of goodwill and that a wise pastor will conserve what he starts with and add to it as often as possible. Sadly, the story was about a pastor who in one fell swoop completely emptied his account.
The more common metaphor used of a pastor newly arrived on a new church field is that of a honeymoon. Maybe six months or a year and it’s over. Perhaps sooner.
We live in a time when churches no longer give pastors a long honeymoon or a large bank account of goodwill upon which to draw. This is just my conjecture but respect for clergy has dropped considerably since my first church honeymoon/bank account in February of 1982.
When I arrived at my first church on a warm February day in 1982, a few members of the rural South Carolina congregation were present at their parsonage to greet me, my wife, and the moving truck. One of the members took great joy in showing me the small walk-in pantry in the house. It was already stocked with food because the church had a “pounding,” one of those simple, old-fashioned things that communicate love, affection, and appreciation of a church for their pastor and his family. I was impressed. Most impressive was the shelf that was sagging under the weight of about one hundred pounds of sugar. Thus, I was introduced to the caloric challenges of being the pastor of a Southern Baptist church. The pantry was a tangible example of the goodwill that the church had towards their new, young, inexperienced, and for the most part, unknown pastor. It was quite some time before we had to buy sugar and a lot of other things.
Along with the surfeit of sugar, I was given a considerable bank account of goodwill. Over the period of about four years I made some withdrawals by doing a few really dumb things. Some of these were because I was inexperienced. Some were because I was stubborn. Some were because I was dumb as a stump about some pastoral things.
But I made small deposits of goodwill by being faithful to love serve the Lord and the church. I ended my tenure at that church and cashed my goodwill account in for an annuity with many of the folks there that is still paying in the form of love and friendship.
Has the day passed when a new pastor arrives and there is already stored up for him a bank account of goodwill with the congregation, an intangible sum of credits that he has not earned but that he has to spend in the months and years ahead as he serves the church, builds relationships with leaders and members, and has successes and failures in doing so? I hope not.
Seems like there been a subtle, sometimes not so subtle, shift in the attitude of a congregation towards a new pastor in that the expectations are higher from the get-go and the tolerance for mistakes and stumbles is much lower than in the past. I surmise that better pay is part of the reason and a general erosion of respect for the pastor is another.
I’m occasionally in a position where laypeople talk to me about their church and pastor. Absent disqualifying sins, abject laziness, or serious irresponsibility, I advise patience. Let the pastor have some goodwill. If he draws it down a bit, that’s what it’s there for. Give him a chance to restore the balances. Help him. Work with him. Pray for him.
And I’m curious. Do churches still try and put their pastor on the road to adult onset diabetes by giving him a pantry full of sugar?