The Pastor’s Personal Life: Ordained Ministry Q&A

The Pastor’s Personal Life: Ordained Ministry Q&A

by Thomas McKenzie with Tish Harrison Warren.

This series is an ongoing Q&A between about ordained ministry.  The introduction is here.  Here is a link to all of the series as it rolls out.

Tish Warren: Should a pastor talk about his/her financial life or sex life or marital struggles publicly ever?

familywalkThomas McKenzie: I think you can talk about struggles, but you should be fairly general. I think it’s OK to tweet “my transmission went out, and the $ is stressing me out!” That is fair, that is human. It isn’t fair to get up on Sunday and say “hey church, I could really use help with my car, anyone want to send in a love offering?”  Sex? Even more so. “I love my wife and we have a great relationship” or “my husband and I sometimes struggle to make sure our needs are met” are good, human, general statements. Specific sex statements? No way. That’s just inappropriate for anyone to do in public.

Pastoral leadership requires weakness. Real weakness, including the confession of real sin. However, pastoral leadership does not ask the congregation or the public to care for your deepest emotional hurts. The congregation is not your friend or your therapist. It can be a weird line to walk, and you’ll probably screw it up. That’s OK.

Tish Warren: I’ve heard from some clergy say that you can’t or shouldn’t be close friends with parishioners. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

Thomas McKenzie: My three best friends go to our church. However, they became my friends first, we were friends for years, and then they started coming to our church. So far, it has worked out very well. On the other hand, my wife and I lost a friendship with a couple that was very close to us. This couple was part of our church, and I think that church issues fed the breakdown.

Clergy often don’t have any venue besides church for making friends. That’s because clergy can be myopic workaholics.  If they don’t have another venue, that’s their own fault. They need to get a hobby, a sport, join a club, something. Clergy should make friends outside of the congregation.

But, we will also make friends inside the congregation. And that’s fine, too. Just know that you might get hurt. Three things will tear a friendship apart: money, politics, and religion. At least one of those is unavoidable with your church friends. So, be careful. Always remember that power will factor into any relationship that starts out as pastor/parishioner.

Tish Warren: Can pastors be friends with people of the opposite sex? How have you and your wife decided what your boundaries will be for meeting with parishioners of the opposite sex or staff of the opposite sex?  Why have you set those particular boundaries?

Thomas McKenzie: It is hard for married people to have friends of the opposite sex. When they do have friends of the opposite sex, they need to be very careful. There need to be good boundaries in place. There are subjects that should be avoided. There is a level of intimacy that is simply not appropriate. This is true of clergy, just like anyone else.

In my case, I keep meetings with members of the opposite sex quite professional. They occur in my office, which has a nice window in the door. I don’t do on-going counseling or spiritual direction with members of the opposite sex.  Of course, sometimes pastoral situations do not allow for this. If someone is homebound, in a hospital, in hospice, etc. I certainly will see them on an ongoing basis, and I won’t make them come to my office.

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