We've all read about "The Great Resignation" and how in the wake of COVID-19, a lot of people are walking away from their jobs. The Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, the Team Leader for the UCC's MESA (Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization) Team, has made these observations on how the movement may impact the local church and more importantly, how church leaders may be able to avoid it.
Up this morning listening to a report on 1A about how "The Great Resignation" is happening at all levels and across all industries. Some common threads in the stories I heard today included: employers who were unwilling to consider work-from-home at the height of the pandemic even when it was possible, and poor pay. The promise of "job security" that was sold to Xers (and those older) has turned out not to be true. Now, people aren't willing to stay even for health insurance or retirement income - they are turning to freelance, possibly working more hours to make more $$ to cover those costs, or foregoing the retirement income altogether.
We are beginning to see "the Great Resignation" in our churches, and will continue to do so in the future. That may be inevitable, but in the meantime, churches can be attractive employers/calling bodies by: offering extra time away to their pastors this year (and perhaps going forward.....), being generous and flexible with "return to in-person worship" plans, committing to working to pay at or above Conference guidelines, and encouraging their pastors to participate in communities of practice or other practices that will help them grow in ministry in supportive ways.
This website offers several additional resources: https://workwellresearch.org/
Such dramatic turnover is likely to be inevitable (talk to anyone who's worked in disaster relief); but these practices will help ministers now AND in the future. These practices will also help congregations flourish - not just because their ministers are more content, but because the churches themselves are living out a call to generosity in all ways.
And please, please, please, for any “ministry evaluations” or “ministry assessments” that cover the last two years, may I encourage even more gentleness and grace than normal. Very few churches did what they set out to do in this time. Very few clergy met their own expectations for this season, much less the expectations (spoken or unspoken) of their congregation. And remember: no ministry assessment without congregational assessment - it isn’t all on the minister. Be gentle. Start with: We survived, and that is worth celebrating. (Or: we learned we have to close, and we’re doing it faithfully even though it’s hard and we don’t want to.) Continue with: what did we do well? What surprised us? What did we learn? Move to: who and what do we want to be going forward and how can we get there together?
Churches, are you wondering how to do some of this? Here are a few possibilities:
Giving your pastor more time off: this is super easy! You can arrange for a guest preacher (sometimes known as “pulpit supply) - your Association office probably has a list of folk. Perhaps a specialized minister in your area (such as a chaplain, or leader of an ecumenical group) can come to preach and/or speak about their ministry. (In addition to paying for pulpit supply, you might consider making a donation to the organization for which they work!)
Or a lay member of your congregation can preach. Or you can work with another church (locally or not!) to “exchange livestreams” - where y’all are a guest in the virtual service on the Sunday your pastor is away, and where y’all invite that church to join you when their pastor is away. Do try to make it as easy on your pastor as possible to take that time; if someone can help organize that Sunday on your pastor’s behalf, so much the better!
Commit to increasing your pastor’s salary to meet or exceed Conference guidelines: this one is harder and takes a longer-term strategy. But one simple thing your church leadership can do is to ASK people to increase their giving, and share what a difference their gift makes. Many people are not giving at the level of their ability - philanthropists often say that people give at the level of their trust. How can you increase trust in your congregation and tell your church’s story? (The Philanthropy team at the National setting can help!)
Encourage your pastor’s participation in a community of practice: these groups are formal, facilitated clergy groups focused on support AND learning, to help people grow in the practice of ministry. Many groups meet monthly for 2-4 hours, and there is typically a cost to participate. Make sure that option is in the pastor’s call agreement, even if it has to be added. More than half of UCC conferences have these groups (and MESA can help conferences get started!); some ministers form their own groups.
Finally, pray for your pastor’s flourishing. Offer them encouragement where and when you can. Consider whether your criticism is truly necessary at the moment you want to offer it.
Pray some more.
Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, Team Leader, MESA