At times, pastors play the role of parent—perhaps too much.
All pastors at times play the role of parent to people in need who, like children, cry out for specific direction and counsel. Like parents, pastors are expected to be strong, forceful, and invincible. Their word is absolute. How comforting it is to a person in crisis to know he need not search for his own answers but simply turn to his spiritual parent, who will happily tell him what to do.
What could possibly be wrong with the parental pastor role? What could the temptations be of such a ministry?
Simply stated, the greatest temptation for parental pastors is the same one parents have—to live off rather than with those who ask them for help. Parents live off children when they refuse to allow children to grow up. One often sees parents who cling grimly to parental power long after it is appropriate. Though Johnny is now in his thirties with children of his own, his parents simply will not admit he is an adult who should be dealt with on an adult level. “When I was your age,” his dad says, “I went through exactly what you’re going through. Let me tell you what you should do.”
Parents (and pastors) create two problems for their children (parishioners) when they hang on to parental power. First, they often succeed in delaying the time when they will have to let that power go and their children (parishioners) will have to deal with the world as it really is. Second, they keep their children (parishioners) safe from the risk of engaging in authentic relationships with equals, stifling growth.
It is difficult to see parental excess in one’s own pastoral style. A short checklist might help the pastor assess his personal style:
• How many people in the congregation call me ...1
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