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Friday, October 01, 2010

Role of Superintendent?

I was a seminary intern in Osage City, Kansas. It was tough going. I made mistakes and was pretty confused. Then one rainy Fall day the Conference Superintendent, Warren Swanson, drove into town to take Martha and me (and Isaac) to dinner in Topeka.
There was one topic on his mind: how are we doing? He asked insightful questions. He listened for a couple of hours as we poured out our frustrations. He offered tender advice. He told us funny stories. And he prayed for us. When he dropped us off than night back at our house, we felt cared for, not alone, and pastored. The Superintendent pastored us.
Fast forward 30 years. I have served churches now in five conferences. Times have changed. Life has increased in speed and demands. We are linked technologically all the time. And the pressure is on pastors to produce, hit markers, manage the budget and staff (for multi-staff churches) and lead the congregation. The question that came up in a couple of phone conversations this week is; who pastors pastors today? Is it the job of the conference Superintendent?
The Northwest Conference of the ECC is now on a search process for a new Superintendent to step in after Jim Fretheim retires. One phrase that I heard is: "Raise funds, cast vision, manage the ministries." I don't know if this is an accurate reflection of the job description, but it does make me wonder, where is the pastoring component? Or is it there any more? Is it the job of the pastor to resource his or her spiritual care? Do the fiscal demands of leading a conference overshadow the spiritual care concerns? As conferences grow in size and complexity, it seems impossible for one person to pastor hundreds of pastors and staff persons.
Places like the Midwinter Conference are excellent resources for pastors to receive care. So also are initiatives like "Sustaining Pastoral Excellence" and "Veritas". I have written about this before, but it comes up again. The economic pressures on denominational leaders and Superintendents can all but squeeze out simple pastoral care if attention is only given to the urgent. I have the luxury of having a church that underwrote the cost of an Executive Coach for me. This is a person I can have unguarded and candid conversations with about leadership demands, stresses and concerns. But is that only open to churches with financial resources?
A good topic for a Covenant Companion piece or Covenant Newswire would be on how the leadership sees this concern.

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