After researching the experiences of women in ministry, Amy Zimbelman argues that the best gift many congregations can give to their pastor this Pastor Appreciation Month is support through a Pastor-Congregation Relations Teams or Committees (PCRC).
This blog is in celebration of Pastor Appreciation Month.
Amy Zimbelman is the conference minister of Mountain States Mennonite Conference. She holds a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School, and has also served in Zambia through Mennonite Central Committee and in South Dakota with Mennonite Voluntary Service. In South Dakota, she met her husband/best friend, Matt Zimbelman, and they live in Colorado Springs and have two young sons. She loves spending time with her family, cooking/eating food, board gaming with friends, going outside to walk or hike, learning about other cultures, hashing things out in long conversations and trying to follow Jesus.
What your pastor could really use this Pastor Appreciation Month
October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and your church may be wondering how best to honor the minister who has everything. Are gift cards overdone or always in style? Would your pastor prefer a sentimental scrapbook, some RAWtools bling, a night out with dinner and a movie, or all of the above?
I recently completed a study on the experiences of women in ministry across the country within Mennonite Church USA, and through that research, I may have discovered the perfect gift for your pastor. It doesn’t fit in a gift bag, and it isn’t easy to present during a service, but it could change your pastor’s experience in ministry for the better. This Pastor Appreciation Month, consider giving your pastor the gift of strengthened support structures, and more specifically, an attentive and competent Pastor-Congregation Relations Team or Committee (PCRC) — perhaps with its own financial advocate.
The shape of support
Our research study asked MC USA pastors throughout the U.S. about their congregation’s liaison or PCRC, and about 36% of women and 42% of men reported that they do not have one at all. Many pastors went on to share, in one-on-one interviews, that the only support systems they had were the ones they created themselves. One participant said: “The support I got was what I put into place.” Another shared, “There’s not, and there never has been, [a formal support system] in any of the churches I’ve ever been a part of.” Others expressed similar sentiments.
But what does a PCRC do, exactly? Supportive PCRCs can take various important roles, from being a sounding board for the pastor, to helping protect a pastor from an antagonist in the congregation, to hearing out congregants’ frustrations and determining which ones should be followed up on, to ensuring that MC USA’s most updated guidelines for pastoral financial compensation are followed, including family leave, hours worked per week, etc.
PCRC members can also take more specialized roles, depending on the pastor’s needs.
One study participant shared about the role of a financial advocate. Because the process of negotiating salary and benefits can be surprisingly stressful for both a pastor and congregational leaders, and pastors may not want to disclose everything about their financial or health insurance situations to an entire group of church leaders, the participant described how a financial advocate helped mitigate some of her stress:
“Each pastor picked someone to be their advocate, and that person negotiated [their] salary package for [them] … It’s hard when you’re first starting; you don’t know anyone in the church,” so having an advocate “means you’ll only tell one person what your financial needs are. Then they go and see what they can get for you.”
But does a PCRC make a difference, overall? Our data suggests that it makes a significant difference for women in ministry. Clergywomen lacking liaisons or PCRCs reported, on average, double the incidents of harm in any given year. In other words, if we were to randomly choose a woman from each group — those with PCRCs and those without — the one with a PCRC would report, on average, having experienced around one form of harm over the course of the past 12 months, while the one without a PCRC would report about two forms of harm. This correlation was significant, even when other job-related factors, such as job title, hours, credentialing and contracts, were taken into account.
While this does not prove that PCRCs directly prevent harm — though that is possible — the correlation suggests that there is a relationship between having a PCRC and experiencing less harm. It could be that churches with PCRCs are the types of churches already looking out for their pastors or that pastors who have somewhere to go to report minor situations find they never get to the level of harassment or abuse. Regardless of the exact reasons, PCRCs are correlated with beneficial outcomes for female pastors.
And when we put this reduction of harm into context, we find that it’s vitally important that churches do all they can to provide workplace protections for the vulnerable profession of pastoring, especially if they’re hoping to employ their pastor long term. Unfortunately, pastors experience harm in their workplaces at high rates. Our study found that almost 16% of women and about 5% of men report being sexually harassed in their role as MC USA pastors, over the course of their careers. An additional 12.8% of women and about 2% of men report being unsure whether they have been sexually harassed. Even with the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, levels of sexual harassment in the workplace have remained similar to the study conducted in 2005 in MC USA and MC Canada, in which 17.6% of women and 6.3% of men reported this type of mistreatment.
So this Pastor Appreciation Month, if your congregation doesn’t have a PCRC, consider forming one. If you do have a PCRC, consider strengthening it — by including something like a financial advocate, perhaps?.
That support is likely to make a difference in your pastor’s life this year, and, who knows, it might be just the thing that enables your pastor to stick around for more Pastor Appreciation Months in the years to come.
Resources for forming a Pastor-Congregation Relations Committee can be found here.
More information on the study by Amy Zimbelman and Elizabeth Johnson on Women in Ministry can be found on MC USA’s Women in Leadership page, here.
 Harm was defined broadly in the study, including everything from unwanted comments on appearance, to bullying messages, to assault, etc.
 These findings are being reported only in terms of men and women, because there are too few non-binary or gender-nonconforming clergy in our sample to report about their experiences while maintaining confidentiality.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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