Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Clergy: Beware of Parish Profiles

The other day I was looking at the positions open that were listed on the Episcopal News Service website.  I decided to take a look at one particular parish profile to see if I could discover something about the parish that might be interesting if I were still in the business of looking for a job.  I found a parish in a Southwestern Diocese that met that requirement.

From the November financial report of the parish, I estimated an annual budget of $313,500.00.  They have a mortgage of $439,771.00 and endowments of $981,529.00.  They had cash on hand of $84,891.00.  I thought that this was a pretty stable financial picture and I found myself wishing that all my parishes had that kind of a cash balance when I was serving full time as a parish priest.

237 communicants were eligible for the survey.  In addition to the Rector, there are 8 staff members, no clergy assistance, which tells me that the new Rector should have staff management skills.  There is a Saturday evening service with contemporary music, an early and late Sunday service, the latter of which is a traditional choral Eucharist.  The parish has two cursillo reunion groups and multiple bible study and prayer groups.  So this is probably a "renewal" parish.  On the surface it looks like a pretty good job; possibly well paying for one priest, but I found a distinct issue in the profile that needs addressing up front.

The profile repeatedly mentioned that they wanted the new Rector to attend all functions in the parish.  At the same time they want a spiritual leader, a person active in the community, be energetic, focus on growth and encourage parish-wide outreach to the community.  69% of those completing the profile would welcome visits from the clergy and 40% reported that the parish provides adequate pastoral care.  Naturally they want great sermons, a priest who ministers to all people and provides counsel to those with spiritual needs.  They want their new Rector to love and care for the parish, grow the parish by being active in the community, to foster growth in the parish and "provide guidance for and be a lighthouse to the parish."

Per the norm, the parish profile tells us a lot about what they didn't like about the former Rector.  Most parishes say that they want someone unlike the priest they had before.  It looks like the former Rector may have been a bit of a recluse because they emphasized the point that the new Rector should attend all church functions and be active in the community.

Herein lies the problem.  As written in the profile, this is an impossible job.  I look at the parish calendar and I found 90 parish events during the month of November, including worship services.  Is the new Rector to attend all of them?  This is what the profile says.  There were 20 liturgies during the month of November.  Who is supposed to plan all of them and do them well?  The new Rector of course.  In addition to all that, the new Rector is supposed to be active in the community, foster evangelism and church growth, and preach great sermons.  Where is the new Rector going to find the time to do all of this?  This profile is a trap and the job is impossible if you believe the profile.

Any Rector, with or without a family, is going to have a very tricky time management problem.  How do you take time off, be involved with family and friends, and do everything the profile expects you to do?  The profile reads like this parish has a boundary problem and wants to consume the new Rector into a whirlpool in which the priest is swallowed up and sucked dry.

The job probably pays pretty well and the parish probably has solid lay leadership.  It is an interview that I would probably accept if I were looking for a job.  But I would be prepared to ask pertinent questions that speak to the issues of boundaries and job expectations.  When it comes to discussing a contract, I would insist on clear and definite expectations and provisions for time off from the job. I would ask them to prioritize their expectations.  I would ask them how they would expect me to attend 90 parish functions, plan and preach excellent sermons, provide pastoral care, visit the sick and shut-in, make parish calls and plan and develop education programs, foster evangelism and outreach to the community.  If I were to be called as Rector, I might say no and tell them why.  The parish wants a priest who will allow him or herself to be drawn into a vice and squeezed to death.  Anyone who takes this job without setting solid boundaries is bound to burn out and have other personal relationship issues.  Buyer beware.


  1. Bob, I hope your essay gets broad readership by lay and clergy because, as you, others of our age, skill and experience levels know, this is a trap and a common one at that. Probably a real interim clergy needs to be in this place for a year to sort out what this profile actually says about the parish life and culture.

  2. Bob, your caution that “Buyer beware” is excellent advice for any Rector or would-be-Rector who believes God is directing a move or new calling in the year ahead. Two truths are very obvious in the Parish Profile you examined. First, the Parish was not served by a competent trained Interim. Experienced Interims guide congregations through five developmental tasks. The first is “Coming to Terms with History” and as you point out, the profile exposes a number of problems being carried over from a previous Rector. The fact that these issues are so apparent is evidence of not being resolved. The second task of an experienced Interim is to help the Parish “Discover a New Identity” which is not being just the opposite of the past; and, not so unrealistic that a new Rector is destined to fail. Moving on: we all know that a vacant Parish is guided by the Bishop or one of the Diocesan Staff before they go public seeking a new Rector. Therefore, the second truth is that the Diocese failed in the consulting role.

  3. Robert,
    Terrific article to equip clergy looking for the right church to invest their lives. Most every parish wants to present themselves as the ideal place to come and worship and most every candidate presents themselves as the ideal leader. It resembles marriage very much and courtships are restrained to only a few touches, that is interviews. I believe the ingredients of patience and truthfulness up front are essential to building trust. Two questions I always liked to ask were, "What do you want to be when you grow up" (what is their vision) and, "what's keeping you from getting there? " Do they have debt? Do they want to become a program sized parish or remain pastoral? What have been the instances of debate and schism? How do they view the Clergy? Ask as many questions as you can because once the ring goes on the finger, you're married. And, oh yes, a Vestry and Bishop these days rarely hesitate to divorce the Clergy for whatever reason. We need to rekindle the romance once again and through love and prayer it is achievable.

  4. Bob- I think you have been out of the game too long. With the internet it is easy to do more in depth research into the community, look at newsletters, see past info, etc. No active clergy would rely only on the dating profile from the national church and the same goes for a search team. I'm sure there was much more nuance. I really think you are projecting your own leadership style which I understood was one of micromanagement and over functioning.

  5. Anonymous – the comment concerning the need to consider all data is sound. Taking a stab at the author, “I really think you are projecting your own leadership style which I understood was one of micromanagement and over functioning” suggests a personal animosity which undermines the value of your insight.

  6. Bob, just had to make a quick comment here. As one of your previous parishioners, I never experienced you as a micromanager or over functioning. While one could use community research or newsletters, it has been my experience that the church newsletter typically is written in a "positive voice", much as a parish profile is written. I agree that in depth questions are good, as is meeting many from the parish, and listening intently with your ears and your heart.