Friday, September 07, 2007

Pastoral Visits – the Changing Landscape of Ministry (Part 4)

Dahlia of the day: Colorado Pixie.

A visit to the principal’s office.

Years ago I worked in the woods—setting chokers for a logging operation. Logging is a dangerous job that helped pay for my college education. (believe it or not, eye ar edgukated) The logging company was owned by two brothers who had very different motivational styles. One brother (Forrest) led by encouragement, care compassion. The other brother (Teen) led by jumping on your back, cussing at you and making you feel as though you weren’t working hard enough. When Teen was around the crew felt as though we had done something wrong and sent to the principal’s office (sorry Glenn).

Not so many years ago I was the Chaplain at a Presbyterian-related college. The Chaplain’s “normal” duties were to teach half time and be the campus pastor half time. The education part of the college was divided into various “divisions.” The division chair would periodically drop in on a class to evaluate the instructors. These “drop ins” were worrisome for some of the professors. Some professors would alter their teaching method when the “boss” was in the room. Others lived in fear that their advancement up the division “food chain” could be negatively impacted by a poor performance in the presence of the boss.

A visit by the pastor can be interpreted in various ways by congregants. A visit by the pastor can lead a church attendee to wonder, “What have I done wrong?” It is like being sent to the principal’s office. Do you know what the main difference is between “principle” and “principal”? Answer: the “principal” is your pal! Church attendees need to be taught that a visit by the pastor does not mean that they have done something wrong. The pastor can be your pal.

Neutral ground: a safe place.

I have come to value the “coffee shop” as a vital tool for my ministry. To invite people to my office is like inviting them to the principal’s office. To go to their house is like having the principal (or division head) stop by the classroom to evaluate your performance. The home visit causes people to wonder if the house is clean enough or if the yard looks good enough. Both the office and home visit have draw backs. Add to that the issues of the prevention of clergy sexual misconduct and, all of a sudden, neutral ground becomes a viable ministry tool.

Meeting at a coffee shop implies that the visit will last the length of time of a cup of coffee. Everyone has time for a cup of coffee! It is a short enough period of time so as to not have a major impact on a person’s day.

Meeting at a coffee shop implies that the person hasn’t done “anything wrong.” The pastor isn’t going to jump down a person throat in a public setting—like a coffee shop.

Meeting at a coffee shop is “public” enough to keep the meeting at a non-sexual level. Let word slip out as to what coffee shop you use. People from my congregation run into me at The Oasis (note: those are my dahlia’s you see on the counter) J My inviting someone to The Oasis sends a totally different message than my inviting them to Applebee’s.

Many of our church’s older members have never been to a coffee shop before. They might think that it would be fun to be invited to meet at a coffee shop with the pastor—especially if they know that the pastor is expecting to buy! Casual. Non-threatening. Safe.


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