Grace and Peace Magazine recently asked Rowell, “What changes have you made as a superintendent in light of your study on ministry attrition?”
Jeren Rowell: Perhaps the most essential change is not a change of strategy but a change of thinking. My study revealed that while most pastors do not consult with their district superintendent when they are thinking of leaving ministry (mostly because of trust issues), they nevertheless desire the pastoral care of their overseer when going through this kind of tumultuous time. Therefore, I am thinking of superintendency far less in terms of management and administration, and more in terms of pastoral care and teaching. In the study, pastors identified four key things that they desire from their superintendent, and I have been working to build effective capacity in each of these areas.
COMMUNICATION is the most desired component and includes the idea that communication is regular, is initiated by the superintendent, and is motivated by a concern for the pastor rather than the promotion of the organization’s agenda. Among the ways I am seeking to enhance this capacity is by learning how to maximize technology and social media. However, nothing replaces face-to-face conversations; so, I am giving more time and energy to these opportunities.
TRUST is significantly related to communication and has to do with whether the pastor feels that he or she enjoys the support of the superintendent. This is first a relational concern, but it is also an institutional concern, in terms of fear of negative consequences, if a pastor were to reveal areas of personal struggle. I find this trust best built over time, as a superintendent proves herself/himself to be trustworthy in these ways with each pastor. These successful episodes then work their way into the narrative of the district culture.
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT Assistance or intervention in conflict is the third key thing that pastors desire from superintendents. However, what pastors seem to need at this point more than solutions or policy application is the pastoral presence of one who understands what these kinds of experiences mean for pastor, family, and congregation. Although superintendents are responsible to congregations as well as pastors, the tensions that sometimes arise in this relationship provide opportunity for overseers to do significant pastoral work in terms of teaching congregational leaders what pastor really means from the perspective of a biblical pastoral theology. Too often, laypersons view the pastoral office mostly in terms of an organizational function. Even worse, congregations often assume that they have “hired” a pastor and therefore the pastor is an employee of the church. Legal definitions aside, this is a dangerous mindset for a people who are called to submit to the spiritual authority, not of a particular individual, but of the pastoral office (see Hebrews 13:17, for example). Superintendents have an obligation to teach the church at this point, binding our functional understandings of pastor to a biblical understanding of pastor as a reflection of the offices of Christ. I have become far more proactive and confrontive on this point as a result of my study.
Fourth, the thread of RESOURCING is a repeated theme from pastors in what they desire from superintendents. This has to do with pastors desiring opportunities for continuing education and mentoring or coaching that is initiated and enabled by leadership. Therefore, I continue to work hard, along with district staff, to provide renewal strategies such as continuing education days, the planning and execution of retreats, the connection of pastors to renewal ministries and retreats for individual or family use, and the promotion and assistance for times of sabbatical leave for pastors and their families.
Jeren Rowell serves as the superintendent of the Kansas City District