Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale

In the past most congregations’ attempts to demoralize their ordained leadership have been haphazard and ad hoc, although still surprisingly effective. In the interest of bringing more rigorous and systematic approaches to these efforts here are some of my modest proposals:

1. Schedule a weekly meeting for your pastor to sit down with the treasurer (or, better yet, the assistant treasurer) to “go over” every business expense. Be sure to inquire if certain expenses are legitimate, such as the purchase of a Marilynne Robinson or Gail Godwin novel from the pastor’s book allowance (“Should we really be paying for your chick-lit?”) Or a long-distance call to a neighboring pastor friend from seminary. Do such expenses really profit the church? And what about this big expense for 14 volumes by this Barth guy? Do you really need all of these? And his title sounds so, well, dogmatic!

2. Plan a regular talk-back session after worship so that members can query the pastor about her sermon, or the worship service, or about anything else, for that matter. It is always good to question why the pastor chose scripture lessons that are so negative, referring to such old fashioned concepts as sin, unrighteousness and repentance. Suggest more uplifting themes in the future. “And, by the way, why don’t we ever sing Christmas carols in Advent?”

3. Make sure to have an annual customer satisfaction survey where every member of the congregation fills out an anonymous questionnaire about their views of the pastor’s performance during the previous year. Make sure all the negative (or ambiguous) comments are read aloud at several meetings, and publish them without attribution in the church newsletter.

4. Vote to hold all meetings in the living room of the parsonage during the winter as a way to save money on heat, but be sure to pitch the idea as good stewardship of God’s creation so your pastor will feel too guilty to protest.

5. Cut the mission budget to balance the budget. Better yet, ask your pastor to choose between a raise in salary or an increase in the mission budget. This would be a good subject for an extended conversation at a congregational meeting. You can never talk too much about clergy compensation at a congregational meeting.

6. Set up a pastoral oversight committee to regularly monitor the pastor’s performance. Focus attention on any negative (or ambiguous) comments from the questionnaire (see # 3). Make sure to put into place measurable metrics and target goals for new members received and money raised. Hourly work logs are always effective as well.

7. Whenever your pastor goes away and returns from denominational meetings or continuing education events never miss an opportunity to ask, “How was your vacation?”

8. Make sure the pastor is made aware of the two biggest complaints, namely, that he is never in the office, and he doesn’t make enough home visits. That the two cannot both be true will not diminish their use as morale crushers.

9. Tell the pastor that there are anonymous complaints that a. your sermons are too long; b. your voice is too soft to be heard (especially by the deaf); c. your spouse is not involved enough (or too involved) in the life of the congregation; d. your child shouldn’t have been given the lead in the Christmas pageant; e. your lawn needs mowing; and f. you were seen in shorts at the supermarket. This is just a sample list. Use your imagination.

10. Constantly compare your pastor to his long-tenured saintly predecessor, with special attention made to his never asking for a raise for himself or his staff.

If your pastor balks at any of these attempts, just mutter words such as “accountability,” “transparency,” “standards,” or “professionalism. Pastors are loath to appear to be against any of these concepts so cherished by the managerial class.

(Picture:  “The Scream” by Edvard Munch)

30 thoughts on “Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale

  1. >My dear Wormwood, I see that you have hit upon an approach that will not only incline a pastor to turn away from the Enemy and towards our Lord below, but even better, that will protect several church members from ever falling into the disastrous habit of trusting others in the name of the Enemy. Well done! I look forward to hearing how this progresses.Your affectionate uncle,Screwtape

  2. >Richard – this is priceless! It's definitely getting linked to my FB page … and I'm seriously considering sending a link to my vestry (Episcopal governing board) in advance of our scheduled "mutual ministry review" (which, of course, are never mutual).

  3. >OMG… Dianne and I are still laughing out loud – and weeping – because these are ALL greater than great. I am linking this, my friend, and celebrating it, too. Many thanks!

  4. >@ Mike Crowl: My experience of the Church suggests that being appalled by the all-too-close-to-home Truths published here is something to which the Church is often immune.Frank CrumbaughRector, The Episcopal Church of The Holy Innocents Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, New Jersey110022993388C@gmail.com

  5. >WRT #6 – I used to keep a weekly log (admittedly, not granular to the hour), which tracked what I did each day. It also served as the means of tracking my mileage in a rural, multi-point parish. (Had I been incumbent over the same amoount of territory in England, I'd have been the Archbishop of York.)Early on, the parish asked me to stop turning these in at the parish council meetings. I later discovered that it wasn't because they trusted me, but that they preferred there be no documentation to support my cliamed mileage – allowing them to insinuate that the claims were inflated.Unfortunately for them, I had kept on with the logs, and was able to turn in the lot at a particularly heated parish council meeting. Since the allegation had been written in a letter to the bishop, I was advised that I probably could have won a lawsuit for slander and libel.

  6. >I am presently engaged in experiencing many of the things you have listed. I would add one more to the list as well. When the pastor knows that something is not right, asks about it and is told that everything is fine. BTW I used to live in a Pittsfield, only in Illinois not Massachusetts. It was proclaimed as the Pork Capital of the World.

  7. >This are hilarious, if only because they are so sadly true. I am blessed to serve a congregation that does not afflict me with any of the above on a regular basis, but I am sharing this via FB for those who are so afflicted.

  8. >Thank you for reminding me why I should not ever, ever leave my current parish, where no one has ever used any of these techniques (although Lord knows I've been the target of them in the past!). I fear they've spoiled me for anywhere else. Please don't hate me, colleagues! I'm grateful every day!

  9. I would send this to my vestry (governing board) but for the fact that they might think I was being serious. (Actually, they’re not bad. But there are several members of my congregation who are past masters at several of these activities.)

  10. My husband’s church actually spent money to keep us from going on a choir trip to NYC. He’s a good singer and was begged to go by the choir director. After much cajoling, he finally agreed to go. He went to rehearsals for months and learned all the music. On the eve of the trip, the church finance committee convinced everyone that he was (gasp!) trying to use his continuing ed budget (which contractually he can use as he wishes) to go on vacation! We had already paid money out of our own pockets because I was going at our expense. Plus his deposit was already paid out of his continuing ed budget. Solution? The finance committee spent $1,200 to cover all the non-refundable deposits.

  11. I’ve been very fortunate that over thirty plus years and three full-time parishes, I was faced with very little of this! Mostly love and support! But I have heard stories from colleagues!

  12. Like “forthesomedaybook” above, I’m currently serving a wonderful congregation who would never do these things, but from experience I can add one – write a three page single-spaced letter to the denominational judicatory to explain why you are resigning your membership and all your adult children are also resigning because of the horrible way they have been mistreated. Do this after you and all of them receive your annual membership review letter that asks (again) whether you have any interest whatsoever in remaining on the rolls. Be sure not to respond to that letter, for at least three years. Also, make sure none of those adult children of yours have set foot on the property for the last five or six years. Make up some stories about how horrible the pastor is for doing this, even though the letter comes from the Membership Committee and follows the rules of your denomination’s constitution. Oh, and then make sure you go to the next board meeting where you verbally attack your pastor in front of the whole board and some visiting leaders from said judicatory.

  13. 10. Constantly compare your pastor to his long-tenured saintly predecessor, with special attention made to his never asking for a raise for himself or his staff.

    Q. How many parishioners does it take to change a light bulb?

    A. When the old rector was here, the light bulbs weren’t always burning out!

    • Hi Christine. The post is satire. Each “strategy” is at least partly based on my 40 years experience as a pastor (or that of a colleague.) Some of the situations are sad. But I love the church. I also love my family, but that doesn’t mean I can’t poke fun at both. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Pingback: Wired Jesus Podcast » Blog Archive » Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale | When I Survey . . .

    • I’m glad you recognized it as satire. Some readers have taken offense that my post is cruel or mean. Each one of these “strategies” is at least partly based on my 40 years experience as a pastor.

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