A few months ago, I stood in a room of 30 or so young United Church of Christ clergy. I was there to lead a presentation about call agreements, that document in our church tradition that in other places is better known as a contract: the terms to which minister and ministry setting agree at the beginning of their partnership regarding salary, benefits, time away, and so on.
It was a wonderful conversation, with many good questions and concerns raised throughout the 90 or so minutes that we spent together. In particular, I heard many stories about less-than-ideal circumstances where these clergy had to fight for themselves regarding some disagreement between themselves and the church. These ranged from parsonage maintenance to getting time away to family support to a less-than-ideal collegial relationship between Senior Pastor and Associate Pastor, among other issues.
At one point, I asked the gathering for a show of hands to see how many had a Pastoral Relations Committee in their setting. The room was split about even between those who had one and those who did not. I recall barely holding back my lament on behalf of those who fell into the latter group.
What is a Pastoral Relations Committee, and how does it function? My own team offers this definition:
The purpose of a Pastoral Relations Committee, or PRC (sometimes called PPRC, for Pastor-Parish Relations Committee) is to support the healthy relationship between pastor and congregants in order to promote healthy, faithful, shared ministry. It does this in two primary ways: by serving as an advisory group to the minister, sharing ideas, dreams, expectations, and concerns of the congregation with the pastor; and by serving as a support group for the pastor’s leadership, interpreting roles, functions, boundaries, opportunities, and needs of the pastor to the congregation. PRCs are places to help the minister and the congregation maintain appropriate expectations for the scope of the minister’s work, and for the pastor to be able to test visions and receive support for their continued growth in ministry.
A Pastoral Relations Committee is a group that offers advocacy and support to the pastor, and helps them maintain a healthy relationship with the congregation.
Note what a Pastoral Relations Committee is not:
- The church’s anonymous suggestion or complaint box (there just shouldn’t be one of these)
- The church’s HR department that conducts performance reviews (this should fall to the governing board or an ad hoc group from same)
- The group that determines the pastor’s salary and benefits (ditto)
- The disciplinary arm of the congregation in times of misconduct (don’t do this yourself – call someone from your regional body)
If that room full of clergy was any indication, there exists a decent portion of churches that believe they can function without one, or just don’t know what they are or how to begin.
(And in some sparse cases, a church may have one for the Senior Minister but not the Associate. Every ministry staff person needs and deserves the same support, period.)
A Pastoral Relations Committee that honors its role will help improve the pastor/congregation relationship, increase morale for the pastor knowing that people have their back, and enjoy a better performance of ministry tasks as a result of said morale, among other other possibilities. This group has a unique and necessary calling in the congregation.
The issues mentioned in that room might not have been solved by a faithful Pastoral Relations Committee, but it would have changed the dynamic for the better.
For more thoughts on the role of the Pastoral Relations Committee, read the rest of the article that I quoted.