I would wager that there are more than a few assistant and associate clergy out there who would not be eager to recognize October 16 as National Boss Day. Honestly, I can understand why, given some of the stories I hear: the head pastor who does all the weddings, baptisms, or funerals himself; the rector who agrees to the standard amount of vacation time for the assistant and then does not allow said assistant to take said time; the head of staff who just can’t help but micromanage her very able assistant.
Strangely, these very same ordained leaders are often beloved by their congregations, to the point where I sometimes find myself asking if the desired skills to be the ordained leader in a larger congregation are not compatible with the skills to be a good supervisor for a new pastor. These stories (all true, by the way) are made even more jarring by the commonly accepted fact that one’s first experience in parish ministry has a great impact as to whether or not one actually stays in parish ministry.
I can’t claim any of the above as my stories. I happen to have a great supervisor. Meet Bob.
Bob’s my dad’s age, but he’s somehow managed to treat me like a colleague. We’ve turned out to be a pretty good team thus far.
Part of Bob’s supervisory style is probably due to his experience. In his first call as a Franciscan, Bob had a good mentor, a man with whom he is still in touch, who made him want to give his associate the gift of a good first call. Furthermore, from what I understand, during his Franciscan years Bob was moved to different positions, sometimes as part of a larger staff, sometimes as part of a smaller one, in no particular order. In other words, he hasn’t “climbed the ladder” in a way that seems to be more common in mainline Protestant denominations—from associate, to small church, to larger church, then beyond. Without that perspective, more possibilities naturally open up.
For example, Bob doesn’t seem to have in his head, “Well, I’ve already done (insert particular ministry often associated with assistants), so I don’t have to do that anymore.” This was a godsend for someone like me, who was looking for experience in all different areas of parish ministry. Conversely, there’s not much that Bob considers his territory and his territory alone. When I expressed interest in preaching last Christmas Eve, he graciously let me, though many consider that to be the rector’s privilege. After the fact, he told me that my Christmas Eve sermon ended up being a gift to him, not because the sermon itself was all that earth-shattering, but because I freed up time for him to make a Slovakian nut roll with his son. He also mentioned the joy of hearing someone else’s Christmas Eve sermon for the first time in ten years.
Bob is more than just his experience; he is his spirituality. Bob
believes in the God-given gifts and skills of others. He even dares to
let this belief shape his reality.
Generation and gender aside, we’re pretty different people. Actually, it’s a miracle sometimes that we get along. Bob can say almost anything in a way that almost anyone can hear him. I, on the other hand, could be accused of being overly straightforward on occasion. While I’m detail-oriented and tend to think of an idea’s practical and logistical implications, Bob sees the potential and possibilities in the bigger picture.
Don’t get me wrong–the guy’s not perfect. We don’t always agree. We get under each other’s skin sometimes, as any two people working closely together are bound to do. However, I find it easier to accept his mistakes and his imperfections because not only is he aware of his limitations, he also accepts mine. If there’s not grace in that, then I don’t know where else to look for it.
I’m not writing about my working relationships to gloat. I’m writing about them to let you know that such a relationship is possible; it’s not just seminary scuttlebutt. If you’re already in a situation in which you’re being taken advantage of, seriously consider speaking up. Talk to your superintendent, bishop, or whomever; don’t be afraid to change jobs. Jesus needs us for the long haul.
If I do leave parish ministry, it will not be due to a bad experience with my first supervisor. Happy Boss Day, Bob. Thanks for being you.