National Boss Day…the Fidelia’s Way

The Ones We Love

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.

6 replies
  1. Rex Espiritu
    Rex Espiritu says:

    Thank you, Ann, for a refreshingly real and affirming article. I have heard of others who might characterize their initial experience(s) of being supervised by the head pastor as one in which they learned well what/how not to be later in their own pastoral ministry. I personally had the gift of being affirmed in my supervision of our former youth pastor who recently remarked to his current board how appreciative he was and continues to be of my mentoring him as well as our relationship as colleagues in ministry. Thank God for the Bob’s and mentors like his in our profession. May you endure and bless others to be in it for the long haul. Soli Deo Gloria.

  2. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Thanks for writing this, Ann. It is nice to know not everybody is being chewed up and spit out. I have heard too many horror stories. Thank God I chose to go solo, because I would not have dealt with that well!
    I am hoping, in my role as Chair of our Region’s Committee on Ministry, to begin a series of workshops for multi-staff church colleagues that will help them develop better working relations. I may want to use you and Bob. The church has to address this issue, because, as you implied, it is becoming a retention issue. (Not to mention the justice and love of Christ issues involved!)

  3. Jennifer C
    Jennifer C says:

    Ann, thank you so much! Your article really touched me. I’m so glad to know this kind of relationship is possible. Wish I could meet Bob.

  4. Erica
    Erica says:

    I’m glad to hear it, too. There’s no such thing as a perfect working relationship, but I’m grateful for my colleagues here, too, from the head guy down to other associates. Last week, when my kind of crabby two year old came to work with me, the head of staff spent 20 minutes amusing her with the flannel board Bible Stories so that I could get a few things done. That says so much about the people I work with.

  5. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I, too, had a wonderful experience as an associate. The senior pastor trusted me enough to let me loose, with all the possibilities and mistakes that entailed! It did allow me to enter solo ministry on sure and confident footing. The demise of the associate in my denomiation (United Methodist) is too bad, because it can be such a wonderful mentoring tool.


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