What is my role….

It’s been a bumpy road and at times I’ve wanted to get off or change direction. But for some reason I just keep going. You see, a few months ago I thought it would be a good idea to see a clergy coach/counselor. The fact that I am not sure if the work we are doing is coaching or counseling is a good indicator of why this endeavor has been clunky. The person I am working with gets this too, we are both figuring out if the work we are doing is counseling or coaching. When I saw CCC (clergy/counseling/coach) this morning I had some insight. I think we are doing vocational counseling. By this I mean, I am not exactly doing the personal counseling I have done in years past where I took apart my childhood, examined it under a microscope, dissected all the painful parts, and put myself back together with greater insight. No, I’ve done that, I get what makes up who I am and why I am the way I am. This vocational counseling is not exactly coaching because I am not looking to find a new position or a new vocation or any of the other life skills that one explores with coaching. I am doing counseling, but I am doing it in the context of my job: how I function on the job, what triggers me to get reactive, how I am working to listen, how I hope to enable people to find their niche and live into ministry and life with a greater sense of fulfillment and a deeper sense of God’s presence. I already know why I react to things the way I do and the underbelly of myself, now I am looking at how I am working with that awareness in order to be the most effective priest I can be. It is a process of building skills but it is also a process that looks at emotional content as well. It is vocational counseling. Maybe there’s a better term that will come about as I mull this over more, but this at least is the working definition thus far, which is a long way from where I was before. Now at least the path feels like it has a direction. Perhaps it is better said that now the direction has a name, a term, a definition, a course, and maybe even a map.

In our session this morning the CCC was asking me some questions about what I see as my strengths and gifts in the situation I was discussing. I said I see myself as one who assists others in living into their ministries – I see strengths and gifts and passions and encourage people to use them in the church or the world. I do the same thing for the “Church.” I see the gifts and strengths of the Church and work to bring them forth ever stronger. I don’t determine what these are, I see them and life them up. I don’t try to make someone or something be what it is not, rather I strive to make strengths stronger and ever more apparent. In my current context that is not difficult, there are many potent gifts and strengths. There are, however a few ways in which strengths exist but are not recognized and therefore not being honed and utilized fully. We’re working on that but it is a process.

Recently I have read an article that touts the idea of clergy moving from “Preacher to Facilitator.” The blog article focuses primarily on preaching and using that time instead to facilitate a parish wide conversation on the texts. I have offered sermons that invite dialogue, and it is great fun.

What I take issue with is the post argues for a paradigm shift from preacher, as a generic term for clergy, to facilitator, using this as the reasoning.

Excellent facilitators do less than 30% of the talking, and get others to do the 70%. They risk letting others interpret God’s Word and listen to God’s Spirit instead of doing it all themselves. They give others credit for their ideas and insights, without boasting of their own. They hand over most of the power, control and status, rather than holding onto it. (http://www.churchinacircle.com/2013/03/15/from-preaching-to-facilitating-same-skill-set-different-mindset/)


No doubt that the points raised above are useful approaches to build consensus and mutuality and enable many voices to be heard. I employ aspects of this all the time, which is the point I was making with CCC regarding my strengths. No doubt that the more voices raised the greater the potential for the Spirit to speak and move.

Nonetheless it seems to me that the blog post is off-point a bit. One thing I think about is something my mentor said when I was doing my parish internship. She commented on the diminished role of certain positions once women are allowed to hold those positions. What she meant was, as soon as women begin to hold certain roles, formally only held by men, something happens to the culture, and the role begins to take on less importance, less meaning. Her point being, now that women are priests and rectors, the role of priests and rectors is being diminished in congregational life. It’s as if we are being told that our voices are not as important as the congregational voice, regardless of how much experience, education, or insight we have. I believe that the blog post is actually making reference to the experience of a particular male clergy person. Male clergy have different experiences in congregations than female clergy do. Men have different experiences in the  workforce in general than women do. It is just  how our culture is constructed and functions, female and male voices of leadership are experienced differently.

Here’s what I think and the point I am trying to make. Clergy, regardless of male or female, once we have been in a congregation for a couple of years, become part of the parish system. Like it or not – we are part of it. As part of the system we cannot effectively be the “facilitator.” We can facilitate conversations from time to time, but our role cannot be THE FACILITATOR. That role needs to be delegated to an external voice and person. I use a parish consultant for this purpose, a person who meets with the leadership team at least once a year and helps us sort out where we are, now, as a congregation and as leaders. This person attends worship with us and preaches once a year. The consultant listens to all of us, clergy included, and then helps facilitate pointing us in a direction and guides our move there. The consultant gives us language to help frame and work with the ideas and perspectives we have raised.

As the clergy person in this congregation I have an inherent role and voice in the process of moving in the direction we are going. My voice and role do not mandate or determine where we are going or even how. But my voice and role do help to steady the ship, steer the car, and keep us on the road. I am after all, the paid employee, it is my job. The other leaders have other jobs and distractions that can stray them off course, or more likely, just cause them to stop church work to attend to other avenues of their lives. Appropriately so, personal or work life comes first and requires attention; church life takes a back-burner. Others in the group focus on a piece and may lose sight of the whole. The others will see well, and with great detail, their particular area. I may not know all the details of each area, that’s not my job, but as clergy I hold clear where we are going and help guide how we get there. Clergy are not the facilitator, we are companions within the process who have a particular role to play. Others also have their role. We’re a team and each of us has a voice and a role in bringing forth the mission. The team does not function well if any one of the voices dominates to the degree that others are suppressed or silenced. That means clergy voices too – the “Father knows best” paradigm is gone! Every voice is needed. As a team we in the church practice active listening and considerate speaking (not hogging the conversation, nor refusing to speak up). Facilitators listen to the whole group and offer insight and perspective on what was heard. Facilitators are key to mission and mission field development. Facilitators show us the map. Congregational members and leadership determine the destination. Clergy partner with the congregation in the process of determining the destination and the direction to get there, but clergy carry the road map and keep us on course.

There are enough challenges with the role of women in leadership. Encouraging us to be silent, give up our role and voice in the group dynamic, will only deepen the problem. Better to teach congregations that their clergy are partners with them, partners who have voice and a role to play that is as vital as theirs. A good facilitator will help forge this relationship of mutuality and as a result the entire congregation is healthier and real, transformative ministry can happen.

Well, that’s at least how I am thinking about all of this today.



About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
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10 Responses to What is my role….

  1. Thank you, Terri. I am now trying to figure out my role at St. Mark’s. Not rector, not paid by the parish. This post gives me some different ways of considering the way I thinking about it. Also different ways I might consider working with my own CCC. Perhaps vocational counselor is more apt here too.

    • Terri says:

      Catherine, you are in an interesting position. You bring a great wealth of experience, fabulous education, and are a steady, calm, intelligent, and wise presence. I do hope they are accessing your gifts for the betterment of the congregation and for the support of the paid staff. I do hope you find a way and a place where your voice is heard and validated in a way that is also life-giving and transformational for you.

  2. I especially appreciate your insight about the change of roles once women break into a field. It figures that women face that challenge, even after the victory of attaining a position once traditionally held by men…

  3. Kris says:

    “There are enough challenges with the role of women in leadership. Encouraging us to be silent, give up our role and voice in the group dynamic, will only deepen the problem. Better to teach congregations that their clergy are partners with them, partners who have voice and a role to play that is as vital as theirs”

    Yes, yes, yes.

    And thank you….very helpful to read right now.

  4. Hi Terri,

    Thanks for linking to our blog post about shifting from monologue to dialogue in churches.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts from the perspective of a woman in ministry, and thought you made some interesting points. Certainly, a woman who takes on a clergy role in a traditionally male-dominated, hierarchical system has to contend with having “diminished status” in comparison to her male peers. To diminish her status further by moving into the role of facilitator may then potentially undermine her authority and status, depending on how that particular system and community operates.

    We are writing our blog to encourage churches and pastors to seriously consider paradigm shifts towards mutuality, empowerment and dialogue. As a woman in ministry, you are already a paradigm changer, and it sounds to me like you are prioritising mutuality, empowerment and dialogue in your ministry! Keep going!

    Blessings in your life and ministry,

    – Kathleen Ward

    • Hi Kathleen, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I hope you know that your blog post has been read by many of my clergy colleagues – who have posted links to it on Facebook – which is how I found it in the first place. That’s awesome, right?! So your words are getting out there and hopefully inspiring many others to take seriously the need to be companions on the journey. I appreciate your words of support. Blessings to you and the initiative you have launched. Love the title, A Church in a Circle. Very cool.

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