Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

How Pastoring is like Mothering

Written by: on May 31, 2019

Emma Percy draws on her Ph.D. work and experience as a priest to describe how Church of England parish priests might function – using the model and language of motherhood. The reviewer found the female perspective a fresh alternative to the plethora of male perspective dominated writings. Despite the title, the reviewer felt the allegory was more helpful as an approach for how clergy do the ministry rather than a comprehensive list of duties and responsibilities.

The reviewer was comfortable and intrigued by Percy’s ideas of mothering around older children and the parallel between home-making and church-home-making. Percy says that with her children now older, her role is to keep the fridge full and offer them a lift when needed. Her role as a mother was to equip her children to enable them to make this happen.

Percy also highlights the tension between a focus on church growth as the marker of success and the need to ‘keep the show on the road,’ sustaining a congregation’s faith and community. While Percy is not advocating church as a cozy club, she is highlighting that much of the daily work of pastoral care is not measurable as an output – that the language of business does not have a way to measure the value of an informal chat or a home visit or a chance encounter at the grocery store. Percy’s thesis is that the language of value needs to change so that the unmeasurable – the skill of comforting, for example – can be described and valued. Much of pastoral care leaves the pastor feeling the same way as the primary caregiver of a small child, where one can spend the whole day absorbed by their care, and yet feel they have achieved nothing.[1]

For me, this last paragraph of the review highlights the value of this source. While I may not be utilizing this source in my research on establishing coaching networks within the Vineyard’s church planting efforts, I recognize this is often the primary tension, which is often the source of frustration for so many pastors. Percy’s allegory of mothering is so helpful as a construct to balance current care along with desired healthy growth.

Percy’s maternal construct helps describe parish ministry as a way of life. She states, “Its rhythms do not conform to traditional boundaries between work and home, on and off duty, public and private space.” She goes onto explain that while healthy boundaries are essential (and yet so difficult to instill), the boundaries are often blurred and times of work and rest are not so easily predictable.[2]

While parish ministry may not be exactly like mothering, it comes pretty close. Especially when one is the solo pastor. Especially when one’s head is full of leadership ideas and growth goals. Especially when one is not a mother. While not assuming all women pastors connect with the mothering motif, I know our male-dominated local church methodology (even among egalitarian leadership denominations) desperately needs this construct. The church planters and pastors I coach and the coaches I mentor to coach others (who are all primarily solo pastors), desperately need this construct.

Pastoring and grandparenting grow more reflective with age. Glo was way ahead of Percy when she recognized parish ministry was like mothering (back in the mid-‘80s). While Percy focused on mothering adolescents, Glo felt mothering young children (especially ones that kick and bite!) was more applicable.

Before being senior pastors, Glo and I served in small urban churches as part-time youth and associate pastors. We loved and led our flocks as best we could. Through a series of events, we pastored a rural congregation for over two years and a suburban congregation for over eleven years as their senior pastors. While each church, each community was unique, parish ministry was very much like the challenges of mothering. Like mothering, it was hard because you felt like you never measured up as a “successful” parent. Like mothering, it was often hard to find joy and see what was accomplished when your “children” (which were mostly inherited)  didn’t express appreciation for your efforts. I wish I would have listened to Glo more, she and Percy are onto something significantly important.

Percy states, “Parish priests need to accept this is an inexact science – more a creative art form. Thus they need virtues rather than formulas.”[3] I love leadership development, especially learning adaptive leadership skills for an ever-changing local church ministry context. However, I just coached a church planter this week who was frustrated about how to get his church to grow to meet his self-imposed expectations. With Percy’s text in mind, I was able to coach him to see the parallels between parenting his  three younger children (plus being bi-vocational) with leading and loving his congregation. Like Percy, he elected to adjust his value of the unmeasurable and therefore, his goals for leadership and discipleship within his church.

Finally, Percy helps mothers and pastors by introducing a concept of “not being perfect but being all right!.” I mentioned earlier that pastoring and grandparenting grow more reflective with age. Perhaps because of the idolatry of perfection and excellence in our American culture, we all expect to be perfect parents and perfect pastors, producing perfect children and perfect congregations. Percy helps us all to see that the unmeasurable needs to be described and highly valued rather than always defaulting to only the measurable.

[1] Batts, Sarah, Book Review: What Clergy Do, Especially When It Looks Like Nothing, April 23, 2014 https://sarabatts.co.uk/2014/04/23/book-review-what-clergy-do-especially-when-it-looks-like-nothing/ Accessed 05/31/2019.

[2] Percy, Emma, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing  (London, UK: SPCK Publishing, 2014) 163.

[3] Percy, What Clergy Do, 164.


About the Author

Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

15 responses to “How Pastoring is like Mothering”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Great write up Harry. As you continue to study adaptive leadership, could this be one aspect of ‘adopting as a leader” as in at times the metaphor of the role you are playing will change and you need to be adaptive to that? As in the example you use with the church planter?

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      I think you are correct, the church planter I alluded to adapted his expectations and goals by allowing himself to change into a different type of leader. I found and am sure I will continue to find Percy’s analogy to work well with church planters and (re)planters! Thanks for the question! H

  2. Mary Mims says:

    Harry, I love that Glo was right; of course she was! But I do think being a mother or having a mothering spirit makes it easy to draw the parallel with mothering and see the frustrations can be the same when you just want to help your congregation and they are resisting at every turn; much like a teenager. I do think in our context of the USA, not being perfect or viewed as perfect is difficult. I think this is hard because it is so feelings-oriented. I think we have a lot to learn about being satisfied with the progress we make with those in our charge.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Since Glo was mentioned in my post I thought she should read my post and the responses. Your reply made her laugh! Mary, you are so right that “being good enough” or less than perfect is ridiculed in our culture. The perception of performance seems to trump everything, whether in politics or local church ministries. Having said that, I think Percy offers us a helpful construct to aid us in returning to relational values/integrity superseding performance (especially within the Church). Thanks so much for the response and many blessings, H

  4. Rhonda Davis says:

    Thanks for your post, Harry! I am glad you found Percy’s mothering analogy helpful. I am curious…how do you see this paralleled in your consulting work? Does this analogy translate there as well?

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      You ask a great question! My passion for coaching, training coaches, and supervising coaches is born out of my parental instincts for church planters and pastors of local churches. I want to instill in them the mothering instincts that Percy utilizes as an allegory for parish work. I desire to spend the rest of my life developing coaches who will love and coach pastors as Christ loves his church. My research will focus on developing coaching networks that will include these Holy Spirit parenting instincts. Having said all of that, I think Percy’s mothering analogy does translate well to all I am about and intend to accomplish. Thanks again for a great question! H

  5. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Great review, Harry. I would encourage you to consider this for your research. The best coaches I know have a strong sense of nurturing themselves and because of that, they are able to draw more out of their clients. Also, because you are focusing on coaches for church planting, this is critical. The next generation of planters I encounter want this to be part of their churches and community. The coach can model that even in their very presence.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Thanks so much for your admonition and your affirmation. It is “funny” and interesting how these readings and posting interactions force us to look in and find out why we feel so passionately about what we feel called to focus on in this doctoral program. I hear and receive your words and will lean into how I can utilize Percy’s work to tease out the nurturing aspects of coaching and coaching development. Thanks for challenging me, H

  6. Sean Dean says:

    Great post Harry. I wonder if one of the reasons we’ve missed this for so long in the American context is because of our bias towards seeing God in the masculine.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      You certainly may be onto something. As a man I often find it hard to recognize and realize the male bias that is found in theological scholarship and emphasis. My own Glo and Percy have taught me much through the mothering analogy to parish and local church work. To your excellent point, no doubt, I have projected my biases upon God. Thankfully he is gracious to teach me new ideas through you and this cohort. Many blessings, H

  7. Jenn Burnett says:

    Still laughing about the biting children! I actually think that coaching is a lot like mothering! It is all about asking the right questions so that your kids can discover the answers in a way that helps them own it. I also think that just as you used the ideas this week, it is a great resource for folks new to ministry but who have some experience parenting. Start with what they know right? So given we haven’t drawn on this metaphor in the church much in the past, what gaps do you see? How would you critique the current state of the church if the answer is that we need/needed this metaphor? Bless you Harry!

  8. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thank you for helping me to see coaching as similar to mothering. To your question, I think this metaphor brings much counterbalance to male dominated views on leadership development and performance in the church. As believers, if we are married, we are first called to be loving partners in marriage. If we are parents, we are first called to be loving nurturers of our children. Perhaps if we are pastors, we are first called to love and nurture (disciple?) those in our parish or church before we strive to develop them into leaders or “grow the church”. What do you think? Perhaps this is why I am so excited I am seeing more lead pastor couples working together to plant churches. Thanks for great thought provoking questions! H

  9. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    I love your grandparent analogy Harry. I have researched the role of “grandmothers” in the creation of human cultures, and think you are on to something!

  10. Harry, I love your emphasis on Percy’s endorsement of just being alright and not necessarily perfect. In doing this you point out an aspect of the American culture of perfection and excellence which you feel has been idolized. It’s interesting Harry because that’s the one thing that I noticed and so desire that would be appreciated in our African culture. Finishing a task is more important than how well it’s done in our culture because we value relationships more than perfection and excellence, I’ve always felt that adding excellence to our culture would really add value to our society and bring transformation. Thank you for highlighting the fact that too much emphasis leads to idolatry.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      I so treasure your presence and perspective in our cohort. Isn’t it interesting that our contextual excesses have us longing for the polar opposite? Perhaps that is why we are learning how to lead within the context of our cohort so we can eventually lead within the context of our global kinship. Thanks again for always informing and teaching me, H

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