Tuesday, May 20, 2008

what is a Pastor's respsonsibilty to his (or her) congregation in his (or her) off time?

On May 12, 2008 the Pastor of one of Tampa Bay's largest churches and his 13 year old son were killed in a plane crash near Asheville, NC, leaving behind a wife and 4 more kids. I did not know Forrest Pollack beyond an initial conversation when I first moved to Tampa based upon a mutual friendship with another pastor. He seemed (and from all accounts was) very friendly.

I had heard that his church was growing like mad (it was already one of the larger churches in the area) and had had no luck when trying to get them to support a ministry I had worked for a little later (though not through conversations with him). He, and his church, was a huge supporter of religious right causes, including the infamous Justice Sunday I and II and other such events. He was a major player in the SBC and an possibly an eventual President (he was only 44).

I am writing this because I cannot get one thing out of my mind. He was killed flying a single-engine Piper aircraft before dawn in rugged terrain, according to news reports. I am assuming it was a father/ son trip with his 13 year old.

Here is what I cannot escape...

Did he have a responsibility to his flock to not engage in risky activities or behavior? Have we ever thought about this with pastors? We think about moral and ethical issues, but what about physical dangers (not related to mission)?

I do not blame him or his church because I do not think it has ever come up. But, if 7,000 people depend on someone for leadership (and I understand it was a very 1 Man centered ministry) and follow him to build a $25 million facility based upon his vision and gifts, should they expect him to be careful in his time off?

In the NFL and professional sports there are clauses in contracts specifying activities they can engage in and those they cannot. Many players, including the Bulls Jay Williams and The Steelers Ben Roethlisberger have breached contracts when riding and crashing motorcycles (Pollack's wife smartly declared his Harley off limits). These teams depend on athlete's bodies and have a right to tell them not do anything dangerous. I would say that piloting a single-engine plane in the mountains before dawn is dangerous, especially by someone with a non-commercial pilot's licence that only flies occasionally. Interestingly, I have been told that two of the places in America with ridiculously high fatality rates among pilots are Lake Tahoe and Martha's Vineyard/ Nantucket (remember JFK Jr?).

Both of these places have many rich non-professional pilots navigating difficult terrain or sight lines paying the price when it would have been cheaper to put their lives in the hands of professional pilots. Such was the case with this pastor. I cannot say that I would have decided not to fly around if I were the leader of such an important ministry. However, I can assure you that if I were on the elder board of a church, I would (now) put it in the pastor's contract that there were certain activities that could cause discipline beyond moral or ethical issues (unless, of course, he were flying into the bush of Africa to deliver medical supplies- but I would still have issues).

Am I crazy or making any sense here?

13 comments:

mike said...

that is an interesting question for which i am not sure i would even know where to start answering.

but it brought up another question. don't pastors have a responsibility to ensure that the ministries the lead are not personality driven?

when i first started in YM ages ago the youth pastor i worked for told me that if i am doing my job then when i leave it won't harm the kids or the ministry.

otherwise it is just about me.

joshua said...

hey rick,

i guess i should mention that Pastor Pollock was my parents' pastor and especially dear to my mother's heart. bethany and i agreed to go to bell shoal's for mother's day and consequently, witnessed the man's very last sermon. so needless to say, the whole tragedy hit very close to home.

your point is very interesting from an economical perspective, and seeing that (esp. this) church is big business nowadays, there is without a doubt a duty to protect the assets. materialistically speaking, once again, the church may be behind the times in fiscal responsibility.

ethically speaking, as per the risk factor, from what i heard, pollock was on his way to a pastor's convention in Texas, by way of a trip to his mother's house in NC for the holiday. so, his trip very well may have been in the name of 'business' or 'ministry'.

as far as it being a leisure activity, the man was a licensed pilot and flying was a hobby, i guess, or maybe passion, and my mom told me that he was always one to take extra extra precautions, even to a fault. yeah, i don't know, it doesn't really all add up. one can only imagine what actually happened.

so, in short, pollock's time doesn't seem to have been off time after all, and i'm not plane expert, but there is a certain stigma surrounding the puddle-jumpers thanks to ritchie valens, the big bopper, and keith green. it just may be presumptous to assume irresponsibility.

i don't know.

mycotn said...

Wow... really interesting question. As a relatively risk-averse person, my gut response is that MORE risk is needed in what I perceive to be a culture of fear-based striving for security.

I realize you're making a distinction between self-indulgent risk (sky-diving, motorcycle riding, etc.) and altruistic risk (moving to the ghetto for Jesus, flying bush planes, etc.), but I feel the need to be cautious with the criticism. Maybe I just want the freedom to quit my job and do something that I really love (arguably a very selfish risk to take as a husband and dad)... or would it be a selfless move... I'm sure I could wrap it in the spiritual language of "God's calling for my life" in order to diminish the irresponsibility of turning in my resignation later today.

Byron Harvey said...

I'm with Mike on this one. I don't know to what degree it's true that Bell Shoals' ministry revolves around one man; I'd not heard of Dr. Pollock. But it seems to me that that is the issue, for any church, and not doing "high risk" things, so much. Take care, as a church, not to be so dependent upon any one man, and for goodness' sakes, to whatever degree we make "heroes" of pastors, let's stop, right?

joshua said...

yeah, it seemed to me that pollock was the star of the show. he certainly had a flamboyant enough personality for it.

however, after hearing the stories of how the congregation has picked themselves up in the wake of all of this, celebratory for the most part, it seems clear to me where the heart of that church lies.

i find myself constantly having to stop myself from trivializing the tragedy by using this loss to offer up yet another critique of the church. and recently, especially after my very reluctant visit to bell shoals, i have found that my critiques are mere straw in the midst of the mystery of Jesus, a mystery that is wide enough to bear the load of any big business star pastor megachurch. i entered bell shoals on sunday morning with a judgmental attitude, citing economic irresponsibility and capitalist idolatry, and left feeling like my greivances perhaps pertained more to aesthetics. the big stuff maybe just isn't my taste. all churches are sinful. the morning i woke up to the news, i felt that it was ALL so small.

Rick said...

Josh (and others),

I am not sure who is trivializing or using it to critique the church. I did not feel you were doing this in your comments and this posting definitely did not do that.

I think we can ask questions, especially questions that have never been asked in light of something like this.

People do not notice the need for stop signs until after a tragedy sometime. Maybe this is similar.

I think there is a fiduciary responsibility between churches and their leaders when churches choose to operate as corporations. I offer no critique, but want to think about the consequences of any activity when an organization relies on 1 leader as its primary.

This is why George HW Bush did not skydive until after he left office. It is why my wife does not want me driving a motorcycle. It is why NFL teams don't want their players skiing. These are not reckless activities. However, when there is a high level of responsibility one has to a group, he or she must be careful, more so than if they operate independently.

All families operate like this, in some fashion. There is negotiation and people compromise certain things because of their leadership responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

My dad worked for Forrest Pollack - and has been in the ministry for over 50 years.

My dad said he was an excellent pilot (my dad flew with him to funerals, etc...)

I don't know if any of you guys are ministers...but I am a pastors kid and a Pastors wife.
Being a Pastor could be one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Taking that into consideration...EVERY successful minister - has got to have a hobby in order to stay sane.

It might be easy looking in to say that Bell Shoals is a one man show.
If you have been there (I have been twice) you had to see hundreds of volunteers, staff and members hard at work. They are a TEAM - church family. They are showing who they are - by how the have reacted to this tragic situation. They are carrying on.
That's what their pastor would have wanted, and most of all their God.

Maybe it was Pastor Pollack's time to go...It was in God's plan.

I'm really surprised you would say on the world wide web - who was he to participate in a risky act - when he had so many people to be responsible to. Any of us can be killed in car wreck, at Taco Bell, or in a high school.

And to answer your speculation about he was on a father/son trip - his daughter had asked him to take her to her grandmothers...He was just being a dad.

Many God fearing people are hurting right now over losing their pastor.

I think it would be much more effective if you cheered them on...then to second guess God and their Pastor - who is now with His Lord. Accidents just happen.

I challenge you and your friends and family to pray for the family of Forrest Pollack, his staff, and his church family.

And believe in a God who will take us home when it is our time to go.

Thank God my generation of ministers are changing churches to be Pastor/Staff lead churches...I'd hate to have to serve on a church staff where the elders dictated what we could do in our free time. My dad's generation gave 24/7...We paid for it.

So please, walk a day in the life of a minister before you judge.

Rick said...

i usually do not respond to anonymous responder that do not have the courtesy to give names choosing not to have useful discourse that comes from knowledge of the other (even if you don't have an account, you can give a name).

but I will respond to yours this 1 time.

if you had taken the time to look at my profile to the left, you would notice that I am a former missionary and church planter. I have had ministry experience as a pastor, church planter, missionary, associate and youth minister covering close to 20 years.

in other words, I have walked in the shoes of a pastor. In fact, my shoes are those of a pastor. if you had taken the time to look closely instead of make assumptions, you may have not made such an uninformed declaration.

it is hard to respond to the rest of this disjointed and clear indication that you missed the point entirely. I hope that you do not make such assumptions in the life of your congregation or others you are ministering to. I hope you actually read the words and listen to what is being said by others. If you don't understand something, ask questions before jumping in with negative assumptions. In other words, think before you react, which is what my posting did (it asked an interesting question many of us have never thought about- it deserves well thought out responses, like most things pastors are called to do. It did nothing you say it did).

To do this will serve you well as a pastor. In fact, You may do this in other areas of life, including as a pastor. Although you clearly did not do this at this time. I hope you don't just assume theological matters with such reckless abandon.

Since you so clearly misread or misunderstood this posting, I will not justify my words because of your attempts to accuse me of judging this man or his family.

I am sorry you don't get the point of this post.

have a nice day (usually I respond to those I know and have the respect to want dialogue with more respect. If you had treated my little blog with such respect, you would have received it).

kristi said...

dear anonymous, i hope you come back to visit to see the previous response as well as my own here.

from a fellow pastor's wife (me), i have to say that before i commented on someone's blog whom i did not know, i would very carefully read the post and would try as much as possible not to react out of emotion. i have begun commenting on strangers' blogs before and have erased my words before hitting "send" because i figured it's just not appropriate.

however, when i HAVE gotten so bothered by something i just had to comment negatively, i have weighed my words carefully and have left my name AND have also read the post carefully.

it seems as though you did a Google search, came across this post, saw that it was about a pastor who had died, and responded.

of course, i would like to think i approach this blog objectively, but since i am the pastor's wife of the pastor who owns this blog, i am sure i do not. however, i know the heart of the pastor whose blog this is, and it was not his intent to defame a man's character posthumously or to doubt his intentions about family or congregation matters.

he had a thought, and he wrote about it.

if you have a problem with this, then in the future i challenge you either (a) not to comment on strangers' blogs or (b) at least own up to your comments so people can address you by name and engage in some sort of dialogue.

p.s. your arguments are thin, and even though they have nothing to do with the post, i just have to respond to a couple of them. (a) are you a parent? your argument that "he was just being a dad" implies that we always do what our children request of us and that's what makes us "good" parents. i'm a mother of 3 and one thing i know for sure is that this is completely illogical parenting advice. (b) who are you talking about cheering on? (c) it's amazing to me that you know exactly what "God's plan" is, so much so that you know that it was directly in God's will to "take him home" at this very moment. what about drug addicts who shoot up and then die? is that God's plan? what if i went skiing and ran into a tree while going down a steep mountain and not knowing how to ski very well? would that be my stupidity or would that be "God's plan" for me to die early and leave a widower and 3 kids without their mother? (d) just curious: what defines a "successful" minister to you? and doesn't everyone need a hobby? how do you define "hobby"? (e) it's interesting to me that you could visit a church twice and feel like you know exactly how it works. you must be a very perceptive person.

Rick said...

2 anonymous comments were deleted due to the tone, tenor and attitude of the flamer.

Arrogance, judgmentalism and small mindedness are not welcome here, especially by those without the common decency to give a name. If one has time to flame, one has time to leave name.

kristi said...

dear anonymous (who apparently can't figure out how to sign her name at the bottom of a comment without signing up for blogger...),

you do not know me or understand me, so do not claim to.

i find it shocking, sad, disheartening for your church that you would make such statements and call yourself a pastor's wife or anything related to the ministry. shame on you. this is not the kind of talk or behavior that brings people closer to God (at least to the God that i know and follow).

Todd & MarĂ­lia Aitken said...

Don't necessarely agree with you. First don't think u gave thought that this was his time, no matter waht he was doing. It was going to happen. That is why I don't believe in Pastors being in charge of the flock. They are to care for the flock, nurture and make them grow. Not be in charge of every aspect of the ministry. So that when something like this does happen it all goes down the tube because one person had control of everything.

Rick said...

Thanks Todd.

I don't expect you to agree, it is a contrary idea to the norm and the party line, so I think I am in the extreme minority.

In fact, I am not in agreement with the entire thing, if you read closely. I am merely asking a question. If you think the question should not be asked, then we are in disagreement.

I am not looking for an answer (not my style) to the question. Merely stating we need to be asking questions, if we choose to have a church function in a certain fashion.

While you (and I) may disagree with the function of this particular church, they have chosen to be a Pastor led church. if they function in a certain manner, should they reduce risk to their leader? That is the question.

Also, I guess I should do what ever risky behavior I choose to, whether it is flying a plane in dangerous conditions, sky diving, climbing Mount Everest without oxygen in the winter or wrestling alligators. If it is my time to go, it is my time to go. If it is not my time to go, I will not be harmed.

By that measure, all risky behavior is fair game, even the handling of snakes. And, if it is my time to go through my risky behavior- then my family must learn to deal with it. heck, if it is my time to go, I would die in a car wreck even if I was not doing something dangerous, so danger is good.

I am sorry, in my eyes, life is not that simple. We probably will disagree on that issue, even if we debate it forever. I am not budging on that one.

Thanks for commenting. You are right. We do disagree.