My love letter to pastors

Bobbi Kaye Jones writes the letter that she wishes someone had written to her.

Photo by Lucas George Wendt on Unsplash

Grace to you, and peace. I am writing you the letter I wish someone had written to me. I hope you feel my deep affection and appreciation for you and for the hard and holy work you’ve been doing. My contribution to this issue of the Outlook is my way to express precisely that appreciation as well as to convey the assurance that you cannot and should not be expected to “heal America’s divide.”


Over some decades, my husband and I were pastors of blue churches, red churches, purple churches and churches that changed colors, during war years, booms and busts, years of church conflict and blessed seasons of relative calm. Life together. You know what I’m talking about. But honestly, I have never seen us so easily triggered, triangled and trampled as I see these days. Every pastor I love has recently expressed the same.


Something not well understood in the public is that your calling to love and lead your people can carry a personal cost. Of one church I was known to say, “I can feel the cortisol coursing through my veins.” Stress is rarely our friend, beloved, and you already know all the studies about ministers’ health, don’t you? I was raised with “blessed are the peacemakers” falling as an incantation from my mother’s lips. It took me time and trial to realize what she meant: keep peace at all costs. Yet you and I know that is not always possible when Gospel claims come calling.


Interestingly, in the reddest church where we served (since we color-code things now), we were loved and listened to, and many fine ministries flourished due to strong lay leadership. We were there for two, nearly three, years before a couple came up to whisper that they were Democrats, too. The Gospel claims made this unity without uniformity possible. We preached biblically every single Sunday, and in the words of Matthew 11:15, we let those who had ears to hear, hear. We taught Disciple Bible Study to as many people as we possibly could — and lo and behold, when people actually read the Bible, they were amazed at what was (and was not) there.

But that was the before-times, back at the turn of the 21st century. That was pre-9/11; it predated all the ways the recent past has ramped up anxiety on every front, at every turn and from every perspective. I don’t see this getting better, dear reader, do you? It’s an election year. Deep fakes are on the way, mis- and disinformation rolls down like waters, and self-righteousness flows like an ever-flowing stream.

And there you are in the midst of this. At the table with bread and cup. Called to love and lead. Perhaps invited, even expected, to mitigate anxiety you had no part in creating and no (actual) power to control. Listen to me. You cannot heal America’s divide. But we might be able – if given some authority – not to heal, perhaps, but certainly to help. Difference without divisiveness.

We do actually know a more excellent way! Can we manage to practice love for ourselves, my siblings in Christ? I wish a mentor, supervisor, teacher or somebody had permitted me to practice self-compassion and not just lectured me about self-care. (Don’t get me started.) I wish someone had reminded me every day that “as you love yourself” is part of the Great Commandments, too — because other voices are really good at showing up, aren’t they?

During pandemic lockdowns and remote teaching, my colleague Carolyn Helsel introduced me to the 3-2-1 way of organizing a course prompt. So here goes.

Three asks:

Practice self-compassion.

Level 1: Give yourself a hug, a break, a pass.
Level 2: Give yourself the gift of discovering Kristen Neff at
Level 3: Invite other folks to explore her work with you.

Cross something off your list.

Level 1: Go do it right now.
Level 2: Do it again tomorrow.
Level 3: Cross a whole big thing off your list. Something can go, and you already know what that is. (Not free time or family time or exercise or anything that strengthens or pleases you!)

Talk with two or three trusted congregational companions to think about how this election cycle (and all the other things) might impact your church. Imagine a couple of ideas to incorporate more fun and playfulness into your staff, session and congregation this year. Anxiety lessens, and cooperation increases.

Two reminders:

Although you cannot and should not be expected to heal America’s divide, you do have influence. Preach well. If you are in a conflicted zone, how about a summer series on “Great Healing Stories of the Bible” or “Ten Terrible Things the Bible Teaches About Making Friends.” You get the idea. Lots of humor and biblical examples of how folks managed unity without uniformity, difference without divisiveness.

Red, blue, purple, green or tangerine church folk come together companionably when they remember to look outside themselves, sheep-style (not goat-style). I pray your community can identify at least one noncontroversial, other-oriented need. Drive-a-senior? Meals on Wheels? Wetlands project? Negative energy generated, stored and launched toward one another can be – biblical stuff here – transformed into good-for-the-world, body-of-Christ activity.

One thing I learned along the way:

Developing strategies to cope with the stress that comes from disappointing people is both necessity and self-kindness. At the Church of the Coursing Cortisol, amid unpleasantries (let’s call them) being spread about me, I often patted my heart and said out loud, “I know who I am.”

I may not know who you are reading this letter today, but I do know this: You are not just a gift; you are God’s gift to the people you are called to love and lead. You are brave. You are beloved. Gird your loins and guard your heart. You’ve got this.

                  Breathe. Love, Bobbi Kaye