Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The pain of pastoring a church

I recently spent some time with a hurting pastor.  He called me a couple of weeks ago to ask how to deal with a situation he was having with a layperson in the church.  This man was going to everyone he could trying to get the pastor fired.  He is making allegations that are not true according to the pastor which has greatly hurt this minister.  The fact that he is doing this in public in front of church members and guests alike is also hurting the church.  The lay leadership seems to have rallied behind their pastor and have confronted this individual about his actions.  He did not respond well to the discussion the lay leadership had with him.  It's a very painful time for the pastor and his family, and I'm sure it is for the church membership as well.  What makes this especially sad is that it all could be avoided.

I do not know what issues or complaints this person has with the pastor.  According to Scripture, he should be in private contact with the pastor so they could address the concerns this individual has and not going around the hallways at the church building telling everyone about his perceived short-comings of the pastor.  Based on my conversations with the pastor, that did not happen.  One positive thing that did happen is that a couple of the lay leaders in the church asked the individual to step into an empty office where they confronted him with his actions and attitudes.  The pastor and lay leaders alike told him that if he was unhappy with the pastor and his ministry at the church there were better ways of addressing that other than taking it to the streets.  They also reminded him that several recent actions he had taken are grounds for removal from the church.  Only time will tell whether or not he heard these lay leaders, but I applaud them for standing up for their pastor. 

Too often, especially in smaller churches, the lay leadership decides to remain neutral during times of such conflicts.  You may remember from previous blog posts that everything in smaller churches revolves around relationships.  The congregation may realize that certain people are acting irresponsibly, but they refuse to address it because of the relationship they have with that individual.  They do not want to risk damaging that relationship.  In such churches the pastor is expendable.  Brother Joe may be acting as a total jerk in his efforts to have the pastor removed, but no one in the church will confront him because, "That's just the way Brother Joe is, and we love him despite his issues."  The next sound you hear in such churches is that of the pastor being thrown under the bus.

Most pastors I know serve their churches because they are convinced God has called them to do so.  They enjoy being in the ministry, and they enjoy helping their churches become healthier.  They hurt when those they serve are hurting, and they also hurt when people misunderstand what they do or misrepresent them to others.  I was a pastor in the same church for twenty years, and I never got over the pain that came when I knew people felt I had failed them in some way as a pastor.  It always hurt when I learned they had taken their grievences to others in an effort to rally support around their position.  It hurt me, and it brought pain to my family.

Even though I continued to feel this pain, I learned to minimize it with a few simple responses.
  1. I considered the accusations to see if there was any truth in them.  If so, then I needed to use them to improve my ministry, and I needed to apologize to those I had harmed.
  2. I confessed where I had erred to the leaders of the church, but I did not accept blame for things that I had not done.
  3. I accepted the fact that I would never please everyone. This was not easy because I tend to be a people-pleaser.  I had to learn to let people go.
  4. I also had to learn to confront the accusers quickly.  That also was not easy because I am also the poster boy for conflict avoider.  I had to move beyond my natural make-up and address the accusers and their claims rather than trying to avoid them hoping their would go away.
  5. Finally, I had to accept the fact that there would be some pain with being a pastor.  Anytime one works with people there will be the possibility for conflict and pain, and the longer one works with the same people the higher the odds are that conflict will come.
These did not make the pain go away, but they did help minimize it for me.  When I was able to put these into practice the pain did not occur as often as it did before, and it disappeared sooner.  That made my ministry much more enjoyable and much more effective.  For more help on easing some of the pressures of ministry you may want to read The Healthy Pastor.

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