Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How do you feel about your congregation?

In 35 years of ministry I've had many conversations with pastors about their churches. Human nature being what it is, some of these conversations were not very positive. In fact, some were quite troubling. There is a lot of pastoral frustration out there towards congregations. While I know that some church members would try the patience of Job, most of our congregations are made up of people who love the Lord and want to serve him to the best of their abilities.

One Sunday I visited one of the churches that was in my judicatory. A member of the church had called complaining about the negative sermons the pastor had been preaching for several weeks. I knew this church very well and had seen them do remarkable things for a small church. I didn't know if the report was true or if this person just had some personal issues with the pastor. As soon as I had a free Sunday I showed up for worship.

Never in my life have I heard a more negative sermon filled with near animosity towards the congregation. For 45 minutes he ripped the congregation up one side and down the other. I nearly got up and walked out a couple of times, and once I bit my tongue to keep from standing up and telling him to shut up. I wouldn't talk to a dog like he spoke to the congregation that day. I knew at that moment I would not be back and couldn't understand why anyone else would either. In fact, several did leave over the next few months until he finally resigned as well.

I'm not sure what he, and others who treat their congregations in similar fashion, think is going to be accomplished with a steady diet of negative preaching. It's hardly likely that such preaching will encourage the people to get engaged in ministry nor is it likely that they are going to invite people to come to church with them.

People tend to rise to the expectations we have for them. Rather than beating people down, we need to lift them up. As a pastor I often told our congregation that I believed more in them than many of them believed in themselves. When I first went to that little, rural church there had not been much happening for years. The self-image of many of the members was pretty low, but after a few small victories and a steady diet of expressing my faith in them we started doing bigger things.

The first thing people in a smaller church want to know about their pastor is whether or not he or she loves them. In many cases, they've seen such rapid pastoral turnover they're convinced that no pastor could really love them and want to stay with them as their pastor. It can take time to convince them of the value you see in them and how much you do love serving as their pastor.

Were there times when I was frustrated with how things were going in the church? Absolutely! And I would voice those frustrations, but always privately with our leadership. A wise leader doesn't make public pronouncements of how frustrated he or she is unless it's absolutely necessary, and never do you make it a weekly habit.

Review your recent preaching. Have you tried to build up your congregation or have you beat on them? They get beat on enough during the week; they don't need to come to Church for another beating. Does your congregation believe you are excited to serve as their pastor? Do they believe that you really love them? If the answer is yes, they will follow your leadership. If they're not sure, don't expect to accomplish much because people have to know they can trust your heart before they will follow your lead.

No comments: