(This Side of the Pulpit) of a complaint he received (perhaps the first of substance in his 8 month tenure at another Grace Lutheran Church -- this one in Tulsa). I will copy his words directly:
I’ve been Senior Pastor of Grace Lutheran for eight months and
sixteen days and have now come to the end of my honeymoon. I got the
first real complaint, though it was minor, and really more about the
past than the present. But it was there and I am so glad I received it.
Glad? Certainly. First, because the person with the concern called me
first, voiced his concern and listened to my response. Second, he said
“others” agreed, but named names! Third, when it came up in a meeting,
the person listened to my response, appreciated my assurance I would
re-evaluate and look into the issue, and then said words I’ve heard
rarely in my ministry: “Ultimately, you are the spiritual overseer of
this congregation and your decision will be respected and followed.”
He writes of the surprise in hearing the final line respecting his role as Pastor, the spiritual overseer of the congregation. I must admit, I have never heard those words put forth by one who has a complaint. I have heard words respecting my decisions when folks agree with me but never the kind of honest and faithful spiritual deference given by this man.
The truth is that no Pastor escapes conflict or complaint -- unless, of course, he stands for nothing at all. But the problem is honoring and respecting the Pastoral role as spiritual overseer. It is easy to say words of approval when you agree with them but when you dispute something, it is much harder to honor and respect the authority of another. The spiritual oversight of the Pastor is both something earned and something conferred. On the one hand, you earn it by your demeanor, your faithful service demonstrated to the people you serve, and your record of decisions in matters spiritual. On the other hand, it is an authority conferred by the call, ordination, and then installation. We live in an age in which it is harder than ever to earn this authority and, at the same time, people are leery of granting it to those whom they do not know. Perhaps this is why parishes and Pastors find themselves more easily consumed by conflict than at any time prior.
Respect for authority is not a mark of defeat or weakness but the glue that binds community together. I am amazed and surprised by the sweet words of respect this complainant offered. I wish we would find it offered more universally and forthrightly across the Church. I am not suggesting that lay folks roll over and play dead but I am saying that seminary education, pastoral certification, parish experience, and spiritual maturity are worthy of our respect -- especially when we disagree with the decisions made by those who exercise spiritual oversight over us. This applies on many levels.
Good to hear and I hope I will have the chance to hear these sweet words amid an honest but respectful complaint.