Friday, June 4, 2010
I Had a Bad Experience with....
While I do not mean to diminish the hurt or wounds some have suffered at the hands of Christian people and their Christian Pastor, I must also admit that often people come to the Church with impossible expectations that are surely to be broken by the reality of human frailty. I have had folks who complained bitterly that I spent way too much time in my office and at the very same time folks complain that when they came to see me I was not there. "What good is it to have a spiritual leader who is not there when you need him?" expressed one frustrated individual when they came to the church office looking for me and I was not there. When I expressed concern about a wedding on the day after Christmas that had moved from an informal service with only a few folks to a full formal wedding with all the accouterments, the mother of the bride informed that this is what I was there for and it did not matter whether I had time to spend with my family at Christmas. Every Pastor can tell the same stories of folks who had impossible expectations designed for failure and disappointment.
Often the congregation is accused of being unfriendly or unwelcoming. The other side of the coin is that these people have welcomed and attempted to be friends with many new folks who showed up and burned hot like a sparkler for a moment only to fizzle and fall away. I am not defending unkindness but admitting that the faithful in the pews who teach Sunday school, who sing in the choir, who usher and greet, who do what is needed on work days inside and out, who serve on council, boards, and committees, who bring food to pot lucks and funeral receptions, and on and on... well, it is understandable that they might be a little sanguine in the face of new folks who want to belong immediately, change everything around them, and then disappear quickly. I am not saying this is right, but it is understandable.
Often people come to the Church with wounds looking for quick and easy healing. They come with a need to belong and want to be fully connected immediately and are sometimes very impatient as they find their place within the community and fellowship. They come with past wounds and sensitivities that become the lens through which they judge the congregation they are at now (but the folks in this congregation do not know what those past hurts or sensitivities are and therefore do not know how to respond to them). They come with frustrations and bitterness from many sources that spill out in the Church though the Church was not the cause or the source of them.
Often people come to the Church with impossibly high expectations. They expect the people of the Church to be holy and pure (at the end of the process of sanctification and not in the middle of it). They expect the Church to be able to fix kids with behavior problems, rebellious teens, spouses with problems, families broken, lives stressed to the limit, and finances a mess. They expect these things to be repaired by the Church but they are hesitant to listen to the Church and unwilling to commit much to their life together as members of the Church.
All in all I think that the failures of the Church, her Pastors and people, and the impossible expectations of some who come looking for more than the Church is capable of fulfilling have created a focus that distracts from the fact that there are faithful folks in the pews, faithful Pastors leading them, new people coming into the fellowship and finding a home in the faith, faithful work done every day through Word and Sacrament to apply the healing grace of Christ to His people in need, and faithful communities who bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the love of Christ. But this does not get the attention of the people outside the Church nor does it get its rightful focus in the meetings or on the agendas of congregations and their Pastors.
When Jesus said to us "the poor you will always have with you" He was not giving us the green light to ignore them or suggesting that we can do nothing to help them. He was reminding us that in the Church we deal in the arenas of need, sin, and death that will not end until He returns in His glory to bring to completion all things. Until that time we have the poor, the needy, the wounded, those with impossibly high expectations of us, and a skeptical world around us... but we also have Him and where He is there is His Church doing His bidding and accomplishing His purpose... hidden, out of focus, and put on the sidelines in comparison to the problems and troubles of the moment... but this picture is the bigger picture than the problems or the troubles.... don't you?
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Though not a priest, I would honestly have to say that being one has to be the most stressful and demanding job one can expect on earth. I find it very interesting that though the divine aspect of the Priest has been rejected by most modern Lutherans, clergy and laity, alike, parishioners still expect the priest to be some divine manifestation of God!
At the same time, your post betrays what most people think Church is. They regard it as some sort of social club. I could care less if no one greeted me whenever I walked into a church--that's NOT why I am there. I am there to worship the Triune God in faithfulness and truth. Everything else takes a very distant second seat to that. I'm by no means suggesting that should give license for people to be unfriendly. But if a person is stepping into church to meet new people, then maybe they should get a new hobby which would allow that.
As far as family goes, it is very easy for people to forget that priests do have families. Although, I will frankly admit that I think that since the job of a priest is so demanding to minister to Christ's flock, priestly celibacy should be the norm. That way, the priest can dedicate all his powers to serving his flock. However, I know that such would never become the norm and it shouldn't. I just said it makes sense.
At the same time, Fr. Peters, for all the problems that people hit you with, how many times do you ask those who complain, what they are doing about it? Sure, the priest is a church worker, but so are they, just not in the same capacity. If a parishioner comes up to you and says, why aren't you doing more outreach, then ask them what they have done. It's not a dodge to the question. Everyone expects the priest to be a panacea and though the priest should be at the center of any conflict resolution within the church, it is the people who need to make the changes. You should just make sure that the mysteries (i.e. sacraments) are readily available for them to make use of (as I am sure you do).
I don't envy your job, Pr. Peters. I know I was not called for such responsibility. Good luck.
Eh, I know of someone (a "lifelong Lutheran") who quit our church, or so the claim is, for these two reasons: that nasty Athanasian creed condemns people to hell, and our VBS flier had a picture of a kid dressed up like a Roman soldier ("armor of God", shield, sword, etc.), and, the kid had a smirk on his face, and isn't that horrible, children with weapons, aye-yai-yai. After 5 years, you'd think a cut-and-paste image pulled from google wouldn't rankle, but you never know...but...
I once heard R. C. Sproul remark that, in order to be in the church, one has to be a sinner. In order to be in the church, one needs to know his fallen state and his need of forgiveness.
While I appreciate the wonderful support and encouragement, I meant the post to be less about me and more about how a little problem becomes a major focus in the Church (and yes, in the ministry of the Pastor) and how the great good all around us seems to off our radar... and to acknowledge that so often the complaints of people about the Church or the Pastor barely touch the reality all around them...
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