Sunday, October 20, 2013

How do I tell my Pastor what I do not like about him?

A million years ago I was brand new out of seminary, on vicarage, sitting at a circuit meeting (what we Missourians affectionately call a winkel) and a Pastor of some experience was lamenting who had been elected chairman of the council in the parish where he served.  "I cannot work with that man!" he said.  And around the table other Pastors commiserated with him.  One solitary voice answered his statement.  "But you will have to or you must leave."  It was a stunning silence that followed this comment.  Yet everyone there, even this youthful, willful vicar, knew the truth of what was said.  You will have to work with him... or you will have to leave.

Fast forward a few hundred thousand years and a man was elected President of the Council in the parish I served.  I had been ordained only 4-5 years.  The man had actually spoken against giving me a raise at the annual meeting and even questioned the money paid to me for car expenses.  He insisted that it was not because he felt I did not deserve it but that the parish could not afford it.  Then he was elected President.  And I was left with a President who did not think the parish could afford to support me and whose tone seemed to imply, at least to me, that I was not worth it, either.  What to do....

A retired Pastor who was a member of my parish was a man of great experience and uncommon common sense wisdom.  I told him of the difficulty I saw coming and of my problems working with such a fellow.  He advised me to pray for him.  NOT to pray that the man would change or come to be my friend or support me but simply to pray for him by name every day.  As I left him, I laughed inside.  What good would that do?

But I had few options and in the end who will argue against prayer.  So I prayed his name morning, afternoon, and evening and a few other times thrown in for good measure.  Just the name lifted before the Lord.  In the process of things, the years did not go that badly.  When, many years later, I accepted a call to another parish, this man, whom I thought to be my enemy, embraced with with tears in his eyes and lamented my leaving with a genuine and honest heart.

As a circuit counselor (sort of a dean of a small number of geographically close congregations), I often encountered complaints about Pastors.  ""How should I tell my Pastor what I do not like about him?"  Now there is an interesting question.  I expect that people in the pew have wondered the same thing about me.  "How do I tell Pastor Peters the things I don't like about him?"  My first inclination would be to respond in kind.  "How do I tell the parishioners what I don't like about them?!"  But first inclinations are so often born of the sinful heart and so I do not recommend listening to the inner voice here.  What I do recommend is the same advice given to me when I worried about a difficult lay leader.  Pray for him.

I am sure that every Pastor does things that people do not like.  But I cannot think of anything more fruitful than to engage your Pastor in that conversation.  I doubt that it would encourage any changes that you might welcome.  No, the wise course and the path of faith is to pray for Him.  NOT to pray that he would wake up and do things your way or that he would change to become the person you want him to be or that he would take a call and leave but simply pray for him.  Pray for him by name.  Leave the rest to the Lord working through His Spirit.

Second, compliment him on what he does well.  Tell him what you appreciate.  Make it less about his personality and more about the way he carries out his pastoral vocation in this congregation.  Be specific.  Be genuine.  Look for things to compliment.  Do so with a generous spirit and a willing heart.

Third, thank him.  Pastors hear lots of complaints and not a lot of gratitude.  I can well remember the indignant woman who walked into my Sunday morning Bible class to inform me that the ladies restroom was out of toilet paper.  That was a high point.  But those memories are overwhelmed by the people who come to me and say "thank you" for the visit, for taking worship so seriously, for all the hidden things a Pastor does that no one sees, and for a kindness offered without me being aware anyone was watching.  Those words of gratitude go a long way.  Most of all, thank him for hearing and answering God's call and being a Pastor.

Finally, confess to God the burdens of a heart so fixed upon disappointments.  I am convinced that many of the conflicts and disputes in church have little to do with the Pastor or the congregation and are born of a discontented heart.  We pray well our disappointments to God but we do not pray enough God's promises.  I am convinced that we would have less disappointments to pray the Lord if we prayed more often and more fervently His promises to us.  I have learned it is not always about me.  Sometimes you have to help people unpack the sources of their discontent.  God can do this.  Give Him the chance to do it for you.

No one can feel hatred towards those for whom he prays.—St. John Chrysostom, Homily 6 on 1 Timothy

BTW I have often advised people with the same advice given me when I lamented my situation to that retired Pastor of blessed memory... and in every case, they have prayed and the Lord has granted them a merry heart... and often the resolution or at least the release of some of the tension that occasioned the prayer.


Anonymous said...

My LCMS pastor and I do not get along. Our personalities clash. As a former teacher, I realize that pastors are also teachers: Overworked, underpaid, and always struggling to keep from burning out.

Whenever I want to criticize anything about my pastor, I covertly tell one of the elders. i would hate it if he were to know that the critique were to come from me. That is enough.

Rev. Paul L. Beisel said...

I would have to say that is pretty cowardly though. Telling the elders about a problem you have with the pastor is not a Christian way of dealing with that. Elders are not go-betweens. They are assistants to the pastor. If what you have to say is not important enough to say to the pastor himself, then I think it would be best not to say anything at all. Keep it to yourself then.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2

If there are legitimate personality traits or behavioral habits that have a negative impact on the congregation can we not address them in love?

Anonymous said...

Did you read the title? How do I tell my pastor what I do not LIKE about him? The bigger problems are often not legitimate issues to be addresses but simple likes and dislikes that we use to justify our judging of one another.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:

Our personality traits clash. In my case, doctrine and preaching style are irrelevant.

My LCMS pastor remains entrenched in the theology promoted by the church growth movement. I maintain contact with only one of the twelve LCMS elders in my congregation. My critiques about the pastor are shared with that one elder only.

Anonymous said...

If they are about doctrine, those are not critiques about the Pastor; matters of doctrine should go to the elders, circuit visitor, and district president.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, perhaps your personality is the problem. Just sayin'.

Timothy C. Schenks said...

Actually, lay elders are not assistants to the pastor. They are elected congregation leaders who replaced the state church consistories now that the church is not controlled and funded by the state. In reading many congregation's job descriptions for their boards of elders, I don't see "assistant to the pastor" used very much.