Sunday, October 20, 2013
How do I tell my Pastor what I do not like about him?
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.