Friday, November 7, 2014

What Pastors hear. . .

For all the lay readers of this blog, I’m going to let you in on a poorly kept secret. Perhaps you even know it already. But about 90-95% of what your pastor hears is negative, constant complaining.

This was the entry to a post on another blog that was forwarded to me.  I am sorry to say that it is accurate.  Pastors are lightening rods for complaints, dissatisfaction, disappointment, and conflict.  The truth about pastoral care is that we encounter people at their worst possible moments -- in death, despair, doubt, debilitating illness, divorce, etc...  Pastors expect this and such is the nature of pastoral care -- to bring the full measure of God's Word (both Law and Gospel) to those in great need.  The comfort of Christ and His cross is the only medicine for the life and soul sick with sorrow, suffering, and struggle.

What Pastors do not expect is the unending complaint over things much less urgent, sometimes trivial, that accompanies the fellowship ritual of shaking hands at the door.  In addition, most Pastors find that much of the communication they receive during the week is likewise filled with complaint, upset, and, frankly, whining.  I did not get this at first.  Early on in my life as a Pastor I learned to dread hearing all this negativity and took most of it personally.  Later I learned that, while the complaint may be triggered by something in the church, the source of the upset is generally elsewhere.  People have learned to complain loudly and often (perhaps the legacy of social media, electronic communication, etc...) and we are often unaware of how much complaining we do.  Pastors, too!

Sundays, a Pastor routinely hears:
  • Why did you pick that hymn?  I don't like that hymn.
  • Why don't we ever sing my favorite hymn?
  • Why is it so hot/cold in here? I was uncomfortable all service.
  • When are you going to tell those moms to take their screaming kids out of service?
  • Who moved the table I gave in memory of my great grandfather?
  • When is somebody going to weed the gardens?  They look terrible.
  • Why does the service have to take so long?
  • Why do we need Communion so often?  It just makes the service longer.
  • Why is there always somebody or some organization selling things?
  • Why do we have so many announcements/Why didn't you announce xyz?
  • Who does the proofreading?  There was a typo in the bulletin/newsletter...
  • Why did those people (new folks usually) sit in my pew?  I was upset all through the service...
  • Why do some people dress so casually/why do some people dress so formally?
  • Why do you have to preach so long?
  • Who picked that choir anthem?  I hated it.
  • Where do I go to complain about the coffee?
  • Why do we have special parking for visitors and not for longtime members?
  • Why do you do baptisms in the service?  They take too long.
  • Why do we have so many meetings/why does this group or that never meet?
  • What do you do all day?  I wish I had a one day a week job...
  • Where will you be spending Christmas?  Easter? etc...  DUH!
  • Why are your kids so wild/why doesn't your wife take on more jobs around here? 
You name it and people will complain about it.  While this is certainly a problem for any Pastor and routinely hearing negative comments does impact his ministry, it is abrasive to the life and fellowship of God's people and erodes our joy and contentment by turning the focus off of what God is doing.  The toxic nature of complaint ultimately comes right back to poison the complainer.  As I have said to my kids often enough, if you think it, that does not mean you have to say it.  Part of the gift of the mind is to review things before they get said and it has never hurt anyone to think better of it and decide something is not worth saying.  Part of the gift of the will (the new will of Christs in the baptized) is to exercise self-control.  Now there is a novel concept.  Self-control.

Of course there are those who will say that my blog is basically my venting board wherein all my complaints, upsets, disappointments, and disputes are made public.  Sometimes that is true and I deserve to be called to account.  But I do try to refrain from merely turning this forum into a misery loves company session in which I get to dump on people or things.  My complaints are more in the vein of "why don't we try being Lutheran in doctrine and practice?"  I am convinced that God's Word will not fail us, that His sacraments will not fail to deliver what they sign, and that what we believe, confess, and teach as Lutherans is faithful and true.  If we stuck to this, I wonder if the complaints might wane.  Hopefully, anyway.


Kirk Skeptic said...

Pastor, I'd be interested to know if uou've noticed an uptick in this sort of behavior since the advetn of social media. If so, there could be a correlation , but the term "culture of compliant" antedates socail media, emails, etc. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Paul said...

Pity the poor doctor who begins every patient visit expecting to hear their "complaint". Same for lawyers and counselors I suppose. I propose cultivating a culture of thanksgiving in daily speech. One of the best things we did when our kids were still sitting with us around the kitchen table was having each person say one thing they were thankful for about the person on their right. Wish we had done it more often:) Imagine if we did that in our pews and meetings at church!

Janis Williams said...

We parishioners have a lot of "I" disease in addition to intermittent deafness (during Divine Service). Narccolepsy seems to be pretty prevalent, too. Oh, and those ears? Something is causing them to itch terribly.

I'm not even going to touch on our moutths... said...

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