“But we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves….” (II Corinthians 1:8-9)
Something inside the hurting pastor thinks, “If I could just make them see what I have to deal with, the people would understand and might be a little more sympathetic, instead of making their endless demands on me.”
Good luck with that, pastor.
Paul tried it. Several times in his epistle we call “Second Corinthians” he attempted to get across to that ever-needy congregation what he was going through, the price he was paying to extend the gospel of Jesus, and the ongoing burden of shepherding the people of the Lord.
They. Did. Not. Care.
They wanted their needs met and wanted it done now. Whatever Paul was going through was his own personal business; they had their own problems, they reasoned.
So, shepherd of the Lord’s people–I’m referring to you!–the next time you are considering taking a few minutes of the Sunday service to let the congregation in on your personal travails in the hope that they will call off the hounds and become more supportive, take a lesson from Paul.
First, he gave it a good try. “If they only know,” he must have reasoned, “they’ll stop this foolishness.” Yeah, right.
–In addition to the text cited above (1:8-9), later in the same chapter Paul tells how he kept trying to get to them–to visit with them and minister to them. His intent was good, but he was prevented.
I can hear you now, pastor: “Mrs. Achingback, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for your surgery, but I was finishing the mission in Sudan and we were having hundreds of people coming to Christ, and it takes 24 hours to fly home. I knew you would understand if you only knew.” Mrs. Achingback does not want to understand. She enjoys her grievances. She will never let you forget your failure in her time of need.
Your response: Ignore it. Love her and slough it off.
–in chapter 2, Paul tells them: “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears….”
Deacon Drudge is not moved by the news that his preacher prayed for him through many tears. That’s no excuse.
Your response: It doesn’t matter. Pray for him anyway.
–in chapter 4, Paul describes his situation: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed….”
I’m hanging in there, Paul says. As if the pew-sitter is impressed by that.
Your response: Keep hanging in there.
–In chapter 6, he gives a little more detail: “In much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge….as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.”
Now, to be fair, the godly in any congregation care deeply at the burdens borne by their ministers, and Paul’s friends and faithful partners in ministry were no doubt moved by this. But the most vociferous do not care, and look upon these explanations as so much rationalizing.
Your response: Stay the course.
–Then, in chapter 11, Paul delivers the knockout blow. “Are they servants of Christ? I moreso: in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep…. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches.”
Surely, Paul must have thought, if I just took off the kid gloves and told them in no uncertain words what I’m going through, my critics will be shamed into silence.
I hate to do this, but someone needs to tell Paul something.
They still don’t get it, my friend. I’m sorry.
The church members have no idea what he is going through, the price he has paid to be obedient to the Lord’s call, and the depth of his care for them.
Your response: It doesn’t matter. Your eyes are on the Lord Jesus, the One who called you into this work at the beginning, the One before whom you will stand and give account (see Hebrews 13:17 and shudder).
Even though some in the congregation think of you as their employee and are faulting you for not clocking in (they set themselves up as official time-keepers) and following their rules, you stand by Romans 14:4. “To his own master a servant stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Even if they don’t “get it,” it’s still all right. They never have.
1) They do not understand God’s call on you.
Don’t expect them to. Just keep on serving them “for Christ’s sake” (that’s II Corinthians 4:5, your assignment).
2) They do not understand the burden God gave you. Paul said, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”
His call and your burden are far more onerous than anything a church committee can lay on you and attempt to enforce.
3) They do not understand they are not your employers, cannot see why you balk at taking orders from them, and are completely clueless to why you want to start another mission in town when we still have empty pews at our church.
Don’t expect them to, pastor. Just go with the few who do get it, and love the others.
It’s mostly immaturity on their part. As long as there are churches on this planet, this will be a problem. Deal with it.
Not all–thank the Lord–but most of the members are consumers, not shareholders. They are customers, not owners. They are babies in the nursery crying, not from concern for others in need, but for themselves. They want to be fed and changed and picked up and burped.
As the author of Hebrews told a similar group, “By this time you ought to be teachers. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the ABC’s of the Christian faith. You should be ready for solid food, but look at you–still on the bottle and needing to be burped.” (My rather free paraphrase of Hebrews 5:12)
The immature see criticism of the minister as their divine right, almost a duty. After all, they reason, God called you to meet their needs. You are sent to them. So, why aren’t you devoting yourself to them? They voted to call you as their shepherd, and they can terminate you and end the relationship, pastor. As church members, they judge your effectiveness all the time. They decide on your future employment.
When you pull an Apostle Paul on them–and try to explain what you have to do, the burdens on you–the immature see that as excuses, alibis, and self-justification. They reject it.
You tell them the work is demanding, the hours are interminable, the expectations unrealistic, and that you need to spend more time in the study with the Word and in prayer. They casually announce that is no excuse, that these members are the ones paying the bills around here and if you know what is good for you, you will take care of them.
Readers of this will fall into two groups: those who do not believe that such things ever happen in churches, and ministers who think I’ve been sitting in on their church business sessions because this is precisely what they’re undergoing. They have the scars to prove it.
Perhaps, pastor, you can make some of them understand. Try it. But don’t be too disappointed if you don’t. The fact of the matter is that every new generation has to be taught certain truths again and again…
–That the church is the Lord’s and He is its Master. (Matthew 16:18) The only consideration–the only consideration!–in any decision should always be, “What does the Lord want us to do?”
–That God calls and God sends and sustains, and that the church members are not the employers. It is true that pastors needs to be accountable to some carefully chosen group in the church, but not to any one person and definitely not to the one with the loudest voice, the deepest pockets, the longest tenure, or the angriest tone.
–That each disciple, whether a minister, missionary, executive, professor, or garden variety pew-sitter, will stand before the Lord and give account of our discipleship. And, to the best of my understanding, He will not hold you accountable for what the pastor did or did not do, but only for your particular assignment. Each of us would do well to stay at home and tend to our own assignment. In the process, if we have opportunity to encourage one another, let us do so.
In fact, the healthiest thing ministers can do is to disappoint the demanding members, those who think because “we pay your salary” they have some kind of hold over him.Giving in to such bullying tactics is never good.
Dealing with the complainers.
When church members raise a stink by insisting on “my rights,” the matter cannot go unaddressed. But the pastor is the last one who should deal with it (since he is the target and anything he does or says will sound self-serving).
A small group–two or three is sufficient–of the finest, godliest, sweetest members of the congregation should pay them a visit. Go to their home, sit down in the living room, and knock a few heads in the gentlest way possible.
Let them tell the complainers that “God calls the ministers” and he is not at your beck-and-call 24/7, “even if the pastor of your former church did spoil you in that way.” (That former pastor did them no favors by catering to their every need. They should have been weaned off him long ago.)
Let them remind the dissatisfied church members that:
–The minister will be given ample time to study and prepare God-given messages and to do the hard work of intercession. This is the priority of the ministry as laid out in Acts 6:4.
–To protect this sacred time with the Lord will mean the minister is not available to every person who wants a smidgen of his time. The Lord God has prior claims on his time.
–This church has other well-trained people (deacons, staff-members, and other laypeople) who can counsel, teach, encourage, and deal with crises.
–Then, let the group look at the church members, smile broadly, and say, “So, how can we help you?”
True, there is a mentality among many that “I want the pastor and no one else” and “if the preacher did not come see me in the hospital, it does not count how many other people came.” The answer to that is simple: stop catering to this selfishness. All you are doing is reinforcing their immaturity.
There is not a word in Scripture that says the preacher is to sit by the bedside of a member for hours upon hours, visit him/her every time he goes into the hospital, or drop whatever he’s doing and rush to their side anytime he calls. Not a word.
Recently a young pastor was explaining to me why he had not done a certain thing that was expected of him. “I was too busy.”
I said, “What were you doing?”
He had spent all morning, he said, in the hospital where a member was having surgery. Then he prepared sermons in the afternoon.
Hey, I have “been there and done that,” and knew exactly what was going on. But this was a teaching moment. I said, “You stayed with the family throughout the surgery?” He had.
It’s his first pastorate. I remember mine. I was far more clueless than this guy will ever be, and would have given a year’s pay for someone to come alongside and teach me.
I said, “Sometimes you have to do that, if the surgery is really critical. But most of the times you don’t.” It’s a small church and not out of the question for the minister to pray with the patient before he/she is taken into surgery.
I said, “Get there before surgery, share a scripture, and pray for them. Then, after they are wheeled in, sit with the family in the waiting room a few minutes, then have prayer with them, and as you are leaving, ask someone to call and tell you when he’s through surgery. And that will be plenty.”
“You do not have to give hours upon hours to a patient in the hospital.”
Will the patient and his family understand?
Most will, and will appreciate that you were there at all.
If they don’t and begin to complain, the church should have two or three laypeople who know how to deal with childish behavior who will pay them a visit. A visit to love on them and do a little straight-talk. (see above)
I’m a big believer in the lay leadership handling most of the bickering in a congregation by personal visits.
After all, the one throwing his weight around, clamoring for his/her needs to be met by the preacher, often will try to threaten the pastor with unemployment. But such a bully has no such hold over fellow church members. A couple of deacons can pay a sweet visit to the complainer and stop that business dead in its tracks.
And if they continue belly-aching? Visit them again. But make it stronger this time.
The reason bullies have prevailed in church after church, running off preachers and intimidating members, controlling agendas, expenditures and staffs, is that no one has ever stood up to them and told them to cut it out.
You’re going to see that this is done.
As the pastor, when things are going great in the church, when the people all love you and you are having the time of your life, this is the time to prepare for stormy weather. This is when you train a few leaders–three or four should be enough–on how to deal with division and complaining within the congregation.
From the front of the line, you are going to set a high standard of pastoral leadership and godliness.
You the minister will love the people and minister to them as you are able. You will work hardest of all on preparing for your Sunday ministry. To do so means you must squelch this inner voice that says time in the study with the Word and prayer is non-essential time, and that you should be dealing with other more pressing matters. Nothing is more pressing than prayer and the Word. Nothing!
And from the rear, the godly leaders whom you trained are going to see that no one is left behind.
They are going to “have your back.” And if they won’t, find others who will. They do not need to be elected by the congregation for anything. They are simply godly and mature members who love the Lord, treasure His church, and respect the God-called office of pastor and are going to do all they can to preserve the integrity of that office.
A final note: Some pastors will wonder how to get started in preparing a small SWAT team as first responders when dissension breaks out. I suggest you simply print out this article and have them read it. If they are as sharp as you think they are, you won’t have to do much more than this. They will take it from there.