The most common complaint denominational people and guest preachers hear when they call on local churches is, “I’m unhappy with our pastor.”
Invariably, it’s some lay leader of the church speaking.
The outside “expert”–and that’s how they seem to the church member–is seen as one who knows about the inner workings of churches and might be able to help.
The visitor is immediately thrown into a quandary. Does he ask for more information? Does he run the risk of appearing to meddle in a church’s internal affairs? Does he just listen and try to offer good counsel? Or does he brush off the leader with the suggestion that, “You ought to take that up with your preacher.”
Let’s state the obvious here: some pastors we ought to be unhappy with. I’m thinking of one preacher who was known to curse, tell shady stories, gamble, and drink. When he was forced out of the pulpit–and he had to be ousted–no one shed a tear. Everyone had been unhappy with him, and rightfully so.
But what about all those other situations in which some church members are unhappy with their preacher?
Let’s see if we can do some good on this subject.
It’s always something.
If the pastor is effective at all, someone is always going to be unhappy with him. Mark it down. It’s par for the course.
Perfectionistic pastors who carry an innate drive to please everyone cannot handle this. It drives them berserk, just lying in bed at night thinking someone might be less than thrilled with them.
But if they last in the ministry, they have to get over it.
It’s called maturing.
The pastor who takes a stand on issues will find some disagreeing with him. When he preaches a controversial doctrine or calls for purity in the personal lives of leaders, some will be unhappy.
As I write, we’re approaching the end of Barack Obama’s first year in the White House. He’s an excellent case in point. At the beginning of his presidency, his approval ratings were astronomical. But when he began the actual process of governing and making crucial decisions, his numbers dropped cataclysmically.
Whether we agree with President Obama or not in how he leads the country, one has to admire the equilibrium with which he handles adversity and goes forward.
Young pastors need to be told from the first that 90 percent of their headaches in the ministry will not come from the unbelieving world or the outside community but from within their own membership. Often the biggest problem-makers will be their closest friends, those whom they have given their greatest trust.
“And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.'” (Zechariah 13:6)
Those answering this calling must keep their eyes wide open and their minds and hearts on Jesus Christ.
Church leaders and deacons in particular do well to understand that it’s normal for the occasional church member to be unhappy with the pastor. Now, if it’s the same complaints all the time but from different people or if the malaise is widespread throughout the membership, leaders may need to look into matters.
But if it’s isolated complaints, in most cases leaders should ignore it and not burden the pastor with it.
Preachers are all different.
No pastor can be all things to all people. Unless he has unusual administrative skills and has organized his staff to meet all pastoral needs of the congregation, some people are going to be missed from time to time when they went through a crisis. They were in the hospital and no one came, had a death and no one called, phoned the church and no one returned the call.
No sermons can please all the congregation. Put yourself in the pastor’s place. Imagine having to bring a message that will meet the needs of every age group, both sexes, at every educational level, believers or not, mature or carnal.
Good luck with that.
Not all pastors have the same warm engaging personality. Some are strong in the pulpit and rather stand-offish individually. Some are better pastors than they are pulpiteers and some are the opposite.
No preacher can remember everyone’s name. And if he happens to be one who can, I guarantee you there’s something else he cannot do that “normal” preachers do easily and regularly.
Preachers grow, too.
My pastor, Mike Miller, tells how in the early years of his ministry, he was too hard and fast on minor issues. He has grown in those areas. However, he adds, “It makes me wonder what I’m doing now which I’ll grow out of in a few years and look back on in embarrassment.”
Any pastor who keeps growing–and we all aspire to that–will get stronger in areas where he’s weak now.
He will learn more of the Bible.
He will improve his preaching delivery and his counseling techniques. He will become a stronger, more effective leader and a better delegator.
He will become more in love with Jesus, more at peace within himself, and more devoted to the Lord’s people.
Cut him some slack.
When a new pastor comes to a church–or ideally, the week before he arrives–church members should be prepared for the fact that he will be different from any pastor they’ve ever had.
He will take some getting used to.
Bear in mind, he’s having to go through the same process as he adapts to you the congregation.
Give each other room to be yourselves. Give yourselves time to become better acquainted.
In other words, do not “need” to be thrilled with him from the start.
Do not give in to the need to “be his best friend.” Pastors learn to be wary of members who work hard to worm their way inside their lives early on.
Do not need him to be known in the community as the envy of all the other churches.
Let him be himself while you bear up under your dissatisfaction for a while.
See what happens.
Here’s the way it has been with me….
In most of my six pastorates, it took a solid year before I began to feel completely connected to the congregation. For the first several months, I felt like a visitor to that city. The street names sounded strange and I was not sure what to make of the local culture and some political leaders.
Likewise, many in the congregation have seemed slow to figure me out. I don’t walk in and immediately everyone erupts in praise to God for His goodness in sending such a divine shepherd. Some will listen to me and conclude I’m a raging fundamentalist, while someone on the same pew will hear something that makes them think I’m a liberal.
I love that, but it makes for slow going with some people
Some people in the church are quick to give their devotion and will automatically throw their arms around the pastor and his family. They are affectionate people and show it.
Others tend to stand back and watch. I once received a note from a church member who had been hurt by a previous pastor. He said, “For the first year, I watched you like a hawk.”
That was understandable.
One of the finest gifts you can give your church is this: the next time you hear someone griping about the preacher on some minor aspect of ministry, call them down on it.
Don’t be mean about it, but be prompt.
“Oh, come on, Bill. Get off that. He’s doing just fine.”
“Yeah, as I recall you said that about the last preacher. What is it with you, Mary?”
“Hey, Charlie, get your eyes off the man and onto the Lord. No preacher can be all things to all people.”
Anything you do that blesses your church will encourage your pastor. But more than that, it will honor your Lord Jesus Christ who is the Head of the Church.
After all, it’s His happiness we should be seeking and not our own.