I was recently asked by some close friends if their observations about their pastor were appropriate. We talked for a while and then hung up. But I was awakened in the night with the following thoughts. Here is what I wrote them:
From spending almost half of my adult years as a pastor and the other half as a person in the congregation, I see leadership in the church much differently than most pastors or lay people. I have seen both sides of ministry. And I have seen the abuse from both sides. I have been part of being hurt as well as hurting others from either position. I have not always handled these situations well, and through pain, I have learned several things. As I thought of our conversation, I would like to share with you a few more thoughts.
Let me first affirm you for asking if your reaction is reasonable or even appropriate. Talking with me is not triangulation because you were not seeking my insight to condemn or judge your pastor but to better understand yourself. You were not seeking to get me on your side or against your pastor. You were seeking to understand what you were feeling and/or sensing. Let me affirm your hearts.
Let me suggest several reasons you are probably feeling this way now. First, due to your history, you are sensitive to pastors displaying an attitude of being privileged. You have been exposed to pastors/church leaders in the past who were arrogant and were not part of healthy onsite and ongoing accountability. Your sensitivity is not bad but simply leads you to see the potentiality of these attitudes long before others do.
Second, all pastors are flawed. The question isn’t do pastors struggle with arrogance or insecurities of some sort; we pastors all do. Just like all human beings. The last time I checked, all pastors were human, so they do have their flaws. The question isn’t where they have flaws but whether are they aware of them and whether someone is helping address them so they don’t long-term hurt the Body of Christ.
Third, because of the previous paragraph, all pastors need someone who will speak the truth into their lives throughout their whole lives. Insecurities are usually blind spots, and the reason we call them blind spots is because we don’t see them ourselves. Most pastors today will tell you they have accountability partners, but too often, these individuals are other pastors who are located elsewhere and therefore do not see the pastor in their normal routines. A pastor needs someone to speak truth into their life who experiences him/her weekly in messages, ministries, and relationships.
Fourth, pastors don’t just become arrogant, greedy, or self-serving overnight. (Notice, I don’t use the term narcissistic because it is a clinical term and way overused) This is a gradual process that taps into our own insecurities and is fed through others wanting a hero to worship and someone with all the answers to our problems. This is a difficulty of our culture, and over years, we pastors gradually begin to believe that we are gifted to speak for God into the lives of others, often in inappropriate ways, manners, and to extreme degrees. This leads us to see ourselves as entitled. (More on that at another time).
Because of these reasons, among others, let me suggest four considerations in your response.
First, you should initially seek to resolve your own offense. I love the book Unoffendable by Brant Hansen. I think he does a great job at expressing why we, as Christians, should be the least offended people of all. We are all sinners; we have our own issues, and yet we should be secure in Christ. So let me suggest you resolve to forgive your pastor before moving on to the following steps. As a pastor, I have been confronted by people who are trying to work out their own anger or fears while confronting me. Their emotions overshadowed or consumed the content of what they were trying to say. Only after you have come to forgive your pastor are you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to speak and listen to him/her.
Second, I believe as followers of Christ, we are responsible for speaking the truth in love within the body of Christ. This command in Ephesians is explicitly for those within the body. We don’t need to do so with those with whom we have no trust or with whom we don’t share the bond of Christ. I would suggest you spend time in prayer seeking from God exactly when and how to share this with your pastor. For instance, don’t do it right after he/she has preached or when they are in the middle of a church function. Do it One at a time when he/she has the security of time and space to hear you. You may even consider doing it first via email and offer to talk when they have time. This allows them to hear it, process it, and then decide when they can discuss it with you.
Remember, as you speak the truth in love, you also need to hear the truth in love. Sometimes people feel they can dump their load without receiving anything in return. Throughout the scriptures, we are encouraged to be “slow to speak and quick to listen,” so please speak and listen with love.
Third, no matter when or in what form you speak the truth with love, own your own observations. In other words, share what you heard and what you felt. Don’t accuse your pastor of being rude, insensitive, arrogant, or other such things. Simply share what you experienced because of your hearing what he/she said. This is sending “I” messages by always trying to say, “I felt” or “I heard,” and then be quiet and listen.
Fourth, don’t bring “others” into this. This is part of owning it yourself. Too often, we feel better or more justified if we can say that others feel the same way. This isn’t healthy for several reasons; it shows we have been triangulating, and we need others to prop us up. As a pastor, I got so tired of hearing people quote “others” rather than owning issues themselves. I would ask who “others” were, and then I would seek these people out and often find that the “others” really didn’t share the same issue.
Thanks so much for being sensitive to your heart. Let me encourage you to follow it now as you follow the Spirit in this process of redeeming people, relationships, and His body.