Written by Jared C. Wilson |
Thursday, November 3, 2022
Sometimes pastors have to make difficult decisions that are the result of much prayer and study. But in the moment of reception, those who have no clue how much “pastoral anxiety” was put into a decision immediately think the pastor is acting rashly or stupidly or just wrongly. Good pastors will work towards appropriate transparency and clarity of communication with their churches, not leaving them in the dark about their care for the flock.
But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
— Galatians 5:15
Most people don’t set out to dislike their pastors. Something just happens. Oh sure, there are generally disagreeable folks who seem to possess the spiritual gift of discouragement and are always looking to find faults, but most pastors I know who have congregants (or congregations) turn on them felt utterly ambushed. It takes time to trace the outworking of anger and even sometimes ousting to the root causes, and very often these causes are things that could’ve been headed off at the pass given communication, clarity, and charity.
Sometimes pastors preach heresy, engage in unrepentant sin, or unnecessarily stir up hostility or division, but a great number of pastors who’ve seen their share of congregational betrayal were, despite their flaws and failings, simply going about their ministry business when it blew up in their face.
So how does it happen? How do otherwise good Christians turn against otherwise good pastors? Here are three very common ways it happens.
1. Disappointment Turns into Disgruntlement
I have seen firsthand the weaponizing of disappointment in a congregation. Bonhoeffer was right that pastors must beware of the “wish-dream” when it comes to their congregations, but the danger works both ways — congregants often have wish-dream pastors. That is, they have an idealized version of what or who their pastor should be. They wish he was more academic or less so. They wish he was a better communicator, more like the guys they listen to on the Internet. They wish he was more extroverted or more studious or more something than he actually is.
The truth is that pastors will fail us, and this is not because they are necessarily bad pastors, but because they are human. They do not have infinite physical or emotional resources. They mess up. They make mistakes.
But when consider our pastors’ failures to live up to our idealizations of them, we must be careful we do not engage in idolatry — that we want from our pastor what we can only get from Jesus. I can think of a couple of significant disappointments I gave to church members once — both stemming from my apparent inability to “solve” counseling issues. It wasn’t my lack of availability or my lack of concern. I was engaged, I was gentle, I was pastoral. But I didn’t have a silver bullet and thus “failed.” These disappointments turned into severe critcism of me, became exaggerated into a wholesale attack on my qualifications and heart.
Remember that it’s not a sin to disappoint you. Sometimes pastors have to do that. Sometimes they don’t mean to do it, are just as disappointed as you are to be a disappointment to you. Don’t let your disappointments fester into disgruntlement. Consider Christ who never fails and let your pastor off the hook for not being him.
2. Disagreements Turn into Division
Maybe you disagree with a particular interpretation or application your pastor has made in his sermons.