Monday, August 13, 2012

Pastor, I've Got a Beef With You!

I don’t think I’ve ever used the blog to rant about anything.  I only rant now and then as it is, and only then for a minute or two at a time.  Using the blog to rant just isn’t my style.  So with that caveat, I’m going to rant for a minute a two.  Ministers who read this will readily relate.  And for those of you who are not ministers, this will give you a little insight into some of “the little foxes that destroy the vines” for ministers—those little joy-stealers that over time can wound a minister’s soul.

This blog post was born in Honduras of all places.  I was on mission with a team from our church.  One of the team members told me about a conversation she’d just had with her daughter who serves as an associate minister to university students in another city.  Her daughter is new to local church ministry.  What happened to her was bound to happen.  It happens to every minister sooner or later and sometimes often.  A woman in the church appointed herself to be this young minister’s critic.  She took it upon herself to tell this young minister that she was not dressing appropriately (this was not a modesty issue it was a style-preference issue).  The woman also had some distinct pointers for this young minister as to what she was doing wrong in her ministry and what she should do if she wanted to do it right.  To her credit, the lady did not raise her voice.  She spoke matter-of-factly.  But she spoke in the kind of condescending tone that wounds the spirit.  The young minister braced herself in the moment but dissolved in tears later. 

Like the old bumper sticker says, it happens.  It happens a lot in the ministry, and young ministers are the easiest targets.  Sure, many of the critics are well-meaning, but they don’t realize that the damage they do is usually greater than the potential good.  And it’s not that young ministers aren’t open to criticism.  Most are.  But they need constructive criticism, not what feels like some sneak attack they never saw coming.  Thankfully, my young friend’s wise and loving supervisor helped put her back together and give her some perspective.

While young ministers are the easier targets, seasoned ministers get sniped at plenty too.  It’s just that seasoned ministers have been at it long enough to develop some calluses on their souls.  Plus, this kind of sniping at seasoned ministers often comes “anonymously.”  Listening to the story of this young minister, I was reminded that a Sunday or two before I left for Honduras, I found a note stuck in my study door.  We have two morning worship services.  This was placed there sometime between the services.  And this is what it said:

Well — I always suspected that you didn’t care for me—you just confirmed it today.  I guess it’s always good to know where you stand—just chopped meat!  I do not know what it is about me that offends you or what I’ve done to repel you, so I have attempted to stay out of your way and out of your eyesight as much as possible.  I apologize for anything that irks you about what I’ve done or said.

This one hurt.  As a pastor who intentionally works hard to love everyone in the flock and treat everyone the same, I was taken aback by this.  But even more, this hurt because there is nothing I can do about it.  I have no idea who this is, though I’m guessing by the excellent penmanship that this is a woman.  I’m truly sorry for the hurt this woman feels.  What a joy it would be to know who this is so I could sit down with her and rebuild something I didn’t even know was broken with someone I didn’t even know I was hurting.  This person is hurting because of what she perceives is my disdain for him/her.  It would be a good thing to be able to tell her that her perceptions are false and find out how I could better serve her as a pastor and even explore why she feels so easily slighted.  It would be nice to be able to be her pastor, to tend to the one hurting lamb rather than make some blanket statement to the entire flock in hopes that she gets the message.

This woman’s anonymous criticism is not an attack; it’s more a statement of her own pain.  I’ve certainly taken far worse shots in 37 years of local church ministry.  And I’ve had it easy compared to a lot of ministers I know.  Some are under constant attack from their own flock—sniping here, criticizing there, firing up a little gossip in this corner or that.  Some ministers get it anonymously—the sniper shot from long distance.  Some get Pearl Harbored—the sneak attack they didn’t see coming that catches them off-guard and unprepared.  Others get D-Dayed—a full-blown frontal assault.  I just read an article that says 79% of pastors admit that that their critics are a major distraction in their ministry—79%, that’s almost 8 in 10—see (  We ministers certainly deserve some of the criticism we get, but I doubt if any of us comes close to deserving it all.  There’s not a Sunday that goes by when some minister somewhere doesn’t resign one church to move to another or even leaves the ministry altogether because of his/her critics.  Over time, it wounds the soul, diminishes a minister’s love for the work, and drives them to other pastures or out of the ministry completely.  Some go quietly.  Some don’t—like this pastor I heard about who on his last Sunday in a church where the critics just wore him out, preached his final sermon, and walked to the back of the church with a sprig of mistletoe pinned on the back of his sports coat just above the waist.  Now that’s a statement!

There!  I feel a little better.  And if you’ve got an issue with your minister and want to help both your minister and you feel better, deal with it in appropriate ways.  Most ministers are open to the concerns of their congregation.  Here are some ways to approach your minister when you’ve got something a little hard to say and a little hard to hear:

Own your criticism.  Anonymous criticism is useless.  When there’s no name and no context, other than maybe making the critic feel better, the criticism will accomplish nothing.  Famous pastor, Henry Ward Beecher, once received an anonymous note inscribed with only one word: “Fool!”  Beecher said, “Usually when I receive anonymous criticism I get a note and no signature.  This is the first time I received a signature and no note.”  Own your criticism.  If you can’t own it, keep it to yourself.

Take your criticism to the minister.  Don’t take it to a staff minister.  Don’t take it to other members of the congregation.  If you’ve got a beef with your minister, take your beef to him/her.

Check your own motives and pray for discernment as to whether this is a criticism that you really need to share.

In discerning the value of your criticism, ask yourself these questions: is it truthful; is it helpful; is this criticism a matter of “iron sharpening iron” or do I just want to get something off my chest and draw a little blood; can I present it with a loving spirit?  Those are good questions.

Make an appointment and share your criticism/concern face to face.  If you don’t feel able to do that, then try a phone call or an email.  But conversation is best because it allows both parties to clear up misunderstandings immediately whether than wondering what one or the other “really” means by what they say.

Seek clarity, pray together, and leave to God whether the minister acts on your criticism or not.

If you approached your minister with a good spirit and the meeting was a disaster leaving you and the minister out of fellowship, ask a deacon to accompany you for a second meeting.  Work to restore fellowship.

So there you go—helpful ways to confront your minister when you’ve got a beef to deal with him/her.  (How ministers can be unfairly critical of their congregations is another blog for another time.)  And I can only imagine how many relationships could be restored, how improved the church’s fellowship could become, how much help a minister could receive, and how much better the ministry of the minister and the church would be if we’d just treat one another like Jesus taught us.  Now there’s a novel idea, huh?


  1. Thanks Pastor. I appreciate your wisdom, discernment, and as always, your gracious handling of the subject.

  2. Oh,precious pastor John. I was saddened and shocked when I heard about that note you received.(Doug Ervin told us in SS yesterday, and posted your blog hyper-link so we could view it for ourselves today). You, of all people!!! Your love, care, concern, Christian walk that permeates your life, sermons that come to life and reach and touch us to our inner core, visits when ill that bring sunshine into a room and bless us "right where we are", and owner of a spirit that "sees, hears and seeks" to comfort, instruct and guide us on so many levels. We are incredibly BLESSED to have you as our leader and this growing church is a testament to that!

    For those of us, like yourself, who put 120% into what we do, this kind of thing does hurt the most. I can only imagine you standing in your office doorway, jaw aghast,and stunned. But of course Satan, the great discourager and deceiver, knows that.
    What better way to hurt this great church than to wound the heart and soul of its Don't let him win!!!

    Forgive me for my audacity to preach to my preacher, but I know from doing therapy that people perceive pastors as having "a direct connection to God" and therefore are impervious to hurts such as this. I laud your great mental health in dealing with this issue so openly. While "perception is everything" some believe. Many inter-personal issues in life are also about a mechanism known in psych as "projection": if someone says something that is untrue about us, in reality, they are actually talking about themselves!!! The anonymity of that note and hypersensitivity to perceived slights from others speaks volumes about its authors mental health issues. Who knows, she may not even be a member of our church! Sometimes too there are people who just work hard to find faults in interactions with others in order to keep their own inner sense of "not OKness" fed. In any event,you cannot fix it even though there is a loving desire inside of you to try. This is not a burden that is yours to carry, although Satan would have you think otherwise. Instead, put that energy into a life-promoting "run".

    Then when you are back in your office, please...know how very much we love, value, appreciate and feel so very blest to have you and your wife at First Baptist. God is using you here. Just look at how many join our church each Sunday; go on Mission trips; are quick to care for each other. That all..."starts at the top". Thank you for letting me share. Now, dear brother John, I am lifting both you (and the writer of that note), up into the loving arms of our beloved Father...who is the great balm for your heart's great wound. You and your precious wife are loved right where you are and greatly missed when you're both away. Tenderly, in Christian love, Dee Stelzried

  3. Jeanette BurroughsAugust 20, 2012 at 10:51 PM

    Oh that I were as eloquent as Dee! At any rate, know that you are loved and greatly appreciated. You are a giant of the faith in our eyes and we are so very blessed to be a part of your ministry.

  4. Here's a good bulletin insert along these lines from Jim Elliff at Christian Communicators Worldwide

    "Dull Preaching" Author: Jim Elliff
    “Dull preachers make the best martyrs,” said Spurgeon. “They are so dry they burn well.” Well said. My contention is that dullness in preaching is not so much in a scarcity of speaking ability of the preacher as it is in they dry-as-dust heart of the same. Ross Perot was not heard because he could speak like Charlton Heston, but because you at least knew that he believed and was exercised by what he believed enough to unload the burden. Dull hearts make dull preachers. But I must also say that dull ears can ruin the best of sermons. And dull ears are outgrowths of dull hearts also. There is nothing more devastating to a Sunday than putting both of them together. You might as well be living with Cain in the land of Nod. The preacher blows arid desert air on the people, and the people flap their eyelids shut, the dust of indifference circling up from their nodding heads. Ever been there?

    Dull preachers and dull hearers infect each other. But live preaching and live listening are also contagious. I have noticed for some time that churches make the preachers and preachers make the churches. A sermon will catch on like hotcakes in the minds of the listeners when preached in a different church, while the same sermon sits like beef steak in the stomachs of the crew back home.

    Let’s make a pledge. Preachers, sharpen your hearts and you will get a better tongue; Church, sharpen your hearts and you will get better ears. Come ready, expectantly, with straight backs and clear eyes. Ask God for bright services, and do not fail to get whatever you need. Really pray about this. God is able to give you some morsel to feed on if you scratch for it. Then tell the pastor what you’ve gotten. Be specific.

    Can you imagine what would happen if you got a group of the complainers together and all of you listened like you were hearing Jesus Himself? Your present pastor might die in the pulpit (which is the quick solution to your problem). He may not catch on the first week, but after a short while, he will be praying and studying and preaching like lives depended on it. Unless he is completely comatose, he will respond to that. After all, he got into this business to help people. If you are getting something, he will load on a little more. I have almost never seen a God-called preacher act any differently. They are like Pavlov’s dog. Try it.

    Copyright © 1993 Jim Elliff.
    Permission granted for reproduction in exact form. All other uses require written permission.
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