As lovable as all of us RevGals and Pals are, there are always going to be a few who think that we just don't measure up...
A parishioner told me recently that he expected 'more' from my ministry after his father died. This is a man who has not attended church in almost a year because we have a non-white pianist...yes, that is awful and true. I told him that I struggled to know how to meet his needs since he withdrew his participation, but he had no suggestions for how I could improve. What is pastoral care, particularly to those individuals who do not like the pastor?
This week we have responses...
Lawdie, if I had a nickel for every time this kind of problem came up in my career, I would have been able to retire before now! You have obviously asked him how you could have been more helpful to him.Was he aware of what would have helped him deal with grief?So seldom do people really know what helps because they are not available to their own feelings.They just know that they hurt but haven’t the foggiest notion of how to address it.It isn’t so much that he doesn’t like you, he somehow has a different notion of what a pastor does than you do.And he is still hurting and doesn’t know how to get it healed.
You might get him to describe how he has been pastored before where he has felt the “more” that you have not given him.It might help you understand what his expectations are.If he is willing to explore that with you, you may have a chance to “win him back.”But given his resistance to what is happening in your parish with regards to the pianist, it is most likely that he won’t be willing to open up to you.While he may be able to deal with a woman pastor in his head, somewhere in that hurt soul of his, he is scared to allow you to touch those important places where Christ dwells.He is afraid that he is wrong, but cannot admit it to himself and certainly not to you.This is where you have to be patient and remain open to him until that time when you can again minister to his needs.Most important, do not let his rejection of you allow you to reject him.Call him every once in a while.Greet him warmly at the grocery or the post office.Joke with him every now and then if you can.
Even if you never get him to return, what you are modeling for the rest of the congregation is a way to deal with hurt that cannot be “fixed” save by the individual him/ herself.They will see that you have done all you can.That is an important witness.Also discuss it with your lay leadership and the steps you have taken to try to meet his needs.
Ministry is always a two-way street because it is a relationship.And the healing ministry is not a pill for our parishioners to take and feel better.It is a walk with one another.If parishioners are unwilling to take that journey there is not much we can do for them except wait and pray.Be diligent in your prayer for those who find fault with you or who criticize you (and I know this is damned difficult!) But ultimately you will be healed of pain of their criticism.And God always works even when we aren’t too keen on it.
I commend you for having shared your struggle with your parishioner, and for listening to his struggle. You don’t say what care you offered him, and I wonder if you and he are also tracking the care that the congregation extended to him following his dad’s death. IMHO, pastoral care is the full reach of the compassionate arms of the church, from casseroles to counsel, and certainly not all delivered by the pastor! If he has not suggestions for your improvement, is he suggesting that there are other needs of his that haven’t be addressed? Is this parishioner really saying that he doesn’t like you, or that he is uncomfortable with the music staff? Sometimes folks have issues they can’t resolve. Has this parishioner been encouraged to find the love and support of another congregation, if the one you serve does not feel like a fit? Again, pastoral care is your role, but not yours exclusively. If you don’t feel as those you and this parishoner are simpatico, I’d encourage you to find a leader in the life of your congregation who is, and who could listen and offer kindness and direction to him at a time when he is grieving.
First reaction – yuck! I know how this sort of response from people can lead to me having feelings of sorrow and inadequacy: I expect it’s the same for any pastor. The first thing to do is look in the mirror and say ‘this is not all down to me’. Pastoral care needs to be the work of the whole church. Yes of course pastors are a vital part of that – but when we hear the ‘I expect more of YOU’ line we need to remember that we are only a part of the body of Christ. We do our best to love and support people – but one pastor can’t do it all. Are there others in the church who can get involved in trying to reach the people you can’t reach?
The other thing to remember is to pray for the people we can’t reach.. or can’t please...or can’t like.
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And know that no matter what anyone thinks, Jesus loves you very, very much!