A lot of us don't like change. Some people will even go to great lengths to prevent it from happening, and this sometimes leads to bad behavior. What is the pastor's responsibility when confronted with such behavior? How does she lead the whole congregation and pastor to all those within it when some are behaving very badly? Our questioner this week would like to know:
I've been in my current call for 3 and a half years. Things are going well. For 99 percent of the congregation, at least. There is new energy, new visitors, people are excited about who we are and what we are about. BUT...(you knew it was coming...) there are a few people who are "poorly behaved". They don't want to see the church moving forward. This isn't about me, I know. Anyone in my position would be the focus of their ire.
The session of the church has been good at responding to these people pastorally, but making it clear that they can either get on board and go with us where God is leading us, or not. I am thankful for the leadership of the church through this.
My question is this--in caring for the 1%, how do I find the line between being pastoral to them and not allowing them to take all of my energy? I don't want to say "don't let the screen door hit your a$$ on the way out the door", but I'm also tired. Tired of their poor behavior. Tired of their unwillingness to engage positively. Tired of the abuse they keep trying to send my way. I can say "I know it isn't about me" all day long, but the fact remains, it is hurtful and exhausting to have people treat me so poorly.
And, after 3.5 years of this behavior, it is apparent that this isn't an issue of "once we understand each other better, things will be okay". This is but a chapter in a long history of their poor behavior that the church has put up with because it is the Christian thing to do. Someone suggested I ignore them. Can I really do that to people in the congregation I've been called to serve? How does that really look? Do I walk past them and ignore them? I have told one of them that I will not read any more of his emails to me until he is willing to come in and talk to me, face to face, and apologize for the last email he sent me. (I also gave a copy of the email to the personnel committee and told them I wanted someone else to see what kind of treatment I was receiving at the hands of this particular member). I am certain that the congregation I serve is not the only one with a history of putting up with bad behavior in the name of Jesus. So, how have you all dealt with this? I'm trying to only control my own function, really I am. But could use any tips.
Ugh. These soul-sapping situations. They’re awful. I think you’re doing all of the right things. Have you copied your personnel committee when you respond to the 1%? If not, I’d suggest doing that, so that the offender knows that you’re reporting their bad behavior. All that and some sincere prayer for changed hearts might help. I don’t think you can ignore folks. I do think you can tell the truth to those who will listen and ask for their prayers and actions of support.
How wonderful that 99% of the congregation is with you and supportive of your ministry! That is something to celebrate!
You have already figured out that this is normal and even to be expected at this stage of things. You have also responded well to the crisis with good pastoral techniques, among them: expecting and requesting good behavior, offering reconciliation avenues, and being open and honest and fair about what's going on.
This is a crisis in the classic sense that it is both "danger" and "opportunity." The danger is that the 1% will sap your energy and tarnish your obviously winsome leadership style. From what I hear, they really pose no other danger to you or the church. The opportunity is that they will either leave or get on board, and right now, you don't know which it will be.
So, don't ignore them outright -- that takes too much of the wrong kind of energy, in my experience -- but don't placate them either. Put yourself forth as totally non-anxious, incredibly attractive, and steely strong -- in other words, totally Spirit-filled and Spirit-led! Keep on addressing their actual requests seriously and kindly, making each response shorter and even more direct each time they repeat the same old thing. Shine light on what they are doing by being Christ-like with them and expecting ever higher standards of behavior from them.
And try this: Invite them to join in, i.e., call their bluff. For example: Someone says to me, "The benediction should be given with the pastor raising both hands above his (sic) head!" My response is to invite that person to come and be part of the Worship Committee where we make those kinds of plans and decisions. (Disclaimer: The preceding example might not have been either hypothetical or more than a week old!)
Above all, spend your time and energy on people who are working together toward the church's shared vision. Catch people doing good and appreciate them all over the place. Celebrate milestones playfully and, at times, extravagantly. And enjoy all of the very good fruit of the ministry you are planting there! Way to go!
Thanks for your wise and wonderful responses, matriarchs! Many of our sisters are at the Big Event this week, and we hope and pray they are having a soul-refreshing time. But I know that many of you are still out there, and we'd love for you to join this conversation. Do you have wisdom to share with our colleague? Do you have experiences that might offer some insight? Please take a moment to share in the comments section.
Our queue is empty again, so it's a great time to send us a question to discuss! Email us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.