I’ve recently started reading a little book called Reaching People under 30 While Keeping People over 60. I haven’t gotten far, yet, so don’t read that as a blanket endorsement. But so far it’s been good and helpful. In the first part of the book the author talks a bit about “pastor-bashing”. He notes that one of his coaching clients said “pastor-bashing is my church’s focus”. He then, helpfully, defined pastor-bashing. Here are the experiences which characterize pastor-bashing:
- Accusations, and sometimes threats, that ‘the church is not growing because of you!’
- Spreading of rumors that question the pastor’s integrity, work habits, loyalty to church traditions or disregard of ancient church values, etc.
- Withholding of tithes, offerings, leadership, and participation because of personal disagreements between church members and pastor/staff.
- Accusations, uncalled-for personal references or ridicule of pastor/staff’s family members and their participation or lack of participation in church activities.
- Isolation of the pastor/staff from friendships, loyalty, and the support of leadership.
- Tearing down of pastor/staff’s self-esteem, confidence, and sense of call or pastoral skills.
- Forcing pastors’ families to live in a fishbowl before church and community families.
Of those seven I have experienced at least six of them multiple times within the past month. Thankfully, criticism of my family is the only one I’ve yet to actually hear. I’m beaten down. My self-esteem is shot. My confidence in any decision that I make is non-existent. I have little passion for the things I once enjoyed. I used to love to preach. Now I’m just waiting for the moments afterward when I’ll be critiqued.
I’m not sure if I’m just burned out, if I need rest, a change of scenery, or what. I feel without an anchor. I’m sure that you could provide some counsel about being better about devotional time, taking time off, exercising, and a host of other things. And you’d be right, that I need to do those things even more. But I’m just drowning. I’d appreciate your prayers for this anonymous pastor who is about to give up.
I’m writing today, though, not to whine about my personal situation. I actually want to help. And that’s principally why I’ve made this anonymous. My specific situation really doesn’t matter a ton. I could be about any pastor. I could be YOUR pastor. What I’m experiencing isn’t unique. I’d venture to say that many of us pastors could write this article and only have to change a couple of details. Many of us certainly feel this way on Monday mornings.
I’m not primarily writing to those of you who are engaged in pastor-bashing. If that’s you, just stop it. My chief audience is those of you who see that the pastor is burning out; you love him, you want to see him encouraged, but you just aren’t sure what to do to help. I have several of these people in my congregation. They often say encouraging things, tell me to hang in there, remind me they are praying for me, even at times specifically work to help carry some of the pastoral load. I thank God for them. And yet, what they say still doesn’t seem to weigh as much as the critics and the pastor-bashing.
You’ve likely heard that it takes something like five compliments to out-weigh every insult. I think that’s true. And here is why. Pastor-bashing/insults are very specific and pointed. Encouragement is often vague and unspecific. I’m convinced that our encouragements would weigh more if they were more specific and God-centered.
- For every, “the church isn’t growing because of you”, it’d be helpful for someone to lovingly point out where God is moving in our congregation.
- For every dig on our character, integrity, and work ethic, it’d be helpful for someone to specifically notice and point out the long hours we put in that nobody sees, the secrets we hold that we never share, all of the hurt we endure without striking back, etc.
- For every person withholding tithes, serving, etc, it’d be helpful for someone to say that God has used us to encourage them to give more, serve more faithfully, etc.
- For every ridicule of our families, intentional efforts to make the pastor’s wife and children feel loved and valued would be most appreciated. Not loved and valued because of their relationship to the pastor, but loved and valued because of who they are as unique children of God.
- For every painful rejection and moment of isolation, we need places of refuge and acceptance. Pursue a relationship with your pastor–just to be friends. (Those men in my life who do this are incredibly life-giving and the means that God uses to help me keep going).
- For every blow that is dealt to our self-esteem, every critique to our calling and gift-set, we need those who affirm what they see God doing in our lives. Don’t assume that your pastor is sitting in his office with a big-head and filled to the brim with confidence. I know many fellow pastors and most of us struggle with confidence. Build your brother up. In the same way that you need edification, assume that your pastor needs it as well.
- For every moment we spend in the fishbowl, we need those who love us just because of who we are. Those people who we know would be our friends even if we weren’t the pastor or pastor’s wife. Help us to put the spotlight on Jesus. Help others to move their focus from the pastor (whether good or bad) and onto the One who should be constantly looked upon.
I’ve written this anonymously for one main reason. I want you to assume that this is YOUR pastor writing this. I’m not asking you to pursue him as if he is someone more special than other folks within your congregation. Instead, I’m asking you to pursue him as a brother in Christ. Scripture calls us to edify one another. The best edification is specific. Your pastor needs more than just general encouragement, vague well-wishes, or broad comments of his doing a good job. And he needs this because he is likely more criticized than anyone else in your congregation. His family needs this. So think of ways you can specifically encourage your pastor today.