Relationships: Follow the Leader

I don’t want to have a series of posts on relationships that neglects an important one: That of pastor and congregant.

I have never been a pastor.  I never want to be one.  I don’t even want to be married to one.  It isn’t because of the education, training, and hard work required to become a pastor.  It’s because I don’t want to be in the position of leading a congregation.

If we’re completely honest, most of us have no real idea how to relate well to our pastors.  There are several faulty ways in which we interact with our clergy:

1. Setting them on pedestals, viewing them as heroes.  The problem with this approach is that we may see our pastors as being above humanity in some way.  It is all the more crushing when they make mistakes, whether sinful or unintentional.

2. Believing the pastor is responsible for all outcomes.  In this situation, the pastor receives credit when the church is doing well.  If the church is growing, the pastor is praised for bringing in more people.  If the ministries are thriving, it’s because the pastor encourages his or her leaders in just the right way.  But just as quickly as people celebrate the pastor’s “victories,” they might turn on him or her if things begin to go downhill.  The pastor might be accused of being a poor leader, of failing to reach out, or even just of delivering lousy sermons.

3. Treating the pastor as a local celebrity.  This is different from the first mistake.  In this type of relationship, the pastor becomes the star of church news.  In other words, gossip.  Just like people read entertainment magazines to catch up on what their favorite actors and singers are doing, people want to know exactly what the pastor is up to in his or her personal life.  It becomes justified because the pastor, like a movie star, is an entity rather than a person.  This situation often affects the pastor’s spouse directly.

4. Fault-finding.  Again, this is different from ascribing to the pastor responsibility for all things.  Fault-finders simply look for negative things to hound the pastor about.  It can range from minutiae (the drippy sink in the second floor ladies’ bathroom, the crack in the floor tile third from the wall outside the sanctuary) to the unrelated (the broken link in the prayer telephone tree) to the ridiculous (the national debt).  Some people really just like to complain.

5. Wanting the pastor to meet your every need.  There are congregants who simply cannot, or will not, find someone else to lean on.  These are people who make three appointments a week to meet with the pastor for “spiritual care.”  Naturally, if a pastor provides the service of counseling, there will be people who require it.  That is not what I mean here.  I am talking about the people who rush to the front of the greeting line after the Sunday service and hold everyone up by rehashing their entire week.  People who simply suck up the pastor’s time and energy and leave little for anyone else.

Given all of that, I wonder how pastors can ever feel as though they trust the very people they are leading.

The good news is, we can avoid those relational traps.  We can extend the same grace to our pastors that we ourselves want and need.  We can understand that we, the congregants, are just as responsible for the church’s outcomes as the pastor.  We can keep our mouths shut about non-essentials (like what the pastor’s wife wore yesterday) and speak privately and directly to the pastor about things that do matter.  We can look for the good rather than the bad when it comes to non-spiritual issues.  And we can reduce the pastor’s burden by being the love that someone else needs.


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