Weather Report July 2012

 

People can have unrealistically high and sometimes unusual expectations for clergy. A clergy friend tells of a parishioner who considered a white shirt the only appropriate attire for the pastor in the pulpit. (I wear white shirts. I do not know if it is expected or not.) After wearing a blue shirt one Sunday a parcel arrived the next week: five new white dress shirts.  
Another pastor tells of sometimes being unprepared to deal with the criticism he received. The moderator of the church said he had a letter to share with him. The unsigned, typewritten letter was from a neighbor of the pastor’s who was complaining about the way the pastor walked his dog. The author described the scene that prompted the letter: “The reverend stopped and shook the dog several times rather harshly.  I was upset seeing this, but not inclined to do anything. Most of us seem to want to look away when bad things happen.”  The pastor recalls responding with a swirl of reactions to the letter.  After cooling down he shared with the moderator that the neighbor had accurately described what he had been taught to do by a dog trainer as a technique for handling an alpha dog.  Alpha dogs apparently are dogs that become dangerously aggressive at the sight of another dog.
Misunderstandings seem to be an unavoidable part of the human condition. Others interpret our comments and actions differently from how we intended, which is a very pervasive human dilemma.  A community of believers is not spared.  This is true in part because of the intensity with which people become invested in their churches.  Given that the pastor’s relationship with lay members is lived in the round, he/she is doubly vulnerable to misunderstanding and criticism. What the speaker intends is sometimes not what the listener understands; additional dialogue might resolve the issue.
Some criticism is harder for me to simply shrug off because it was earned. I may sometimes come across as being insensitive; for example, I can be distracted when in a crowd and give the impression that I am not interested in what the individual talking to me has to say. I may be prone to making changes too quickly. And I realize that I have just touched the tip of the iceberg. Where criticism is well founded, I actually am grateful when it is pointed out and for the opportunity to clarify, to apologize or to reconcile.    
Over the years I have learned that there are times when I am better able to receive criticism. Two of my least desirable times for receiving critique happen to be shortly before worship begins or right after it ends, because I am so distracted with other thoughts, or interactions with others that are present. If you have something to share perhaps you could begin by saying, “I have some constructive criticism for you and wanted to know if this is a good time for you to hear it?”  I am willing to listen, but I may need time to prepare so as to listen attentively.
Few ministers are totally prepared to deal with the criticism that comes with being a pastor.  This could be said of the praise that a pastor receives as well. Pastors must learn to manage both. I am ever learning. In this season of reconciliation I reflect upon what is required of me.  Receiving criticism inevitably will be a part of the process.  I ask God for the grace and succor necessary in living with criticism. I ask you for your prayers.   —Steven