Sheep, love your shepherds as yourselves!
Let me begin with an honest confession; I had been, at times, unduly critical of Pastors. Whether we can justify such criticism is not the point here, but why we fail to apply the teachings of Jesus, our Good Shephard, which the pastors preach to us, in our conduct with them is the moot question. Generally speaking, parishioners appreciate the roles pastors perform in their churches and communities. This includes preaching and teaching Christian doctrine; performing rites of passage, such as baby dedications, baptisms, weddings, and funerals; pastoral care, such as visitation, counselling, comforting, and praying for people; and administration, such as chairing meetings, developing inreach and outreach programs for the church and community, and representing the church to the community. But despite the roles pastors perform, they are not spared criticism from their parishioners. Some of the criticism may be constructive and some destructive.
But pastors need not be discouraged, because Jesus too faced severe criticism, so much so that they eventually nailed Him to a Cross. Moreover, if the parishioners remain silent, how will the pastor know how he is discharging his spiritual responsibilities?
When we think about shepherds and sheep, what comes the mind is Psalm 23 of David. This Psalm is probably the best-known passage of the Old Testament which speaks of the shepherd-sheep relationship. It is a testimony by David to the Lord’s faithfulness throughout his life. As a hymn of confidence, it pictures the Lord as the disciple’s Shepherd, King, and Host. David, by using some common ancient Near Eastern images progressively reveals his personal relationship with the Lord in 3 steps: his affirmation- “The Lord is my Shepard”; his expectations- “I shall not want” & “I will fear no evil”; and his joy- “My cup runs over”. Pastors who understand these and perform accordingly will never face criticism from their parishioners. Though these three requirements may seem simple, only those pastors who are fully committed to Christ can become one like that.
Pastors fail to reach such an ideal status because of 7 main reasons: when they fail to fulfil the responsibilities of pastoral leadership; when they attempt to introduce changes (for the sake of changes and without seeking the views of the parish); when they breach of pastoral ethics; when they become too much for too long (congregation yearn for variety in spiritual learnings); when there are many unresolved issues; congregational expectation from the pastors to live above reproach. I don’t intend either to elaborate on these seven points nor am I equipped to offer advice to pastors. But allow me to quote Jesus: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” - Matthew 7:13-14. Pastors, walk the difficult path and your reward will be great!
I am aware that some ordained ministers and some faithful Christians will be reading this blog. I don’t want the readers to conclude that I am taking on the pastors and allowing the sheep to run free.
Parishioners should understand very clearly that pastors, outside their cassocks, are ordinary people like you and me. They are as fallible as we are. If the rules of forgiveness, concern and support apply to us, these are applicable to pastors too. Parishnors seldom give the pastors emotional support, because it seems like an inappropriate role reversal. That is not true. We can provide immense emotional support in manifold ways. Yes, there still be some who will be even critical of the people who provide such support to the Pastors. Ignore them, they will come around, eventually. But when you do that do it without expecting reciprocity. To quote Paul, do not do it as men pleasers.
The other common cause of criticism of the pastor is rooted in transference, the psychological phenomenon in which the pastor is subconsciously perceived as a parental figure. This means unresolved emotional issues of their childhood will be placed in the pastor's lap. If people felt neglected by their parents, teachers, or friends, they will tend to feel neglected by their pastors. If people felt rejected by their parents, they will be quick to see "rejection" in the pastor. Inevitably, criticism will follow.
Another factor which is very prominent in our times is we tend to outsource our responsibilities to the pastors. When you find people critical of financial support the pastors receive, it simply means that we consider the pastors as ‘paid servants’, which they are not. What we fail to understand is that when we ‘outsource’ our spiritual responsibilities to Pastors, we become part-time Christians or Sunday-Christians. Pastors are pastors primarily because they received the ‘call’ to be one. They come to serve the Lord.
Many a church have fallen into disarray because of the disharmony between the parishioners and pastors. While there are several conflict resolution mechanisms which are setup within mainline churches, those should be the last resort. The primary attempt should be to develop mutual respect, trust and love. May Jesus help us maintain harmony in our churches. Amen
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