“O Tidings of Criticism & Unmet Expectations”: A word from, about, and for Pastors

“Criticisms against pastors have increased significantly. One pastor recently shared with me the number of criticisms he receives are five times greater than the pre-pandemic era. Church members are worried. Church members are weary. And the most convenient target for their angst is their pastor.” This declaration, which – after a bizarre week of ministry – I posted on social media yesterday, is from an article entitled “Six Reasons Your Pastor is About to Quit” by Thom Rainer. In case you are wondering – hopeful or anxious – no, I am not quitting. Not even close. More about why in a second.

As the statement hung in my stories countless friends reached out, including several pastors to either ask for the link to the article or to simply affirm the sad pronouncement. It has been a tough go for many in this year of cynicism, division, doubt, and hate; and pastors are certainly no exception. In chatting with dozens of pastors over the course of this year, it would seem that none are immune to the constant criticisms; and the foremost reason that emerged for this barrage is the inability of pastors to meet the bevy of expectations under which they find themselves.

Pastors sin. Most church-goers know this and as long as the sin is theoretical then all is fine and even humorous. As soon as actual sin is observed – or even accused of – the claws of the faithful Pharisees dig deep. Of course, all Christians are subject to this scourge; but pastors, since placed on such a platform, endure on a heightened level the graceless, unpardonable judgement of debtors who have themselves been forgiven but seemingly have forgotten.

Pastors are finite. The average pastor is a husband, a father (and if he is faithful, considers those roles with extreme care), a friend, a scholar (of one thing or another), an apologist, a counselor, a fan, and (so easy to forget) a human. He too has just 24 hours in each day; seven days in each week. Sermon prep to instruct the people of God (if taken seriously) demands much time. Couple that with other platforms of instruction, oversight, care for family, immediate needs, personal worship, prayer, on and on and on the list rolls…and the hours typically drain from the week. Christians must prioritize their lives. So too must pastors.

Pastors disappoint. Pastors fail to meet a need – most often when they aren’t aware of the need. Pastors miss communication. Pastors make poor decisions.

Pastors are flawed.

I realize that this blog will not resonate with many because they are not pastors – but my hope is that some reading this will endeavor to pray for, to show grace toward, and to support their pastors more ardently; and that my pastor friends reading this will be encouraged.

The criticism of 2020 is not new – it is only heightened. As we endure the verbal lashing into the new year and beyond, the question must be: how do Christians in general and pastors specifically thrive in life and ministry?

There are numerous ways but here is what preserved me in this year:

  1. To remember that I am completely known and irrevocably loved by God. Brennan Manning, in his remarkable book The Ragamuffin Gospel wrote: “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” May that be the deepest awareness for each of us as pastors and lay-Christians. We must be relentlessly proactive in drawing this remembrance to mind and soul. You are known, loved, and kept. If you know yourself at all (which let’s be real, is far worse than what people say about you) then this truth can simply not be unremarkable.
  2. Releasing bitterness and showing grace is not only good for the offender but is necessary for the offended. Each of us has given reason for others to be bitter. Each of us is in need of grace. Bitterness cripples the already damaged soul. Repenting of bitterness and choosing to demonstrate the grace of Christ brings joy and healing to the broken soul.
  3. Remind yourself of all those who do know your faults and see your weakness, yet relentlessly pray for, love, care, and support your family and your ministry. These folks are a gift of grace and I can say wholeheartedly and without reservation, that the Spirit has preserved my ministry because of people like this (if you are one of these folks please know that I am grateful for you in truly inexpressible ways).
  4. Our faithfulness pleases Jesus. While others lambast, accuse, malign, and critique, if we as pastors/Christians walk in humble, legitimate faithfulness in Gospel ministry (not that we always will obviously), the One who matters most looks upon us with a smile of affectioned affirmation. That is soothing to the soul and helps me sleep in peace.

If you are a pastor who is going through it, please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to chat. If you are a Christian, please pray for your pastors, show grace to all, and remind yourself of these truths. Be encouraged this holiday season. The God of grace has got you.

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