Telling People What They Don’t Want to Hear

  • You need to get counseling about your grief issues.accountability_chickens
  • We don’t believe you are ready to take your ordination exams.
  • Your church’s finances need to be audited.
  • Your congregation must address the conflict before electing a new pastor search committee.
  • The commission believes you need to re-write your statement of faith.

Part of being a community of faith is holding each other accountable.  Exceptions:  When the church itself is guilty of sexism, racism, abuse, or bigotry of any kind.  But in those cases, you need a new church.

In my denomination/tradition, we have a commission that oversees church transitions and other ministry issues, and we have another commission that helps prepare candidates for professional ministry.  Sometimes we have to tell people what they don’t want to hear.  But it’s what we’ve been elected by the Presbytery to do.  We have been elected to do these things on behalf of the whole body.

Churches have the reputation of being havens of pastoral support and unconditional love.  Mostly this reputation comes from idealistic people who don’t know what they are talking about.

Yes, there are wonderful human beings in our churches and we might aspire to be a Christ-like community, but we are often terrible at being Christ-like communities.  Many of us believe that following Jesus = being “nice.”   And it doesn’t seem “nice” to hold people accountable, but this is an essential part of being a community.

I’ve found that some folks are shocked – shocked! – when their spiritual leaders remind them that

  • they must keep confidentiality,
  • they must not lie,
  • they must refrain from gossip,
  • they are expected to participate in the community, not as a transactional activity, but as a spiritual practice.

Many Christians expect to be coddled by their spiritual communities.  They do not expect to be asked to change behavior that hurts themselves or others. They do not expect to be told “no.”

But church is not about being told that nothing has to change – either individually or corporately.  We are called to worship, pray, serve, and break bread together.  But we are also called to admonish each other when necessary, in hopes of becoming better equipped to serve God.

It’s never easy to hear what we don’t want to hear.  It’s almost impossible to hear what we don’t want to hear when we don’t trust the source. And when we have the attitude – even in our spiritual community – that “nobody can tell us what to do” then I wonder why we are part of that spiritual community in the first place.

Question:  Can you name a time when you’ve been told in your church community something that you didn’t want to hear?  And how did it go?

One of mine:  I was 28 years old and starving for friends my own age, so I thought I’d join the Tommy’s Tavern Softball Team in the town of my first call.  But the elders told me I couldn’t because it wouldn’t look right for the pastor to be seen in Tommy’s Tavern.  Made me unhappy.

What about you?


8 responses to “Telling People What They Don’t Want to Hear

  1. Jan, thanks for articulating the need for, and a way of, sharing these things with congregations. One call ended rather abruptly because I raised an issue of confidentiality with personnel and (a judge!) on the committee said, “You can’t just bring that up and not expect us to tell anyone!” and strode from the room. Silly me, I only wanted them to keep it a “secret” while they looked into things, and THEN would decide how to handle it.

  2. “told me I couldn’t … Made me unhappy.”

    Would have made me angry; makes me angry even now, just reading about it. Did you point out that Jesus would have been the shortstop on Tommy’s Tavern’s softball team, or maybe the catcher?

    The pharisees often told Jesus things they no doubt thought would make him uncomfortable about his need to change and grow. I guess I’m hoping that your elders invited you to an honest and non-defensive conversation, in which you could both speak in love about the mission you shared, after which you were trusted to do what you were called to do.

    • I agree with you totally Mark, in terms of theology. But for that context it would have been too distracting as the new, very young pastor to have picked that battle. This was 30 years ago in a town of 700. They were still coming to grips with having a female pastor – their first. Today it would be different.

  3. Yep! Also, I wonder if the comment about the tavern would be different today. You were 28, so that was, what, 10 years ago?

  4. I think of the times I’ve had to be the one with the hard news… “It’s time to step down as church treasurer…” “Yes, I know it’s hard to change [fill in the blank], but this is how we’re doing it now…” and yes, “You can no longer use the church copier for your own personal copying” [I’ve said that more than once!]
    I hope that it’s made it easier for me to take the times when someone has to say something to me, although the last time I can think of, it was “you should really wear your white alb rather than your black robe” in worship. I know, kind of silly, but this woman was right, and I was so glad! She could see that I didn’t look pale and ghastly in the white like I did in the black. When we know the correction is said in love, coming from someone covering our back (and front, in my case), it feels so much less critical. I wish churches could see presbytery that way!

  5. Pingback: Yes, You Can Judge Me | achurchforstarvingartists

  6. Way about when church leadership does not/will not hold the pastor accountable?

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