10 January 2009

Which Is Worse?

As I've been mulling over the past year, I've been debating with myself (always safer than debating with others), trying to decide which is worse:

When someone who knows me (and ought to know better) makes assumptions and jumps to conclusions about me; not giving me the benefit of the doubt, nor making any effort to verify the facts or clarify appearances, nor speaking with me at all to address his (or her) concerns, but simply passes judgment upon me (and passes that judgment on to others in turn); or,

When someone who doesn't know me from Adam does the same thing.

I've basically concluded that it's worse, and certainly more hurtful, when someone who knows me acts this way. I'm less worried, ultimately, about the attitudes and actions of people who neither know me nor make any effort to understand me.

Worst of all, though, for me at least, is when people I have cared for as a pastor, and care about, write me off and stop speaking to me and suddenly disappear altogether without a word of explanation, so that I am left either guessing or relying on scuttlebutt. That remains one of the hardest things for me to comprehend or deal with.

I know that our Lord and His Apostles and Prophets were abandoned by many of those they served with the Word of God, and I do take comfort in that (though I am obviously not the preacher or teacher that any of them were). It still hurts, however. When I preach and speak the Gospel to people, I pour myself out for them and bind myself to them, because I speak in the Name and stead of the One who has done so for us all. In my own small way, then, I suffer the rejection that He has also suffered, when my words, my office and even my person are despised. My Lord has told me to rejoice and be glad in such a case, and I suppose that I do to some extent, even in my weakness, by grace through faith in His Word. But letting go of the hurt is hard for me. Kyrie Eleison!

What does this mean for me? What can I learn from the hurt I suffer?

It is a reminder, first of all, that I must guard my words and actions, so as not to intrude any offense beyond the scandal of the Cross of Christ and the judgment of the Word of God.

Second, in reacting and responding to the words and actions of others, I should deal with my neighbor in the way that I would prefer to be dealt with; that is, by speaking with him rather than about him, verifying the facts, clarifying appearances, and addressing my concerns with loving patience and ready forgiveness. God grant me, in this new Year of our Lord 2009, the heart and mind and ears and mouth of Christ to do so.


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Thank you for sharng this. As the wife of a pastor,I've had this happen to me, and what is even more difficult, I've seen my husband go through this. I don't think people realize how much this hurts a pastor...another assumption they are making.

Joy said...

Yes, I second RPW. People don't realize how much it hurts because they underestimate how much a pastor can love his flock--even as a father pitieth his children.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Most people have no idea. Some people don't care. Many people mistakenly suppose that it is less hurtful to say nothing than to address their concerns by speaking with the pastor.

It is difficult, in part, because most people have no frame of reference for understanding the pastoral office. They compare it to the role of a teacher, a doctor, a psychologist, or a business exec, but they don't comprehend the intimate connnection between the pastoral office and the Gospel.

Of course, it is also true that pastors make mistakes. They sometimes misspeak. They act with poor judgment on occasion. But for these reasons, too, for the sake of the Gospel, it is necessary for those who are concerned to speak with their pastor; and the purpose of such conversation is aimed, not at personality, but at the faithful confession of the Word of God. Both pastor and parishioners proceed in the humility of repentant faith.

Notwithstanding a pastor's feelings and failings, the most important thing is not whether he is hurt or happy, but that the Gospel be preached and received. It's easy enough for a pastor to be overwhelmed by his emotional experience of the office, but he must be governed by the Word of God in all of his dealings with the people of God.

Indeed, the Word of God must govern both the pastor in his administration of the Mysteries of God, and the parishioner in his relationship with the pastor. It is for that reason, far more than the danger of hurt feelings, that a person should speak with his pastor about any questions, concerns or criticisms, rather than disappearing without a word.