Of Pastors and Potshots

boxing businessmanEvery Thursday we’ll post something to do with relational or emotional concerns. Hope it helps.

Of Pastors and Potshots

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena — ” – Theodore Roosevelt

The man in the arena does the heavy lifting while the spectators do the heavy talking. The talk’s usually by way of critique, which is fair enough, since the arena is, after all, a place of spectator sport. So the spectators are entitled to their opinions of what players should or should not do, and will boo or cheer accordingly, just as I’m entitled to view then pick apart the new Superman movie, having paid good money both to see it and judge it. In sports, as in all forms of entertainment, that’s reasonable.

Problem is, so much of life today is being lived in the critic’s chair and too little in the arena. This generation has, like none before it, access via remote to view the action on television or computer, opting to spend more time commenting than doing. We’re a nation of watchers, taking full advantage of our still new communication modes to comment and criticize, often at the expense of doing.

That mindset of critique over action can, IMHO, spill into church life which is, unlike the arena, designed for participation more than observation. Services are not ticketed events we passively observe then rate. They’re opportunities to exercise our spiritual gifts, express and demonstrate love, worship, pray, minister and be ministered to. Sitting still for the sermon’s just a part of all that, and even when listening to our pastors we’re wise if, as the sermon begins, we pray God will anoint them, give them clarity of speech, and feed us through them.

When guest speaking at African-American churches I’ve seen this wisdom repeatedly. Perhaps because church has been, for their community, a historically unifying and up-building place during the worst of times, there’s a welcoming and encouraging spirit expressed from congregation to speaker, urging him to speak it clearly, preach it fully, bring it on. In those churches I’ve been honored to address, I’ve felt the congregants wanted to be fed well, and were smart enough to know that warm expressions of welcome and encouragement enhance a speaker’s ability to preach well, so everyone wins.

We could take a lesson from that. The pastor upheld in prayer, encouraged in his service, and generally loved, is far more likely to shepherd well (duh!) than the one whose flock observes him like an episode of Law and Order they’ll critique after church. And yet, in so many conversations among church members, we heard more potshots directed towards the shepherd than praise, in which case nobody wins.

For sure, pastors are not above criticism. When they’re wrong, either in the doctrine they’re promoting, the actions they’re taking, or the attitude they’re expressing, a healthy church will call them on it. Noble Bereans were inclined to say We’ll look it up before they’d say Amen!, (Acts 17:11) and Paul himself advised that Elders in sin should be openly rebuked. (II Tim. 5:20) So just as needless nit-picking is sinful, so is blind yes-manning, and pastors demanding blind obedience ought to be kept after school and forced to write James fifty time on the blackboard:

“My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”  (James 3:1)

Still, I wonder if our penchant for spectatorship makes us more inclined to rate our overseers from the comfort of the critics corner and less inclined to fully enter into, and contribute to, our congregation’s life. For some of us, contribution looks like offering our teaching or administrative gifts to help build the Body up. For others it’s lending our strength to the church via practical helps. But for all of us, it should at least mean daily lifting our pastors in prayer, asking God to bless their family lives, grant them deep peace and strength, speak clearly to them and make His guidance in their lives unmistakable. It should mean expressing our appreciation to them regularly, not taking it for granted that they’ve no need for occasional encouragement and feedback. It should mean contributing financially to the organization providing so much without cover charge, making sure we’re not guilty of simply taking and refusing to invest.

Many of my friends are pastors, and my respect for them is indescribable. Like you, I’ve known some clerical jerks, and the bad taste they left still lingers. But by and large, these guys serve to build us up so we can better live what we believe, and they go through untold pressures, temptations, exhaustions. Many of them labor while working second jobs just to feed their families; many make themselves both available and vulnerable on a virtually 24/7basis, letting themselves be stretched and strained in ways only another pastor could really understand. It’s a blessing and honor, to be sure, being a pastor to God’s flock. But the wear and tear going with the job description cry out for appreciative support from the sheep.

I hope my pastor feels cared for by we who are cared for by him. I hope he’s spiritually growing and vibrant, satisfied in a happy home life and abundantly blessed and empowered to do what’s required of him. He’s been entrusted to oversee my spiritual life. Well good grief, I’d want a pilot flying the plane I’m on to be rested and strong, so how much more do I want the Rev in my life to be nothing less? If he’s doing it right – and I know, in my case, he is – he’s dying to himself, laying down his life for the flock as Jesus said a good shepherd does. (John 10:11)

As Willie Loman’s wife famously said in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” about her hardworking and oft unappreciated husband,

“Attention must be paid. Attention must finally be paid to a person like that.”


Jim | Jun 27, 2013

How much that word of appreciation would have meant to me the last couple of years of my pastoral ministry. My depression was exacerbated by the silence and the critics, which led to my mental and emotional meltdown and to my early retirement. I guess I should say I'm fortunate that my attempts at suicide were unsuccessful. There are still days when I wish I were in heaven. I don't blame all of my problems on the lack of appreciation, of course. Chemical things were going on as well. I have to say that I'm tired after ten years of major depression and forty years in the ministry. I've learned the importance of a few kind words and now try to express them to our pastor, even though I don't like his extreme negativity. I believe he's doing his best and is trying to hear from God.

I appreciate all that you have to say here in your blog. May God continue to bless you.

Jerry | Jun 28, 2013

Great message. Thanks Joe.

randallslack | Jun 28, 2013

As a former full time pastor, excellent article. Don't forget the wives. Two women made it their 7-1/2 year mission to try to destroy my wife. While I miss the full time ministry, I don't miss the mess.

Lisa Leduc | Jun 28, 2013

Thank you. I just sent this to my Pastors. Keep on preaching it! Amen.

JW | Jul 27, 2013

This is so great! The second paragraph is so true, and so self evident now days. Hit the nail on the head for me again Joe. All the new media has its place and is great, but at what cost? It's so easy to sit at my key board and rant and rave about my angst on every disappointment about every subject under the sun....while doing....nothing but.

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