I was recently surprised when leaders in my current church told me that they wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my ordination. 10 years? Has it been 10 years of full-time ordained ministry as a pastor? I am very thankful that my congregation that I serve took the time to mark the occasion. As I mentioned in my book, The Work of the Associate Pastor, churches help the longevity of their pastor with recognition such as of years of service or ordination anniversaries. Before I was ordained, I spent an additional 8 years in part-time ministry throughout college and seminary. A total of 18 years of ministry in congregations (including a stint in college campus ministry). Where has the time gone?
In the midst of helping and caring for hundreds or thousands of people, you can’t please everyone. Especially when pastors work within change and renewal, we sometimes are at the blunt end of verbal contempt. In addition, we make mistakes. We are just as human as anyone else. We try our best to reconcile. When people are misinformed, we pastors try be sensitive to those who do not have all the information.
As I look in 10 years of ministry at my previous churches, here are the most painful comments directed to me (not in any order):
- “You spend too much time in the community. You are not here for them. You are here for us.” Historically, ministers of this particular church were in groups, organizations, and community service opportunities. I followed this pattern. If a church wants to grow, growth comes from new members, the unchurched and new believers. Where are these people? In the community.
- “Because of giving, we might have to cut a pastor. That would be you.” Scary, right?
- When I asked someone their dreams for the church, the reply came: “Why do you care? You’re not going to be here long.” In the process of visioning, I had made individual visits to key long-time church members when this comment came up. At first, I was in shock. As time went by, I wasn’t sure what to make of the comment.
- “I thought I told you that you are doing the Lord’s Prayer wrong! That’s not the way to do it!” We had communicated to the congregation for many weeks that I’d be preaching on prayer and we would pray different versions of the Lord’s Prayer to gain a deeper perspective.
- “You were never there for me.” After spending many months working and ministering with a group of people in crisis, I received this comment. I had personally visited multiple times with each person and as a group. I worked with others in the church to provide resources to help this group of people, who were church members. Months later, mental illness revealed itself to be a major factor.
- “You’re wife doesn’t care about older people.” I was more hurt by this than my wife. The relationships that my wife built were with other mothers, married women, single women, and teenage girls. She was connected with all the women of our church. However, this individual didn’t think that way.
- “Yeah, we have new people but they aren’t giving.” After many new people came and joined the church, someone apparently thought that new people weren’t giving enough. It’s not that this person had access to this information but they thought they had all the facts.
- “You didn’t visit them in the hospital.” It was a frequent concern of mine that when someone went into the hospital the family or individual didn’t notify the church office, me, or a deacon. I found out years later that many assumed that if they tell a church member that they are in the hospital it means the minister will know. Or, I would visit an individual and my presence was not mentioned. (Not that it needed to be mentioned.) Their church friend wouldn’t hear about my visit and would assume I wasn’t there.
- “No. I don’t want someone disabled helping me.” This comment was not directed at me but it was told to me by someone who refused to be helped by another individual in the church. It was painful to hear that someone would not accept the ministry of another because of an ailment.
- “He’s too good for that.” This comment was repeated to me directly. After getting a new ministry off the ground, asking for volunteers, attracting outside funding, and working to get the community involved, I was accused of not getting my hands dirty enough to help. I was physically involved in the ministry on a weekly basis.
Being a pastor requires the gracefulness to listen to these comments and not be reactive. Anyone in a helping profession will be on the receiving end of negative smears or comments. Over the years, through success and failure, I’ve learned to not let negativity dominate me and not allow it to filter into the people I serve. As Jimmy Buffett sings, “Breathe in. Breathe out. Move on.”
As I reflect on these 10 years of ordained ministry, there were really powerful transformative experiences of people coming to know Christ. There were emotional moments at weddings, baptisms, and funerals. The moments of counseling, discipleship teaching, and outreach are recalled as life-giving opportunities in my ministry. There were points of growth for congregations, programs, and ministries. I value and thank mentors, my parents, friends, leaders, and professors who shaped and formed me.
Tomorrow, I’ll post “10 most helpful comments as a pastor” in order to give balance to my reflection of 10 years of ordained ministry.
Alan Rudnick is an American Baptist minister, author of “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, serves on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Mission Council, and is a doctoral student at La Salle University (PA).