Saturday, June 5, 2010

FW: I Had a Bad Experience with....

Pastoral perspective on an important pastoral care issue…


Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Friday, June 04, 2010 7:14 AM
Author: Pastor Peters
Subject: I Had a Bad Experience with....




Often we hear from people who have left the Church or the faith that they had a bad experience with the Church or with a Pastor or with somebody in the Church.... etc... It would seem that there is not much to commend the Church or those who belong to the Church or those who serve the Church as Pastor that so many people have had such bad experiences that it has caused them to be distant from the means of grace and remove themselves from the fellowship life of God's people around His Word and Sacraments.  Now, don't get me wrong, I know that Pastors and people in the Church have behaved badly and done terrible things (from the obvious of sexual abuse to a cold shoulder shown to new folks).  I know that I have failed in many ways to fulfill the full hope, promise, and scope of the Office of Pastor committed to me in my ordination and renewed each time I was installed into a particular parish.  But I wonder if there is not something more than simply the failures of the Church, the people in the pew and the Pastors who serve her.

While I do not mean to diminish the hurt or wounds some have suffered at the hands of Christian people and their Christian Pastor, I must also admit that often people come to the Church with impossible expectations that are surely to be broken by the reality of human frailty.  I have had folks who complained bitterly that I spent way too much time in my office and at the very same time folks complain that when they came to see me I was not there.  "What good is it to have a spiritual leader who is not there when you need him?" expressed one frustrated individual when they came to the church office looking for me and I was not there.  When I expressed concern about a wedding on the day after Christmas that had moved from an informal service with only a few folks to a full formal wedding with all the accouterments, the mother of the bride informed that this is what I was there for and it did not matter whether I had time to spend with my family at Christmas. Every Pastor can tell the same stories of folks who had impossible expectations designed for failure and disappointment.

Often the congregation is accused of being unfriendly or unwelcoming.  The other side of the coin is that these people have welcomed and attempted to be friends with many new folks who showed up and burned hot like a sparkler for a moment only to fizzle and fall away.  I am not defending unkindness but admitting that the faithful in the pews who teach Sunday school, who sing in the choir, who usher and greet, who do what is needed on work days inside and out, who serve on council, boards, and committees, who bring food to pot lucks and funeral receptions, and on and on... well, it is understandable that they might be a little sanguine in the face of new folks who want to belong immediately, change everything around them, and then disappear quickly.  I am not saying this is right, but it is understandable.

Often people come to the Church with wounds looking for quick and easy healing.  They come with a need to belong and want to be fully connected immediately and are sometimes very impatient as they find their place within the community and fellowship.  They come with past wounds and sensitivities that become the lens through which they judge the congregation they are at now (but the folks in this congregation do not know what those past hurts or sensitivities are and therefore do not know how to respond to them).  They come with frustrations and bitterness from many sources that spill out in the Church though the Church was not the cause or the source of them.   

Often people come to the Church with impossibly high expectations.  They expect the people of the Church to be holy and pure (at the end of the process of sanctification and not in the middle of it).  They expect the Church to be able to fix kids with behavior problems, rebellious teens, spouses with problems, families broken, lives stressed to the limit, and finances a mess.  They expect these things to be repaired by the Church but they are hesitant to listen to the Church and unwilling to commit much to their life together as members of the Church.

All in all I think that the failures of the Church, her Pastors and people, and the impossible expectations of some who come looking for more than the Church is capable of fulfilling have created a focus that distracts from the fact that there are faithful folks in the pews, faithful Pastors leading them, new people coming into the fellowship and finding a home in the faith, faithful work done every day through Word and Sacrament to apply the healing grace of Christ to His people in need, and faithful communities who bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the love of Christ.  But this does not get the attention of the people outside the Church nor does it get its rightful focus in the meetings or on the agendas of congregations and their Pastors. 

When Jesus said to us "the poor you will always have with you" He was not giving us the green light to ignore them or suggesting that we can do nothing to help them.  He was reminding us that in the Church we deal in the arenas of need, sin, and death that will not end until He returns in His glory to bring to completion all things.  Until that time we have the poor, the needy, the wounded, those with impossibly high expectations of us, and a skeptical world around us... but we also have Him and where He is there is His Church doing His bidding and accomplishing His purpose... hidden, out of focus, and put on the sidelines in comparison to the problems and troubles of the moment... but this picture is the bigger picture than the problems or the troubles.... don't you?

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