So You Don’t Like Your Pastor…

ImageBuried somewhere in the piles of boxes in my garage is the composite picture of the graduating class of Concordia Theological Seminary in 1996. There’s a whole lot of black and white in that color picture, what with all the clerical shirts and clerical collars and clerical teeth smiling for the camera. I learned theology with these men, debated with them, partied with them, prayed with them. And through it all, one truth arose to the surface, over and over again. It’s an obvious truth, but sometimes it’s the obvious truths that we tend to ignore the most. And it’s a truth that the congregations these men serve frequently forget: these pastors, although they stand in the stead of Christ to minister to the people of God, are full of the same fears and flaws, loneliness and lust, desires and desperations, as the folks in the pew. Pastors are built from the same stuff as everyone else. And that’s good, and that’s bad.

It’s good because the more they’re able to identify with the people to whom they minister, the better ministers they’ll be. The more they’re acquainted with grief, the better comforters they’ll be at the graveside. The more they know of depression, the better they’ll be at walking with the downcast through their dark valleys. They can sympathize with the weakness of the human heart, and apply to other hearts the same divine, healing words that they apply to their own. It’s a good thing that pastors are built from the same stuff as everyone else. And it’s a bad thing.

It’s a bad thing for lots of reasons. It means that some of them, when they struggle with the same lust that bedevils all men, will succumb, will fall, and will likely find themselves divorced both from marriage and ministry. It means that a few of them will become so lonely, so depressed, that when the pills and booze no longer do the trick, they opt for the loaded pistol next. It means that sometimes they will quarrel with members over stupid things, that they’ll sulk because of wounded pride, that they’ll show favoritism. That they’re built from the same stuff as everyone else means that they’re sinners, and, as such, they’re going to suck at their job sometimes.

It also means that you’re not always going to like your pastor. He’s not always going to be the charming, polite, patient, thick-skinned, wise, caring soul that you want him to be.

Did he not seem all there last Sunday? A bit red-eyed, maybe even hung over? Did you ever stop to consider that perhaps he and wife got into a fight late Saturday night about something that’s none of your business, that he drank too much, and got maybe two hours sleep on the couch? It happens. And I bet some version of that happens at your house, too. Cut him some slack. He’s built of the same stuff as you are.

Did he not seem happy to take your call last Friday? Did it cross your mind that it might have been the one day off he has, or that he’s worked 70+ hours this week, or that he has a migraine, or simply that he’s worn down from caring for hurting people and desperately needs a vacation that he probably can’t afford? Cut him some slack. He’s built of the same stuff as you are.

Christians live by the forgiveness of sins. And pastors do too. They turn to the same crucified and resurrected Lord as you do. They confess. They hear the absolution. They believe. They drink from the same cup of His blood, eat of His same body. For they fail—they fail themselves, they fail their wives and children, they fail their congregation. They are mortal men beset with weaknesses, most of which they keep hidden deep within. Do not expect them to be perfect. Do not expect to like them all time. But do forgive them. It’s one of the greatest gifts that you can give your pastor: to cover his multitude of sins with your love, to extend to him the same forgiveness that he extends to you, to welcome him as a fellow sinner who lives by the same Lord of grace as you do.

This Sunday many congregations will celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. When they do, I hope they remember that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the only truly good, truly perfect pastor that will ever serve the church.


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28 thoughts on “So You Don’t Like Your Pastor…

  1. J. Frahm on said:

    Dear Pressure Points,
    Go away!


    The Ministerium of the LCMS

  2. Brian Phillips on said:

    Reblogged this on Christ & Church and commented:
    This is a heartfelt, honest plea to congregations on behalf of ministers. Since I am a pastor myself, this one is tough to repost, but needed nonetheless. Thanks to my Lutheran brother for his honest appeal.

  3. Mike Erickson on said:

    A very nicely written post, Chad. Well said. M. Erickson

  4. Fred on said:

    I have heard it said that if you want a better pastor than pray for the one God has given you.

  5. Thanks, Chad.

    The peace of Christ, the comfort of the Holy Ghost, and the consolation of the brethren be with you.

  6. Ron on said:

    Well written and to the point. Unfortunately, it contains advice that won’t be well received from those who most need to hear it.

  7. I think some of the difficulty that we mortals have is that we grew up with pastors who seemed less human and more saint-like, not that its a bad thing. I know that my pastor for most of my upbringing was so near “perfect” that he held a place of such high regard, that I could never consider him to be a mere mortal. As the pastor of a fairly large congregation, he would sometimes confuse me with my brother, but he would always apologize to me later, as he would remember his error. He is a tough act to follow, and it sometimes shades my view of the others who have followed in his footsteps.

    • You make a very good point, Tim. We do tend to compare other pastors to the “model pastor,” whoever that might be for us. I’ve found myself doing the same thing.

  8. Neil Ray on said:

    Dear Professor Bird,
    Thank you so very much for the blog. I thank God that I had the privilege to learn from you in the classroom at CTS, and that through your blog I still continue to be taught by you.

    Following a church council meeting a few weeks ago (during Holy Week), I lost my temper and sinned against God and one of my flock. I have confessed my dobro God, and am assured of His mercy and forgiveness. Unfortunately, my parishioner has refused to forgive me, is unwilling to meet with me to discuss my reprehensible behavior, and has stopped attending the Divine Service. I continue to pray for her forgiveness and for reconciliation. Your post was one that I desperately needed to read, and I will try to share it with her.

    Thank you once again for continuing to teach this chief of sinners.

    Pax Christi,
    Neil Ray

  9. Dan McClairen on said:

    So Refreshing

  10. Thank you for the comment, Neil. It was a privilege to have you as a student. I was once in a situation similar to the one you describe. You stand forgiven in Christ. Be patient. You’re doing what’s right. Reconciliation is sometimes a slow process, encumbered as it is by wounded egos. Pray for her and let the Lord work on her. The time will come.

  11. As the mother of a Pastor/Chaplain I couldn’t agree with this article more.

  12. I understand that pastors are human, sin and have as many failings as the rest of us. I get t hat. What I don’t understand is how a pastor can tell someone who is deeply grieving and sharing a memory that the good Lord has given the privilege of witnessing the dying person reaching out to their mother and calling her name while looking me straight in the eye. I know in my heart that my grandfather was reaching out for his mom who I believe without a doubt had come to take him home to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I didn’t ask to be the one who would be with my grandfather as he died. That’s the last thing I wanted. I had never seen a person die before, but the Lord wanted me there for a reason. I firmly believe that he wanted to see my PAPA go with his mom to heaven . What a beautiful memory and privilege it was!

    I was telling this story to my pastor as he was “trying” to comfort me days after I again was privileged to watch my mom die along with some holy Angels go to heaven. He told what I witness both times didn’t happen and we don’t know what we see or hear just as take our last breath. He didn’t come out as call me a liar but he indicated I was mistaken. I asked him if ever witness a dying person having this type of experience. He said no.

    He ruined a beautiful memory and experience for me. One the Lord gave me! I’ve read of people who have witness the same as I have and I’ve asked several doctors, hospice nurses, other clergy and all either witness what I did or read of others who have had the same experience.

    I told him what I experienced was true and just because he hasn’t experienced it doesn’t make what I experienced not true and that I wasn’t lying. He left shortly afterwards. He didn’t say he was sorry or say what a privilege I had. I haven’t heard from him since.

    I went back to church several times after but never felt comfortable there. Our conversation keeps coming back and then I get very angry all over again. I haven’t gone back there because I don’t want to take communion and do harm to myself. I’ve forgiven him or so I’ve tried. Just thinking about it still hurts.

    He hasn’t tried to find out why I don’t go to church. It’s a small church and he knows I’m not there. Neither has any elder or anyone else contacted me. It doesn’t surprise me after the way he treated me, my mom and her funeral. It makes me wonder just what the sems are teaching pastors these days.

    I’m a cradle LCMS and never in my wildest dreams would I have expected a LCMS pastor to tell me i’m a liar and treat me with such disrespect! I won’t go back to that church until he leaves which isn’t going to happen in the near future. It makes sad to think I can’t go to church because of something the pastor said and did.

    So yes , pastors are human and we need to remember that, but they need to remember we as members are just as human and have feelings like they do. Especially in times of grief when all they want is comfort and the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

    • Julie on said:

      Dear Dee,
      I believe you. I believe in you and I am so sorry.
      I am sorry for mean people. I am so sorry for people who seem to think that just because they don’t agree; that you are wrong.

      I am praying for your heart right now after reading the message you wrote about the man (pastor) not believing your story about what you saw and heard when your grandfather and mother passed away.

      It is my sincere hopeful prayer that the precious memory that you had be restored to its fullest beauty.
      You received such a gift. And a gift it was. And for whatever the reason that God wanted you to receive that peek into his heart; you were granted an honor.

      You walked your loved ones home to heaven.

      Not many people can receive that intimate blessing; and those who never have will never understand what is happening in the hours, minutes, seconds as our loved ones transfers from our arms to our Gods.

      May God bless your heart with a loving spirit of forgiveness for the ignorant pastor who just didn’t understand. Perhaps one day he will have the privilege and it will all become clear to him. Until then; treasure the memory and the moment you have been granted. Do not try and explain it; but like Mary; treasure it in your heart and ponder the love from where it came.

      Blessings to you Dee and may your heart grow full of love, mercy and grace; for yourself and others.

      A sister in Christ

      P.S. I absolutely clicked on this website by accident & my eyes fell on your comment. Divine inspiration?

  13. Pingback: My Top Five Most Popular Blog Posts of 2014 |

  14. Pastor Bird,

    A much needed article. I think a side affect of such would be that a congregation with such a real sinner pastor would have real sinners come more to him for council and confession, especially the youth.

  15. Saved Through Childbearing on said:

    Reblogged this on Saved Through Childbearing and commented:
    Unfortunately, this happens more often than it should. People take for granted that the pastor is merely human. This article is great. Our pastors have families, worries, and problems of their own, yet we seek to destroy them because of THEIR shortcomings. The very men we go to, to seek forgiveness, are the ones we cut down and slander when something doesn’t get said or fixed the way WE want it to be fixed. Our pastors are only human. We need to love and understand them more than anyone. They work more than the hour during church. They’re gone from their families more than not. Yet, sometimes, it seems that their families are the only ones that understand. I love my pastor (obviously), and I love every other pastor out there. Because they are preaching forgiveness that we don’t deserve to us, because it is what God called them to do. Understanding and forgiveness. The two major things your pastor may or may not seek from his very own people.

  16. Pingback: So You Don’t Like Your Pastor… | The impossible dream

  17. Samuel Wolter on said:

    “pastors are built from the same stuff as everyone else.”


  18. Reblogged this on harmonyspearls and commented:
    This is very true, and might be very hard for people to read. Inspirational.

    Thinking of my own dad, and the pastors I care for in my own church. ❤️

  19. My son, like me an Episcopal priest, posted this to his Facebook page and commented “Amen!” I join him in that affirmation. Thanks for saying again what needs to be said over and over again in ever Christian tradition.

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