Weathering the storm

Pastors counsel people in crisis. Where does a pastor go when he or she needs assistance?

TRICIA BROWN
United Methodist Communications

Henry Ford once said, “Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

As the “go-to” person for calming the storm, where do you turn when you find yourself in the middle of one? Let God guide the way and be proactive. Here are the most common pastor problems and a few problem-solving tips to guard against the winds and help you weather the storm.

Dealing with criticism

Everybody can be a critic, but criticism in the church is especially disconcerting. When members of the congregation begin to complain and gossip about you, your preaching or your leadership, divisions among the church body can quickly arise. Giving and receiving criticism can be tricky. How should you, as a pastor, respond to criticism?

Consider the cause.
When you first begin to hear the whispers of complaints, you should do your best to effectively determine if they are something that need to be addressed or ignored. For example, some complaints result from people who seem to derive enjoyment from the act itself. Others are just a temporary side effect of change or transition within the church. By considering the cause, you can discern when it is wise to take a deep breath, take it to the Lord, and give it time. In many cases, the situation will work itself out.

Contemplate the complaint.
When you have determined the cause of the complaints, you should also take time to seriously evaluate the validity of them. Carefully consider and pray about what is being said. Ask yourself if there is any truth in the complaints. If so, don’t be too proud to admit it. Don’t be afraid to apologize when necessary. In every situation, ask yourself if there is anything positive you can take away from what is being said. Is there anything that you can use to help better yourself or your church?

Care about communication.
It takes humility and a teachable spirit, but as much as possible make it clear that you are open to suggestions from congregants. In doing so, you may be able to thwart behind-the-back criticism and divisive attitudes.

Sometimes people just want an opportunity to express their opinions. You don’t have to agree or accept what they say; there is value in simply being willing to listen. Learn how to be a gracious listener and take your time when responding. “I hear what you are saying.” “I will definitely pray about that.” “I haven’t thought of it like that before.” “I will take that into consideration.”

These types of statements can help diffuse tensions and convey a sense of respect to your critic. Of course, you will still need to ensure that critics understand and respect the appropriate times and places for such discussions. Don’t be afraid to set and enforce boundaries.

Confront the criticism.
Whenever possible, take steps to avoid church conflict. However, when criticism is ill-founded, hurtful, malicious gossip, you may have to confront it head-on. If left to fester, that kind of infection can grow into a debilitating disease within your congregation.

It is sometimes necessary to address the issue personally. When doing so, always precede a meeting with lots of prayer, always have a Christ-like spirit, and always follow biblical guidelines. In addition, you would do well to check your own emotional state. Try to stay as calm as possible, and avoid getting defensive or taking the comments personally. Don’t make the situation a battle, and definitely refrain from retaliation. Read more about resolving church conflict.

There’s more

Brown also talks about Time Management, Physical and Mental Issues, and Financial Struggles as additional struggles pastors face and how to address them. Read here.

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