|I might be creeped out if people in my church actually had this bumper sticker. But I like the sentiment!|
I know it can be difficult to tell with the collar and robes and stoles and holiness and all, but actually, as it turns out, pastors are also just people. And we need to get treated like it. We need to be shown respect and compassion and TACT. Because when we don't, it hurts.* The only difference is we won't tell YOU about it, except in indirect and kind language the nuance of which you may completely miss unless you are also trained as a pastor. (This is something we call "discipling." In the Christian church, it means gently trying to get you to stop being an ass.) But the truth is we will tell our therapists and spiritual directors and spouses, which will end up either costing money we don't have or making our home life like a demilitarized zone. I know this is difficult to integrate. But it's the truth. And the sooner you embrace it the better. For all of us.
To help you along, I've developed a little list of stuff that I think will help guide you in the right direction. These are just examples from my own life. There could be many more. Let's just call this "THE BEGINNING."
- Do NOT visit my church, say you would love to meet for coffee (which will initiate in me the unconscious process of being excited that someone is actually interested in joining our church), and then ask me if I can help you to find a "good church" to go to, one with "quality preaching" and "vibrant worship." I know you see me as a spiritual resource and appreciate you coming to me for help. But as you might imagine if you have that special disorder we call "empathy," I will extrapolate from this that you thought our church "sucked" and that my preaching and worship leadership was "low quality" and "boring." This hurts. Remember that I don't come to your work and tell you I'd like you to help me find a (fill in the blank: banker, barista, photographer, landscape architect, whatever you are) who has real talent.
- Do NOT talk about my weight. Ever. Unless you are telling me I'm worth the equivalent of it in gold. Additionally, do NOT tell me I look tired. I am tired. This job is difficult and makes me crazy. People call me in the middle of the night. Contrary to popular opinion, you telling me I look like shit doing it doesn't make it any easier.
- Do NOT write me a lengthy email on Sunday evening telling me you didn't feel at all moved by the service I spent hours and hours and hours planning. No amount of positive feedback will be able to make up for this transgression in my mind and now I will be stressed that I am terrible at my job. If you want to help plan worship, join the worship committee to give constructive input. Or better yet, spend three years and thousands of dollars in seminary to become a pastor of your own damn church.
- Do NOT talk about how great it would be if the pastor of the church could take a huge pay-cut to help balance the budget. Though changes in staffing patterns may be inevitable in many small churches, don't talk about it as some obvious act of martyrdom that I should willingly undertake. I'm not Ghandi, you know.
- Please limit the amount of time you spend talking to me about how wonderful your previous minister was. Please stop telling VISITORS that you used to have another minister before me who was fabulous. Because this is not a good strategy for growth. Plus, I'm beginning to think you'd prefer to have your previous minister instead of me, which makes it difficult to come to work. If it helps, I will make a commitment to not talk to you all the time about my previous church, and how great it was and how they actually had money and office supplies and stuff.
- Do NOT ask me things such as, "Why do you need to go on vacation?" and "Don't you feel bad going on fancy trips when the people you work with are poor?" Yes. Of course I feel bad. In fact, it consumes me. And this is exactly why I need to go on vacation, an act which I will now enjoy less given the heavy burden of guilt you've so generously given me.
- When I meet you socially, at a party or wherever, and tell you I'm a minister, do NOT take is as license to talk all about how you hate religion and think it is evil and hypocritical etc. etc. etc. It's not that I can't handle this type of critique...I can and in fact myself am critical of some aspects of the religious institution. It's just that I also think religion is important and valuable (OBVIOUSLY, YOU JERKS) and like to show some respect for the topic and discuss it with people who care.
- Do NOT call me and leave a voicemail that simply says, "Please call me as soon as possible." without leaving a reason. This is a phrase which will lead me to believe you've just been in a horrible accident, when what you actually want to know is when the next book club meeting is. Just say that in the message and save me from experiencing a stress-induced aneurism.
- Do recognize that I am not perfect...try not to act shocked when this comes to light.
- Lastly, and not least-ly, DO say thank you sometimes. Yes, this is my job and yes, I do it joyfully, but it's also nice to hear some positive feedback sometimes.
* One of the MOST awesome things I've heard in a while was a Flight Attendant on a recent Alaska Airlines flight who said over the loudspeaker: "It's just about time to turn off your electronic devices. So we're going to come through the cabin to check. And please, if we ask you to turn off your phone, don't give us dirty looks. Because that's just hurtful."