In pastoral ministry I have had many experiences where people approach me with this sentence “Pastor we need to talk with you.” I can usually differentiate between a person going through crisis who needs help and a person who is angry with me over something I have done or said. At first I had no clue how to handle these critical meetings. I wanted to focus this article on some practical things that I have learned to remember before stepping into a meeting with a person or a group of people who seem angry about something you have done or said. I have made several mistakes in this area of pastoral ministry and it has only made me a better pastor. I hope this might be of help to you as a pastor when God’s sheep come at you with sharp teeth.
1. Humility: I can honestly say that some of the most humiliating things can happen in meeting with angry people. People can lash out and hit you right where it hurts the most. People that you thought were your friends can turn on you in the most personal ways in local church ministry. You can begin to develop a defensive and prideful heart after several years of pastoral ministry if you do not remember what humility is all about. Remember: The Local church is not about me.
2. God’s Sovereignty: God is in complete control of the situation. He knows what you are walking into and he will speak to your heart about it before, during and after the meeting if you will listen and trust Him. Remember: Nothing that happens in this meeting will surprise God.
3. Your forehead: God has a way of working problems out in these meeting. Some people need to hear their words bounce off of your forehead in order to identify the location of their hearts. People actually surprise themselves with some of the horrible things they say. Remember: Sometimes people need to hear themselves talk and that’s why God has given you a forehead… it’s a part of His process.
4. Your abilities: At some point in meetings where sheep get cannibalistic… your abilities will be questioned. It is good to personally question your abilities and inabilities (strengths and weaknesses) all the time as a servant of God and in these meetings people can speak to you in a very critical way… publically. Remember: No one has asked you to do everything. You are not the church’s “Leatherman” or “multi tool”. It takes a whole group of people with abilities to make the church work. It is OK to remind your critics of your limitations as a human in these meetings.
5. Love: Take control and open the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. Before I enter a meeting I remember or pray this very pastoral passage out of Philippians 1:9-11 “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9–11, ESV) Remember: Love modeled in meetings like these, by you will make an indelible mark on people.
6. Alone is not always a good idea: Go into the meeting with someone if possible who is capable of mediating or even just witnessing. I understand that this is not always possible but church leadership should be as involved as possible in these situations. Remember: You should not be alone. Elders should be taking and shouldering any criticism WITH you.
7. Don’t dump it on your spouse: Do not (if possible) go home and unload what just happened on your spouse. You DO need to talk to someone though. Call or visit a pastor friend and ask them to listen but resist the urge to dump on your spouse. Remember: You do not need your spouse to take up your offenses for you. Their plate is full enough. Spread out any info about the meeting to them over the week if you must… just don’t dump.
8. Both sides need to change: Most of the time you are NOT the whole problem. Do not hand anyone your backbone or they will beat you with it. Be encouraged by the fact that the need of change is NOT resting completely on your shoulders. Remember: Both sides need to change in order for real growth and unity to happen in your church.
9. Prayer: soak every moment you get in conversation with God about the meeting and the people involved. Remember: Your enemies may want to monologue at you but God desires dialogue with you. Personal dialogue with God in prayer before, during and after the meeting you are not alone in that respect. Just don’t let them see you moving your lips or hear you… they might think your loosing it. LOL
10. Wait for the last ten minutes: I am not sure why but it seems like the last ten minutes of a meeting like this is where the most meaningful communication happens. Remember: Wait for the last ten minutes of the meeting to listen for the real problem. Everything before the last ten minutes is just warm up.
11. Be ready for some “concerned friends”: Sometimes a person will come up to you (not being completely honest) and say “they” would like to set up a meeting with you. Little did you know “they” means five or six others who have, in the spirit of friendship, taken up the leader’s offences. This is the critical meeting’s equivalent to the social phenomenon of “potty partners”. Remember: They are usually parrots focus on the lead bird. The rest will follow.
So pastors I want to hear what might add to this list. I wish I would have had one when I first entered into pastoral ministry.