‘Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.”‘ –2 Sam. 15:4
A handwritten-note pressed into my dad’s hand on Sunday 5 July 2015 by elder 13, with a comment to the effect of, ‘Just read it, I don’t want to argue about it.’ This was after the morning service in the fellowship hall. On the same day, my dad received an angry email from an offended worship leader; I know he spent a lot of time writing an apology to this person. To date I don’t believe he ever received acknowledgement of his request for forgiveness. I think it is clear that the offended worship leader went to 13 before broaching the subject with my dad. I respond to the rest of the points below. I have represented the punctuation as accurately as possible; the scan doesn’t always make mechanics clear. The scan is included below the commentary.
Pastor T Some Suggestions 7/5/15
1. Don’t change, rearrange-alter song service leaders [sic] preparation. They feel like their effort has been disrespected.
2. Be more engaged in lives of parishioners & in community—be at functions—read the paper—have contacts—go to events—ie spend less time on internet.
3. Seek broader participation of your members—listen to them, act so they think their input is being integrated in direction of church
4. be less professoriale [sic] more pastoral. Feed the sheep. Comfort them w/ messages, their lives are difficult, encourage them. (illegible)
5. Have messages reflect joy in Christian life. We can live triumphantly in Jesus. They need to hear more than what seems like a continual call to repent!
Point 1. I’ve already made some remarks above; given how rarely my dad ever did make a change to the order of a song service, this is an odd item to have on a list which, I assume, purports to be representative of the major concerns of a majority of the church, and it certainly implies that this is a chronic problem. At the time, my dad went through his email records and was able to find only two occasions on which he changed an order or ommitted a song (for which he likely would have had an explanation—these weren’t power plays). 2 occasions in over 7 years.
2. This I found very odd indeed, as my dad and sister had only two weeks before driven and taken the ferry over to Wisconsin to attend the graduation ceremony of 13’s granddaughter. It would have been nice to have examples of things which he hadn’t attended, since I could think of the many community events to which I’d accompanied him (including soup suppers, the local youth show, the ‘Christian school’ concerts, graduation ceremonies and open houses, Booster club auctions…). The ‘suggestion’ to ‘read the paper’ makes me narrow my eyes, as this is, I believe, a pet peeve of 13; those aware of this point will draw what conclusions they may (how many parishioners and their experiences will be featured in the local paper?). If I want my pastor involved in my life, or to know what’s going on, I tell him. I know he has a job and a life and a family, and is not clairvoyant. Since I’m not in the Bristol Post regularly, that’s the only other way he would know I’m going through something without my telling him. I suppose a story could get around, but I won’t hold it against him if he doesn’t hear it and approach me first. If I need counsel, I let him know so he can make time for me. But that’s just my experience, I suppose. The remark about the internet I found very condescending at the time, though a few other issues arise—how does 13 know how much time my dad spent on the internet? And, my dad at the time wondered if such a comment was precipitated by his forwarding of a blog post by John MacArthur to the council. Apparently he ought not to have been wasting the time of those who are supposed to be equipped to teach the flock by drawing their attention to valuable outside Christian resources.
3. It is hard to know what this is about without context or examples of who ‘doesn’t feel integrated’. It’s also weird because only a few months before, I was speaking on the phone with 13’s wife, and she stated very succinctly, ‘ekkles, people just don’t care.’ She also said, ‘Maybe this isn’t a praying church.’ Are 13 and his wife describing the same people? This point in the note seems to indicate that people are actually enthusiastic and plugged in, but are not being invited to be involved, but his wife indicated she thought most people were actually apathetic. Who is which? Also, when I read this, I tend to think this sort of networking or coordinating people would not be the pastor’s responsibility. I would think this would be more naturally suited to the post of deacon, but that’s my reasoning.
4. I’m working on my PhD and would like to become a professor. My husband is a professor (and according to 13, just the funniest guy…). I don’t know what it means to ‘accuse’ someone of being ‘professorial[e]’. Like it’s a bad thing? But since professors come in all sorts, is this supposed to refer to some stereotype? What if writer and reader have different stereotypes in mind? Anyway, we’ll set aside that for the moment. An equally important question is, what does 13 (or the people whom he’s representing) mean by the word ‘pastoral’? Pastors also come in all sorts. Is this a matter of personality? Is it a matter of approach to duties? If I google ‘define pastoral’, I get this: (in the Christian Church) concerning or appropriate to the giving of spiritual guidance. What does this ‘suggestion’ mean? And how can you find out if there is to be no discussion about it? When I read ‘Feed the Sheep’ now, I’m reminded of both a chapter of Kent Crockett’s Pastor Abusers (see Appendix) and sections from R. Pittelli’s Narcissistic Confrontations (particularly when she discusses the value of keeping accusations vague, and on the newspaper issue, remarks on her section entitled ‘The Narcissist’s Slow Burn’). What exactly is meant by all this? Moving on to the next line, I can only gape. I’ve heard more sermons of my dad’s last year at A. than probably anyone else (since I got them via mp3, I never missed a service). I was always comforted and encouraged, and the Word of God was applied in such a way that I knew both the pastor and my Lord see life as it is, with all its trials, and that the Bible still speaks to us and the Holy Spirit still brings us and grows us through the difficulties of life. Not sure what other people were hearing (there is much more on my dad’s preaching and my impressions of it in Exhibit G).
5. Most of this is addressed in the letter to the CVs, linked just above. Again, what does this mean? Is life difficult, or joyful? Well, it’s more complicated than an either/or, isn’t it? And isn’t that what Scripture tells us? The way these things are presented makes me wonder if the writer knows much about what God says about either Christian troubles or Christian joy (since, as I said above, I found the preaching to be thorough, well-rounded, expository, true to the Word, and therefore balanced when application was made to all aspects of the Christian life, both its sorrows and its graces). And, what does it mean to live ‘triumphantly’ in Jesus? Is it to nurse grudges against fellow Christians until we explode? There will be more on ‘joy’ and its apparently negative buzzword counterpart, ‘repent[ance]’ later, but suffice it to say here that ‘repent’ does seem to be mentioned here as a bad thing. Isn’t this how Jesus began his earthly ministry (you know, like in Matt.4:17? Oh wait, I forgot, we don’t like Matthew–see Exhibit K.)? I’m left wondering how Christians can proclaim the gospel when one of its central components is treated like something dirty and distasteful. Aside from that, I, again, was hearing all messages regularly, and didn’t hear a ‘continual call to repent’. Is the fact that such a claim doesn’t reflect reality covered by the word ‘seems’? Maybe Jesus only ‘seemed’ to die and rise again. ‘Seems’ isn’t enough to justify such brusque admonition as this, with no opportunity for dialogue.