"Pastor, I'm disappointed in you."
I guess this is another month where I share my pastoral bloopers. This month, although I still realize I'm still in the 'kiddie pool' of pastoral ministry, I am starting to realize that how the well-intended constructive criticisms of your congregants, members, co-workers, and your family can feel like an attack on your identity, pride, life-work, and calling. At first blush, it always sounds to me, 'Pastor, I am disappointed in what you have to offer." Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. But I am genuinely wrestling how to deal with criticisms in the midst of all craziness, business, and pressure of being a pastor-missionary in Japan. I want to rest in the power, righteousness, forgiveness, and hope in Jesus Christ; however, it's so hard! Pray for this weak-faithed missionary! Here are examples, I've heard, but I'm sure you've heard or you have said to your pastor :) Hopefully, this gives you a peek into what a preacher thinks:
"Pastor, you mispronounced this word" - Thank you very much. Very thoughtful of you and it will truly help my Japanese.. but now every time I say the "blood of Jesus" and the "Son of God" from now on, I will forever second-guessing myself every time I read/say this Japanese word. Wait, did I say that right?
"Pastor, you're Japanese is hard to understand" because it's either too Japanese or too foreign - After spending hours in painful labor giving birth to sermons in Japanese and looking at your work drenched in red ink by a Japanese teacher, all I want to say is--"Vanity of vanities! Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." (Eccl 1:2)
"Pastor, I don't think you should use this sermon illustration because of X, Y, Z." or "Pastor, your sermons don't really connect with me." - Sermon illustrations and sermons are not products created on an assembly mine or on the ivory tower. Sermons are the products of the heart and finely crafted personal works of art--so please take it easy on my Star Wars illustration of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader :)
"Pastor, your sermons are too long!" -- Whenever I hear this, I always say in my head, 'Well, I'm glad I saved you from my first draft that was double the length of this sermon..."
"Pastor, I don't like/understand your sermons. (Walks away)" - Thank you and duly noted. But that's like telling a doctor, 'it hurts' without telling them where, how long, and how painful. Do you want your doctor to experiment various drugs on you? (Evil smile).
"Pastor, why didn't you say/do this to me at X time, in Y way? I really didn't feel the love I should from a pastor." -- Why? Because I'm self-centered sinner... (and I was frantically buying diapers for Nina since we ran out at home... but I shouldn't say that aloud because I'm a pastor)... Gahhhh... I'm sooo sorry and so sinful.... (cries in corner).
And my personal favorite, from Children's Sunday School, after spending hours finely crafting a wonderful Children's Catechism lesson, looking at all the proof texts, selecting the best children's illustration and announcing to the kids it's Bible time, then you get, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" (I should be used to this because Kate does this to me every night at Family devotion). You gota love honesty.
And of course you get 'silent' feedback--the guy who 'closes' his eyes and nods off in the back thinking that preacher can't see you. Buddy, preachers can see EVERYTHING from the pulpit.
The above sounds bitter, but I genuinely welcome and love this feedback. It helps me hone my craft and understand my congregation. It helps me grow as a pastor. However, I would lie if I said that it does not affect me at all. As a young pastor, as Filipino-American missionary in Japan, as a Japanese-as-a-Second-Language speaker, as a guy who wants to give the very best food to the flock of God, the moment I get off the pulpit, finish a counseling session, finish a bible study, finish a conversation, is the moment where I feel like I have let down the congregation for not preaching whole counsel of the World fully, for not showing the love of Christ fully, for not repenting diligently, for not pointing to the hope of glory, Jesus Christ himself. These comments feel like piercing confirmation of my own failures. Yes, I joyfully and with hope pursue excellence, but I do it painfully because of my pride, sin, and personality. But who said sanctification was a nice cruise through the Caribbean? Pray for ears to hear. Pray for thicker skin, when necessary. Pray for the wisdom of discernment. Pray for me to grow in love for my congregation so that I may preach Christ clearly. Pray that stand firm in the word of Christ, but remain flexible in how feed the word to God's flock. But sometimes, there are those who just say, "Thank you, Pastor for showing me Jesus Christ in a new light" and just walk a way. It is those comments that remind me that the Holy Spirit loves to work through weak, broken vessels. It reminds me, all of this labor is worth it, if ONE person feels that way about my long, unintelligible, boring, mediocre sermon. That's a miracle in itself. Furthermore, the thing that is powerful and effectual is not the mouth, the man, the personality that speaks, but the Word of God and the Holy Spirit that proclaims Christ. Dear congregant (and myself), feel free to be disappointed in me, but I hope you're never disappointed in Our Lord Jesus Christ offered in the Word and Sacraments, proclaimed by this broken Church and her ministers of the Word. Because that's the only thing I'm committed to do.