Have you ever had anyone give you a comprehensive list of all the ways you have failed them? I have. More than once. My husband is a pastor, and, unfortunately, we have received more than one of these “you failed” lists over the years.
The list has been given verbally a few times which, I must say, is my preferred method. At least the person has the courage to look you in the eye as he destroys you with his words. At least you have something of an opportunity to refute. At least the person has the opportunity to see for himself how his words wound and crush you. However, the most common method of delivery is more pusillanimous, coming via text message or email.
People have expectations of pastors and their families that usually far exceed their expectations of themselves. The pastor and/or his wife are expected to be at every bedside, graveside, graduation, and birthday. They are expected to know every time a person has a need for a meal, a prayer, a visit, a card, or a financial gift. They are expected to personally meet every need of every person every time. And they are expected to do it with grace, compassion, joy, and generosity. Every. Single. Time.
When the pastor and/or his wife fail to meet these expectations which – let’s face it – only Christ Himself could actually measure up to, the mental checklist begins.
Didn’t acknowledge my child’s athletic achievement – check!
Didn’t come to my retirement ceremony – check!
Didn’t speak to me in the hall at church – check!
Didn’t visit my loved one in the hospital – check!
Didn’t pray out loud for my prayer request in small group but prayed for everyone else’s – check!
And the list grows and grows and grows like Jack’s proverbial beanstalk. Santa’s naughty list ain’t got nothin’ on their list of grievances.
I think we need to remember what a pastor’s primary responsibility is. According to God’s Word, the pastor’s most important job is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). That may include teaching, preaching, praying, counseling, and mentoring. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that the pastor is there to meet the needs of every member of the church. In fact, in the book of Acts the apostles were getting so overwhelmed with the nuts and bolts of ministry that deacons were appointed to serve the practical needs of the people. This was so that the apostles could devote themselves to their foremost responsibilites of praying and giving the Word, which requires time for deep study and meditation (Acts 6: 1-4).
What I find interesting is that none of the people who keep long lists of our offenses, failures, and shortcomings practice the principle found in 1 Corinthians 13:5 – “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”
I had someone invite me to her home in order to deliver to me her very long record of my wrongs. Of course, I didn’t know that’s what she was going to do when I showed up. I was clueless. And I kid you not, she started with, “One year ago you…” One year. For ONE YEAR she had been keeping a list of supposed offenses that I had committed towards her. Do you know what the truly tragic thing was? Not one of those things had anything to do with her. She had seen these various dots and had connected them in the wrong way. These were things that I had done (not wrong or sinful things but just things – like praying for everyone’s prayer request out loud except for hers which I am sure was a simple oversight) and she had interpreted these things in light of herself. It’s like those dot-to-dot pictures that children do. If you just randomly connect the dots instead of following the proper sequence, you will make a picture – but it’ll be a crazy one! It won’t be the picture that was intended. And she had quite a crazy picture when she was done.
This woman was a precious woman of God and sister in Christ. She sincerely believed that all of these random things were directed at her when in reality they didn’t pertain to her at all. She wasn’t trying to be mean. She was sincerely hurt. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything I could do to alleviate her hurt because she simply couldn’t believe that none of those things were about her. By her own admission, she has some deep-rooted hurts from her past that have caused her some issues, but she still couldn’t accept that she was so wrong about me. But she was. And there was nothing I could do about it.
If only she had come to me a year prior instead of getting out her notepad and pencil and starting that list. Each item she added to the list added fuel to her fire. And each one gave the enemy of our souls a little foothold in her thoughts. After a year, that foothold had become a stronghold.
This is one example, but the other lists we have received over the years have been pretty similar. People expect. We don’t deliver. People get mad. People give us the list without any desire or attempt to work through these things. People drop the bomb and leave.
Another interesting aspect is the lack of understanding or grace for what the pastor and his family might be going through themselves.
In the above example, I could have tried to explain that I had been on a cancer medication that was known for serious side effects such as major depression and even suicidal thoughts. I had been struggling to manage these negative side effects, but they were really doing a number on me. That medication changed my personality in some ways no matter how hard I fought it. Perhaps I acted differently towards her in some situations which made her even more inclined to connect those dots the wrong way. I don’t know. All I know is that absolutely zero grace was extended to me. (Note: I discontinued that medication some time after that. After coming off it, I realized that it had affected me more than I had realized. I am back to myself – praise the Lord!)
What I am trying to say is this – pastors and their families go through stuff, too. And it is really hard to go through your stuff, and when you come out the other side, someone is waiting to talk to you. Not to rejoice or mourn with you as Romans 12:15 encourages us to do with one another, but to recount to you the multitude of ways you failed them when they were going through their stuff. To quote James, “My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:10).
I believe these list-makers need to learn a very important lesson. It is actually the first line of one of my favorite books, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. It says, “It’s not about you.” Most items on those lists begin with “You didn’t” and end with “for me.” It’s that “me” that’s the problem.
That “me” needs to die to self (Galatians 2:20).
That “me” needs to value others more than himself (Philippians 2:3).
That “me” needs to put down the paper and pencil and stop keeping a record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).
That “me” needs to love his brothers and sisters in Christ like Christ loves him – sacrificially (John 15:12).
That “me” needs to allow Christian love to cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
Just so you know, I’m preaching to myself here. I, too, can get caught up in my own stuff. I can throw myself a pretty good pity party on occasion. I have to remind myself that my life is not my own. I am a servant of Christ.
If you’ve ever delivered one of those devastating lists, I encourage you to humble yourself and ask forgiveness. Counter with a different kind of list – a list of all the ways your pastor has blessed you through his faithful service, his love for his family, his dedication to preaching the truth. Most of all, show grace. Your pastor and his wife are sinners saved by grace just like you. They fail daily just like you. And believe it or not, they are keenly aware of their failures and rarely need a reminder.
Most of all, love and encourage one another. Jesus said that the world would know that we were His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). We prove it by our love not by our censure.
And remember – “Now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13: 13). Love – not lists!