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HOW TO APPROACH YOUR PASTOR ON A DIFFICULT SUBJECT Print E-mail
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

 

An Interview With James Rozmus

Click here for explanation of larger project, "In Honor of Pastors: How to Love and Respect Them"

Also see:

Review of Clouds of Witnesses by M. Noll and C. Nystrom

Academic Wordiness: Humility Meets Clarity

 

[I first met James Rozmus several years ago.  He is a retired American Baptist pastor.  When I initially considered doing this project, I knew I wanted to tap into James' decades of pastoral experience.  We decided the best way to do that was through an oral interview.  I have edited our interview slightly to make it as concise as possible and to make it more appropriate for the eye rather than the ear, since any conversation will sound better than it will look on paper.  I have tried, however, to retain the actual words we used, and have kept the original intent when editing.] 

 

(1). HOWARD: Jim, you were a pastor for more than 30 years, right? 

 

ROZMUS: That's correct.

 

(2). HOWARD: Give me an example of a church member who approached you appropriately on a difficult subject.

 

ROZMUS: I remember a lady who came to see me about the spiritual condition of our church.  She wanted to see something done that would enhance the spirituality of the people.  That ended up being a good interchange.  In fact, while she didn't have any suggestions of what to do, I told her I would pray about it and look forward to coming up with something.  It resulted in a Wednesday night series of meetings on the book Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. 

 

(3). HOWARD: Was this a difficult subject because she felt you were to blame that the church wasn't more spiritual?

 

ROZMUS: The implication was that I wasn't being the spiritual leader I should have been. And, she knew better than I did what the people needed.  If I'd chosen to take it poorly, we would have had some difficulties.  But, I chose to take it as an opportunity to use her insight to do something constructive.  I'd been thinking about using the Experiencing God material anyway.  I took our conversation as the right timing--someone was already thirsty for a deeper walk with the Lord.  That was a perfect springboard for me to go into action.  In fact, the study was successful and required three groups meeting on the same night to accommodate the numbers.

 

(4). HOWARD: Is it a good idea for members to approach their pastors with several solutions in mind?

 

ROZMUS: It's a good idea, but unfortunately few people will do that.  When I was a chaplain in the Army Reserves, the recommendation was that when you come with a problem, come with three solutions.  And I think it's an excellent idea, but a little idealistic to expect church members to do that.

 

(5). HOWARD: How can members approach their pastor with respect, while at the same time raising a difficult issue?

 

ROZMUS: One of the first things a person should be aware of is that the pastor is a person with feelings too.  And, he can be defensive and taken off guard.  The first thing to do is to pick your time well for both you and the pastor.  If you're the person coming to talk with the pastor, you want that encounter to be relaxed, free of tension, and to have the appropriate time to discuss the matter.

 

(6). HOWARD: So, three days before Easter is probably not the time to suggest your pastor change the overall focus of the church?

 

ROZMUS: That's correct.  Nor should it happen when the pastor is shaking hands with people coming out the door on Sunday morning after church.

 

(7). HOWARD: How important is it to respect pastoral authority and to treat pastors honorably?

 

ROZMUS: It's imperative that people treat pastors with respect--the authority of their position, the authority of their knowledge of Scripture, the authority that comes from the pastor investing his life in serving the Lord and the church.  A pastor doesn't take his job lightly, but thinks constantly how he can be a blessing to God and to the people.

 

(8). HOWARD: I've had people storm into my office and I knew it was war from the beginning because of their body language.  How important is it, when confronting a pastor, to make sure a member's body language and tone are appropriate? 

 

ROZMUS: Let's put it this way, communication is about 85 percent nonverbal and 15 percent verbal.  So body language, gesture, and facial expression communicate more than the words.  I remember a woman, let's call her Barbara, who came into my office years ago and said, "I'M NOT MAD!"  "I'M NOT MAD!"  She didn't know how she was coming across.  So, it was my job to feedback to her what she was saying to me nonverbally.  Now fortunately, it wasn't me that she was "not mad at," but someone else.  On the other hand, in years past, a man we'll call Bob, came determined to beat me into submission to his position of authority on the pastoral relations committee, a committee established by the church to foster good relationships.  But he was using that position to be my boss.  His body language and demeanor instantly put us at odds with one another.

 

(9). HOWARD: How can people show respect with their tone and body language?  Suppose the senior pastor had deeply offended someone, how can the member deal with his emotions appropriately so his body language and tone don't defeat his purpose of being there to find resolution?

 

ROZMUS: The first thing to do is to recognize what the truth is.  When someone is upset, he needs to recognize that and bring it in the open to begin with.  For example, I once went to a lady about my desire for her to leave the church, and that same day went to another lady who had been challenging my authority and creating difficulty.  As I talked with this second person after having experienced the awful pain of confronting the other lady beforehand, I said to this second woman in the presence of her husband, "I've just come from asking someone to leave the church and I'm hurting inside, which may affect everything I'm saying to you."  So acknowledge your emotions when approaching your pastor.  If you're not upset when you come to see the pastor, that's fine.  If you are, then say so and speak softly.  Say something like, "I want to work on our relationship even though I'm really upset right now."  I remember a guy, who we'll call Steve, who came to see me 25 years ago.  He was upset about something but wouldn't tell me what it was.  He was soft in tone, but he beat all around the subject.  When we finally got to the issue, he was upset because I'd allowed the youth of the church to bring drums and tambourines into the Sunday evening service.  He said it grated on his ears.  I told him it grated on mine too. And I didn't like it either, but allowed it because the youth of the church matter to us.  Then I asked him, "Steve, are you mad at me?"  He said, "No, you're my pastor."  I said, "That's not what I asked you.  Are you mad at me?"  He fumbled around a little and eventually said, "Yes, I'm mad at you."  I said, "OK, now let's talk about it."  So we talked about it and reconciled our differences on the subject.  He felt he was heard and understood.  His position wasn't too far from mine.

 

(10). HOWARD: I suppose one thing people might do if they feel they're so red hot about an issue, is to take someone else into that meeting with them to help hold them accountable so it doesn't just become a screaming match.  If a wife takes her husband or someone takes a friend, not to gang up on the pastor, but to have that other person there as a witness to prevent the member from ripping the pastor to shreds.  Do you think that's a good idea?

 

ROZMUS: It's an excellent idea and follows the Matthew 18 principle.  The thing you want to be careful about when taking someone else in to confront the pastor, don't surprise the pastor with the second person.  Because when we come to the Matthew 18 principle, having a second person there to confront another is not the first step listed.  According to that passage, first you go by yourself to talk with the offending or sinning person.  If you can't reconcile, you bring another witness.  If that doesn't work, the third step is to let the whole church in on the subject, and if the church speaks against the sinning person, then the person will be dismissed from the church.  So there's always some implied threat in bringing that second person.  But if a member talks to the pastor in advance and says, "I'd like to bring somebody with me so that he or she can moderate the conversation and hold me accountable," then that's an entirely different subject matter, and that's wise to do.

 

(11). HOWARD: What does it do to a pastor when a member questions his leadership inappropriately?

 

ROZMUS: It immediately puts us on the defensive.  Again, this gentleman named Bob on the pastoral relations committee made a statement to me like, "I don't consider a pastor any different than anybody else."  What he was saying was, "You have no spiritual authority beyond anybody else.  I do not hold your position or you in any kind of respect."  By saying this, he instantly declared himself to be my opponent, and we never got over that in the three and a half years I pastored that church.  He was always my opponent.  I knew it; he knew it; other people knew it.  It ended up dividing the church even further than it was already. 

 

(12). HOWARD: There's an inappropriate way (manner in which confrontation is done) to question a pastor's authority and then there's the way to question a pastor's authority too much--like someone who always needs to have sit-downs with the pastor.  Can you think of an example of someone in the past 30 years, who questioned you too much?  Perhaps you felt like you had to spend too much time dealing with his personal issues that he was making your issues.  Has that ever happened?

 

ROZMUS: No, not in that way.  I've had people who served on boards and committees who wanted to dialogue with me a lot and wanted to talk over coffee.  But I considered that positive and constructive.  I've never had anyone do that on a negative basis.

 

(13). HOWARD: I don't think it has happened to me either, but I know of one pastor who's had to sit down with a member or two on a regular basis.  These ladies were constantly upset and always had something they needed to clarify.  I suppose that's better than gossiping behind the pastor's back, but at some point, approaching the pastor to talk over an offense can become a control issue itself--always having to sit down with a pastor can be a way of putting the pastor in his place.  I suppose someone could use confrontation as a manipulative tool rather than a source of reconciliation.  It's fine that you hadn't experienced that. 

 

How did troublesome members affect the church when they continued questioning your authority or questioned it inappropriately?  How did it affect your ministry with the church, and how did that person's continual questioning you, or questioning you inappropriately, help or hurt the church?

 

ROZMUS: Basically, it hurts a church's unity and puts the pastor squarely in the position of having to assert his authority, which can sometimes negatively affect the church.  When a pastor brings up the subject matter of a disgruntled person's actions, other members might interpret the pastor's remarks as a personal attack.  The disgruntled person has his loyal fans as well.  Chances are the disgruntled person isn't acting alone, and his behavior can provoke the pastor to suspect other members.  For me personally, it made me a little suspicious of what the disgruntled person's objectives were and who he was influencing.  And anytime you get a pastor feeling anxious, it blocks some of his creativity and spontaneity that he needs when he's dealing with people and proclaiming God's Word.  Anytime you're on the defensive, it blocks some of your own internal confidence.  So my confidence was shaken too.

 

(14). HOWARD: Sometimes members don't realize the consequences from confronting the pastor inappropriately, especially if it's on a continual basis.  But even one time is too much if done inappropriately.  An inappropriate confrontation can wreak substantial damage upon a pastor, his family, and the church.

 

ROZMUS: It can have awful consequences.  In terms of this man Bob, when he challenged my authority and my leadership right from the very beginning, I remember responding to him, "Listen Bob, the church constitution says it takes 2/3 of the people to vote me out of here and only 1/3 of the people to keep me here.  In terms of the process of firing a pastor, that's a strong position for me to be in."  As I look back on that conversation, I probably shouldn't have said that because there was a campaign to try to get the constitution changed while I was still pastoring that church. 

 

(15). HOWARD: Sometimes members don't realize that when they inappropriately bring their controversy to a pastor, they're dealing with his career and his family.  Members don't often realize that for them as members, their confrontation is extra curricular activity, but for the pastor, it's his livelihood.  Pastors take this kind of stress home with them at night and these issues could affect their family, career, and health.  It's not like a pastor can just turn it off at the end of the day.  I don't know many pastors who are good at turning the church problems off at the end of the day and leaving the controversy at the office.

 

ROZMUS: I don't know of any pastors either who can do that.  Certainly I couldn't do it.  It resulted in many sleepless nights, waking up the next morning feeling exhausted, not being at my best.  And I felt a constant sense of dread or anxiety that the church would be upset to the point where it would be impossible for me to continue ministering there.

 

(16). HOWARD: That's a strong word of encouragement for people to love their pastors even when members disagree with their leaders.  Church members need to understand that their pastors are human too, and members need to respect their pastors like they would treat someone else in authority.  Even though our culture has difficulty respecting authority, Christians should approach their pastor as an authority figure in a way the member would want to be approached on a difficult subject. 

 

ROZMUS: That's precisely it.  I liken it to a marriage--love your wives, husbands, because if you do, you're going to get the love back.  But if you give out anger and resentment, you're going to get that back as well.  I remember talking to a dear lady who was one of my best friends when I pastored in Arizona.  She was after the hide of the pastor who followed me.  So I said to her, "The best thing you can do for yourself is to love your pastor.  You'll have the most influence on him; you'll bless the church, and you will reap the benefits of that."  Unfortunately, she didn't take my advice and created a lot of hardship for the pastor.  He ended up eventually leaving the church and that church took years to get over that hardship, if it ever did. 

 

(17). HOWARD: What you said reminds me of the last part of Hebrews 13:17, which says regarding church leaders, "...obey them so that their work will be a joy not a burden for that [burden you would create] would be of no advantage to you."  So it really doesn't help you or the church, if you're a discontented member, to attack the pastor to his face or to attack him behind his back.  It ultimately ends up defeating you, if you really love that church.  And if you're really a member of God's family, it's going to hurt you and that local body of believers.  So if a person cares about the church family, he must do what's best for his pastor in the situation too, like you were saying, Jim.

 

ROZMUS: Amen!  I couldn't have said it better myself.

 

Click here for the chapter, "Learning How to Follow Your Leader"

 
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