...are the ones that make the biggest difference

1.18.2005

I am your leader...

...until the excrement hits the fan, and then I will abandon you just as fast as I can. Please excuse the following rant - I need to get it off my chest before I implode with frustration:

Had a meeting with 2 parents and the senior pastor Sunday afternoon. The parents had some complaints and concerns they wanted to air, and even though the mother had already talked to me, they thought it needed to be discussed with the SP. The initial impetus for this was that their son got his feelings hurt while we (me and a few students) were joking around. It was something I said that bothered him, so I took him out for a coke and apologized. I certainly didn't mean it to be hurtful and it was offered as an innocent joke, but was obviously not taken that way. This is not the first time I've had to apologize to the kid and will likely not be the last. So things are fine between me and the kid, but they still want the joint meeting.

The first hour or so was nothing but them offering up complaint after complaint. A couple were valid, but by far, the rest were the result of my style not fitting with their idea of how things should be run. For instance, a couple of kids have said that I don't care if they swear. In context, this is true. If I'm talking to a kid one-on-one about not sleeping with his girlfriend or helping them get through a tough time with school/family/sports/whatever, I really don't care if they drop a swear word every now and then. I'm focused on the bigger issue at hand. If, however, a kid swears in the youth meeting, I do care and I have corrected kids who have done so. The rest were similar things taken out of context and misrepresented as if they were constant issues. They even went so far as to suggest I should not have youth activities in my home because "an old pastor friend of ours said there needs to be a boundary there."

Being ripped on for over an hour is bad enough in itself, but what really made the meeting special was the fact that my SP did not say a single word on my behalf. He offered no defense, no statement that maybe these stylistic differences aren't substantive or that he thought I was actually doing a good job even though there might be some things I need to work on. Heck, I know there are things I need to work on - this is my first full-time ministry position; mistakes are inevitable. No, instead he said to me in front of these parents "I thought everything was fine in our evaluations [done at the end of the year], but I guess I've been too loose with you and will have to call other parents." Not only am I not defended, I'm undermined. Their differences in style & preference have just trumped mine no matter what reason I have for doing things the way I do. I mean, in all honesty, there isn't a whole lot I don't do with a specific reason in mind. The format, the scheduling, my style - all are meant to address particular areas of concern or respond to problems, but this doesn't matter.

Of course, it doesn't end there. In the midst of all of this, the SP actually distances himself from me and the alleged problems in the youth ministry by saying "I'm not involved in the youth program. We pay someone to do that." I am the hired gun for youth and if I've gone off the reservation that is in no way a reflection on his leadership. This in spite of the fact he knew I had no professional youth ministry experience when he hired, that the program was in bad disarray when I came on and that he has done absolutely nothing to mentor me in any way. In the 10 months I've been here, he has taken me out to lunch once to see how things were going. Other than that, nada. He hasn't attended a single activity, sat in on a single session, reviewed any of my lessons or talked about scheduling with me. The only time any of this came up was in the annual review, and he openly admitted he had a very limited basis for evaluating my performance this last year.

So I'm ripped on, undermined and denied. Undoubtedly there will be a follow-up meeting with the SP to talk about this stuff. I am just struck by the irony: this guy spends more time talking about leadership than anyone I've ever met - its almost fetishistic - and yet when it comes down to it, displays possibly the worst leadership I have ever seen.

7 comments:

Doug said...

That's terrible, Nathan. I feel for ya. A good boss should always be willing to back you up, even if for no other reason than that he hired you. Sounds like he's more interested in self-protection.

Steve Dennie said...

Nathan--

Yes, this situation stinks. Unfortunately, it happens a lot. I've worked at our denominational headquarters for 25 years, and have seen all kinds of situations with pastors not doing the right thing. Usually they do--in fact, usually they show plenty of wisdom. But not always.

When people complain to me about my pastor, as an elder I always give him the benefit of the doubt and "argue" in his defence, trying to show the person things from my pastor's point of view. He does the same for me. You should have received the same support, but you didn't. And that stinks.

Don't be discouraged. Keep doing the right thing. Many pastors don't get too involved in their staffpersons affairs, so that part isn't terribly unusual (though I would prefer a closeknit staff).

I post on local church stuff at Whatever.

Steve Dennie

Karl Thienes said...

I had a friend who was treated the same way by his SP. The same type of “I don’t get paid for that, therefore I’m not interested in what really goes on” kind of attitude. Ministry as self-protection and business rather than relationship building. Running a church so large that he didn’t even know his own staff, let alone the congregation!

Needles to say, my friend is now happily Orthodox!

Nathan said...

Thanks, everyone, for your support. Kind words and knowing I'm not the only to experience this kind of garbage helps a lot.

Doug -

You hit the nail on the head. The church planter has expressed to me several times that he feels as if he's beeing set up for failure, if only because the new church could be a threat to the present one.

Steve -

Thanks for commenting! I took a quick glance at your blog and saw you're a Suns fan - you currently in Arizona? My wife and I moved from Tempe about 10 months back. I'll have to swing by and check out your blog in greater depth.

Karl -

Ironically enough, I was talking to the church planter about my experience at an Orthodox church last week and he surprised me by driving me by the tiny Antiochian church we've got here in town. We looked in the windows, but no one was home. He asked what I thought the parents' reaction would be if I took some of the kids to Divine Liturgy and I could only laugh in reply. I'd be roasted alive by a couple of them. :) Still, I can dream...

Anonymous said...

I think your SP just confirmed his true nature, which you've been suspecting all along. Now you know where you stand and can make future decisions with more information.
Your writings always sound homesick for the Orthodox worship. Where do you want to be?
Do you find your current position fulfilling? Just wondering...mcs

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
Man, it hurts when leaders are insensitive. Some of the best training in my ministry development however has been through times of burning. It makes me never want to be like that if I am in that position. One would be wise to notice however that this should not be something that furthurs one down the road toward converting to Orthodoxy, but that currently provides the opportunity to submit to an elder in a very Orthodox fashion.
You get to practice some Orthodox suffering without even converting! After all, couldn't the same thing happen in an Orthodox church?

Benedict Seraphim said...

Nathan:

Been there, done that. In my first youth ministry, a kid came forward for baptism. He was not part of the youth group, I didn't know much about him, so after speaking with him briefly, I stood up and announced to the congregation that "John" here and I would talk more about the Gospel and we would hold his baptism later.

I got immediately and ruthlessly reamed. The senior past took up with the family of this guy's girlfriend who objected to my postponing his baptism, and the pastor baptized him then anyway.

I was publicly taken down and undermined.

But as has been expressed, it was very informative. I knew where I stood with the pastor and it made future decisions easier in someways, though I found myself compromising on my convictions more often just for survival's sake.

I did have other ministries after that (though my last ministry was another episode of having my leadership and pastoring undermined, this time by the elders of the congrgation I was serving as senior pastor), but I can't say I ever approached ministry the same again after that.

I pray for you and your wife daily, and will add this specific item to my intentions for you.

My Christ our God, through the prayers of Macarius the Great, whose feast day we celebrate today, grant you strength, courage, peace and consolation in your sufferings.