The Mythical Perfect Pastor…
If you have served a church longer than five minutes you have been compared to what I call the “mythical perfect pastor.” Almost all long term church members have in their past a “mythical perfect pastor” or MPP. This was usually a pastor from their childhood or youth who seemed to radiate the presence of God. They preached better than Billy Graham, provided loving pastoral care better than Mother Teresa, could balance the church budget with no money, attended every parishioner’s special event, they never forgot anyone’s birthday, always knew just what to say and how to say it, and had a perfect family life at home. The MPP had the perfect pastor’s spouse who was loved by everyone and was a model PTA member, served on community boards, and baked a perfect apple pie. Whenever they speak of the MPP they get the look in their eyes as if they have seen the new and improved version of Jesus. Then there’s you, who never quite compare to the MPPs in their past. What I have learned is that when we who are serving to the best of our abilities are compared to the MPPs it is because those parishioners who are comparing us are either seeking to manipulate us, demoralize us, or insure we do not become over confident.
Being compared to the MPP is often a way to try to manipulate us. Rather than saying “would you please visit my great aunt Matilda,” they say something like, “Well, if Pastor Perfect were here he would have already been to see aunt Matilda.” Essentially this is a passive-aggressive technique to control your behavior. Rather than be forthright and ask for what they desire they use this method to try to coerce you to be and do what they want.
Another technique used by those who hold up the MPP is they are seeking to demoralize us. It is a veiled insult that hits us in the heart. Let’s face it, those of us in ministry try to have thick skin, but most of us are very sensitive to criticism. The worst kind of criticism is when we are compared to an MPP and are shown how poorly we match up to the amazing abilities of the MPP. Parishioners who play the comparison game use it as a way to get under our skin and make us feel less spiritual and less effective than those MPPs who have gone before.
Even when ministry is going well, when the church is growing, people are connecting in small groups, mission work is expanding, the MPP will show up. Just when we think our ministry is at its best, there will be a parishioner who will let us know that no matter how good our sermons are, no matter how many shut-ins we visit, how many professions of faith we have, or how many orphans are being fed, it doesn’t hold a candle to the work of the MPP. Again, like manipulating and demoralizing, this is a control technique to insure we know our shortcomings (not like anyone has to point them out, most pastors I know are well aware of their frailties and failings). They want to make sure that they keep us in our place and let us know that no matter how good things are going, we can be replaced, and probably will be by an MPP.
So what are we to do when facing the MPP attack. First, see it for what it is, a parishioner’s attempt to manipulate, demoralize, or keep us in check, sometimes to the expense of God’s will for the church we are leading. Then, listen for the word of truth inside the comment and let the rest go. I know it is difficult when we are being compared to the MPP to admit that there may be a word that we need to hear amidst the pain of the criticism and correction. Lastly, once we have sifted through the comment for the word of truth, let it go. More than once I have ended a meeting after being hit with the MPP attack and had to go to my office and spend time in prayer so that I could give it over to God. I asked God to reveal any seed of truth in the comment, then to allow me to hear it without being controlled by it. Here is a sample of my prayer,
“God grant me the ability to hear the word You want me to hear, and not be hurt by the way it was given. Help me to forgive the one who is using a way of communication that hurts rather than helps, and to love them as You love them. Lord, I am aware of my frailties, failures, and faults, please forgive me and help me to grow through them and overcome them. I confess them to You and ask for help in being the servant of Jesus You have called me to be. In the name of the one who forgives, restores, and renews I pray. Amen.”