Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Mythical Perfect Pastor

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.” 


Unknown said...

Oh, know did someone hurt your feelings? Maybe if your ego didn't control your life your would understand that the people at St. Paul want their pastor to at least be held to the same standard that their employers hold them.

Marty Cauley said...

Thanks for the word Patrick. Actually no my feelings didn't get hurt. I always look for the seed of truth in any comment. I am subject to an entire committee who regularly evaluates all areas of my ministry and provides feedback and evaluation.

Unknown said...

4 things I got from this post.
1) that you're terrible when it comes to the church budget
2) how you're most definitely not the "MPP"
3) how large your ego is
4) and that everyone but yourself and other pastors are "parishioners". Is that a made up word?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

And it's not about you. No one should hold you to a higher standard or idolize you. you're no different then us "parishioners" as you call them. We all fall short of the glory of God there is no "MPP". So get over yourself and get over the idea of trying to be the best. It's not a competition of who can deliver the best message or save the most people. We are all supposed to be doing the Lords work. Just bc you stand in front of the church and deliver a sermon that doesn't give you the right to judge everyone. The least you can do is respect your members and respect your staff and maybe you might get a little in return!

Marty Cauley said...

Thanks Daniel.

Parishioners is not a made up word, it is a historically grounded word originating more than five hundred years ago used in mainline churches to refer to laity that is gender inclusive.

parishioner (noun) - a member of a parish or local church community.

Cruciferous Veggie said...


Thanks for posting this. I didn't hear ego in this. I heard your sincere desire to take feedback poorly given and use it for good. I also heard you saying that no pastor can live up to the MPP. It is similar to when the church gets stuck on the image of the MPC- the Mythical Perfect Church. "if only we could do ___ like ____ does," or "we used to do ____ so well here." Both the quest for the MPP & the MPC are deficit-based, focusing on what is not there or not a strength. We are so much healthier when we look up, stop being so negative with one another, and pull together as we accept that each part of the church- both pastor and parishioners- has unique strengths and gifts that are best used when we all work together.

There is also a bit of consumer/employer mentality in that MPP language that is not healthy. The Pastor is accountable to the oversight committee, true, but the parishioners are not consumers of the pastor's services. They are joint parts of the team.

When I go to Burger King, for example, and receive a meal. If I do like it, I simply decide to come back. If I get a poor meal, I can complain and then threaten to go to another restaurant. Unless, of course, I am invested in Burger King. If I have a vested interest in Burger King, and am not simply a customer, then I work to ensure that every meal served is the best meal possible. I build on what is going well, and address what needs improving.

Church, as God calls us to be together, should be all that and so much more. We are not a business, but a family of faith. we should not look at the church as where I am a consumer of religious services but a joint member of the family. It changes the way people relate both to their pastor and to one another.

Thanks for provoking the thoughts today! Blessings!

Marty Cauley said...

Paul, I also think you have to be in a church thats more than twenty five years old to really understand the MPP syndrome. I like the BK analogy as well.

We have definatly created a consumer culture: "entertain me, feed me, serve me" ideas instead of introduce me to Jesus, reveal gifts to serve, and make radical, sacrificial commitment.

Unknown said...

Grace. There is much grace in your reactions to the negative attacks on your blog and grace in the conclusion you draw in the article.

I think all of us could take away from your words the principle to try to find the good in things and allow each interaction to be used by the Holy Spirit to change us more clearly into the image of Jesus Christ.

I am saddened by the tone of the responses in that if the church (and they present themselves as church people) does this to each other, then why would those not a part of a church care to be exposed to that way of thinking and conduct. It is possible to disagree with someone's ideas and not attack them personally. We, the church, the priesthood of believers, must show each other radical hospitality before we will have the opportunity to show new folk. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." NIV

Thanks for the thought provoking words and the gracefilled witness you exhibit.

Kj said...

I particularly appreciate your bit about there often being truth in the words that are spoken in an unkind manner. I ran into that with a particular parishioner at my first appointment - she never had anything good to say about me (and was comparing me to her version of the MPP!) But what she said one particular time stung me so deeply because I *knew* that what she was saying was partially true. It took a lot for me to allow myself improvement in that area because of the way the criticism was spoken, but in some ways I'm a better pastor for it.

Marty Cauley said...

A few years ago I was sitting in a session at Catalyst when Louie Giglio started talking about being a "little leader." How we must decrease and Christ must increase. Since that time I have continually struggled to be a "little leader." I have also learned to not respond immediately. When I do, I respond emotionally and out of the "flesh" and that always reduces credibility and fuels the fire. Thanks again for the insights.

Unknown said...

This - "It is possible to disagree with someone's ideas and not attack them personally. We, the church, the priesthood of believers, must show each other radical hospitality before we will have the opportunity to show new folk." And this - "We are so much healthier when we look up, stop being so negative with one another, and pull together as we accept that each part of the church- both pastor and parishioners- has unique strengths and gifts that are best used when we all work together." Are very, very wise words.

Marty Cauley said...

Well said Patrick. Thank you for your insights.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed this piece. I plan to share with a couple of Pastor friends. I suspect they will enjoy this as well. I know from experience that the Pharisees did not die out. They are very much alive and staying very busy. Blessings