Diagnosed with “Foot in Mouth” Syndrom

One of the things about being a pastor is trying to strike up conversations with people who have varying degrees of expectations of what a pastor is/does. Some people desire that the pastor know a lot about their lives while others have the pastor on a need to know basis. I am still learning to be comfortable with who I am and as such I tend to over-function and want to try to meet others expectations of me rather than focus on what I am called to do/be.

This over-functioning in order to try to meet the expectations of others leads to the diagnoses of “foot in mouth” disease. Perhaps you have this diagnosis as well? Let me share a few of my more memorable afflictions:

  • I asked a seminar leader for specific advice before the conference began. When the conference began the first rule that was shared was not to bother the leader with specific advice. The leader looked right at me when the rule was shared.
  • I asked if someone got some sun over the weekend, only to be told that the redness is a skin condition.
  •  I stood on the General Conference floor (the governing body of the entire UMC) and asked a three minute question in order to clarify where we were in the proceedings in the hopes of moving the body forward only to be told after the explanation that all I had to do was say, “I call the question.”
  • I said the wrong last name at a wedding.
  • I gave looked Joe in the eyes for a year as I said, “The body of Christ broken for you Joe.” Only to be told when he moved that his name is not Joe.
  • I welcomed a family to worship and asked their son if he liked superman. The parents shared with me that their nine year old was their daughter.
  • I asked a member of AA if they ever wanted to get a drink with me to talk about their life I would open to that.

Perhaps you have your own situations. I share these in order to remind us you that we all mess up in social situations. I have foot in mouth. Sometimes I mess up so bad people leave the church or I just embarrass myself or make it awkward. I wait patiently for a cure for Foot in Mouth, but until then I trust in the Grace of God and God’s people when I step in it.

Why your pastor should love complaints

There are 150 Psalms in the Christian Bible and roughly 1/3 of them are laments. Laments are structured ways to complain against God and as Rev. Estee Valendy noted in her sermon, interwoven in the lament are expressions of faith and hope. 

Humans love to complain but hate to hear them. Irony at it's finest. But the reality is, your pastor should love complaints. Complaints are ways for people to deal with their feelings and emotions. It is natural and healthy to share these feelings, remember 1/3 of the Psalms in the Bible are complaints. However, our culture does not like those who complain. So what are we to do with these feelings? Most of the time we push them down and do not allow them to surface except when we rehearse the script of what we want to say while we are driving. We do not have a healthy place to confront these feelings and complaints and they begin to fester in us only to manifest in other ways, such as road rage. 

The fact of the matter is part of the reason pastors should love complaints is that there is one place left where complaints are accepted and heard - the Church. The promise of the Church is that when you come to complain, the Church will not leave you or cast you aside. The Church of Christ hears your cry and will not take it personally, but will have the courage to sit with you even as you cast stones at her. 

Pastors should love hearing complaints because it means that people are finding ways to address their feelings in mature and healthy ways. And ultimately that is role of the pastor, to help people move toward maturity in Christ.

So I remind you that if you have complaints, don't push them down. Perhaps write them down, but do not fear your complaints. And if you are afraid of your complaints, then share them with your pastor. We are here to stand by you so you are not alone. 

My Trainer Gives Me Donuts and Beer

Once a week I go to a trainer at the gym and she is great. You should meet her. She is funny and easy to work with. She tells me stories and gives me a good feeling every time I leave the gym. Most of my week is spent dealing with heavy things and the last thing that I want to do on my day off is to lift do any more heavy lifting. I was looking for a trainer for a long time, but most of them made me uncomfortable with the amount of work they were asking me to do. Which is why my trainer is great because she gives me what I really want donuts and beer.

Of course this is fictional. No one wants to attend a gym that employs trainers that will give you donuts and beer. We go to gyms to work out our bodies and stretch beyond what we think we are able to do in order to be fit for whatever may happen in our lives. 

In my years of ministry I have met a good number of people who want a pastor to be the equivalent to the donut dispensing trainer. Some of us are looking for a pastor that will tell us good stories, to make us feel good, to get a good laugh and walk out in the same shape as we walked in with but with a smile.

It has been said that the prophets are those who comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. But I can tell you that many pastors feel like we are not able to follow this calling out of fear. There is a fear among many of us clergy to do the work of afflicting the comfortable because we fear loosing out jobs. At times, clergy have been known to gripe about the church for being too complacent or too petty. However these conversations distract us clergy from the hard truth that many of us do not want to face: we are the trainers passing out donuts and beer. 

This season of Lent, I am going to spend a decent amount of time considering how it is that I have become a donuts and beer pastor. 

Something this pastor never needs to hear

I hear a great number of things that break my heart. I hear all the same things that life has to say with it's mix of joy and sorrow. Like everyone, there are things that I cannot avoid hearing. And like everyone, I am as inconsistent with my ability to respond to these things. However this is at least one thing that I never need to hear:

"I know you are busy but..."

Let me be clear it is not the "but" that is the problem. It is the assumption that I am too busy for a relationship. 

Here is the thing, I am not the only pastor that never needs to hear this. Many of us are called to be people who are available. It is the reason we engage in spiritual practices so that we can be available to God. We try to discipline our lives so that we can be available for anyone who comes by to talk. We trust that we will have enough time to do the things that are most important. We trust that God will perfect the work that we have left undone.