October 30, 2014

Case Study: A Pastoral Conversation

By Chaplain Mike

Occasionally, I would like for us to consider case studies, so that we can discuss actual life situations rather than just theological ideas or religious issues.

As iMonk readers know, I am deeply concerned about the state of pastoral ministry (especially pastoral care) in our churches. Today’s study is a snapshot from a situation involving a hard conversation in a pastor’s office between the minister and a couple that came to complain about someone in the church.

You who are pastors will recognize this conversation. I’m sure you will join me in acknowledging that we have had many such talks with people. I will confess I have not always handled them well, for various reasons. As we reflect on this meeting today, feel free to relate your own experiences with such encounters.

Nor are these kinds of conversations limited to ministers, though that is today’s focus. As Christians, we all feel a “burden” to minister to our brothers and sisters, our neighbors. We don’t always do it well. In particular, we don’t always listen well, and we tend to jump in with “answers” when it is not appropriate. Perhaps this case study can help us all relate to others with more grace and sensitivity.

This conversation is recorded in M. Craig Barnes’ excellent book, The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. I find it an instructive and moving example of a pastoral conversation.

This is the kind of work pastors are called to do “between Sundays.” It involves…

  • meeting personally with people
  • knowing them well enough to understand some history behind the immediate situation
  • allowing them to speak
  • being a careful, sensitive, and discerning listener
  • patiently processing what they are saying without jumping in with “answers”
  • refusing to “take the bait” when they say things that could make me defensive
  • recognizing that there may be (usually are) deeper “soul” issues involved below the issue being presented
  • confronting the deeper “soul” issues with gentleness and grace, not always “giving answers,” but helping people come to see the issues first, for themselves
  • realizing that I can’t “change” people, but I may be able to help them hear God’s voice so that they must deal with him.

Here’s the conversation. After you read it, come back to this list and see if I’ve read the conversation correctly. Is there anything you would add or modify? What pastoral wisdom (or lack thereof) do you see in this encounter?

 

When Bob and Carol Stratton arrived at my study for their appointment, all of the air in the room immediately disappeared. It was clear that this was going to be a hard hour. Before he even sat down, Bob began his now-familiar litany of complaints about the choir director, and Carol was already fishing around in her purse for a Kleenex. (Why are you already crying? What does that mean?)

“I just don’t understand why you keep that woman here,” Bob said as he finally settled back into his chair. “She has absolutely no regard for the wonderful heritage of worship in this church, and she insists on driving people away. I’ve heard from members of your choir, and they’re so unhappy that I’d be surprised if there even is a choir in another month. You’ve got to do something and do it now.”

I was already rubbing my temples as I asked, “What do you want me to do, Bob?”

“Well, I think we all know what needs to be done. What we don’t know is if our pastor is a strong enough leader to do it.”

“Ah, yes, I understand, but I don’t think your concerns are really about me,” I responded. [I'm not biting on that.] “Let’s get back to the issue that brought you here. What exactly is it about our music that has you so upset?”

After blowing her nose, Carol joined in. “She never uses the anthems our previous director of music, Dr. Adams, wrote. You know he was here for over twenty-five years, and in those days our church was highly regarded in the community. People came just to hear him play the organ. [Is that true? Should it be?] Now it’s an embarrassment when that woman gets up there and starts waving her arms in front of the choir.”

“So you don’t like the way she conducts the choir?” I asked.

“No, it isn’t just that,” Bob said quickly. “She plays the organ too loudly; she’s thrown out all of the music Dr. Adams wrote, and it seems to us that she’s just up there performing. Frankly, the music just isn’t as good as it should be. You know, pastor, we’re a sophisticated congregation [That can't be good], and we’re not going to be able to worship with all of this noise she produces.”

I sat forward in my chair and as quietly as possible said, “I’ve noticed that both of you mentioned Ted Adams. He was clearly a great musician, and I know he was also a very close friend of yours. You must miss him a great deal.”

They both looked down at the floor, silent, for a very long time.

• M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet, 15f

 

Comments

  1. Tokahfang says:

    I have a terrible temptation to veer off and rebutt untrue support statemtents. I would have lost focus at “we’re not going to be able to worship with all of this noise she produces”. Just yesterday I read a beautiful thanksgiving prayer written in the soviet gulag.

    I’m grateful that my pastors have been more patient with me than that.

  2. Brilliant… if only I could be that calm, composed, and clear head. I’ve been a senior pastor for 2 years (10 yr stint in in youth ministry) and I’m just starting to develop that kind of forward-conversational thinking ability. Not only does he show the ability to see the “soul issue”, he does it on the fly and responds quickly. What he is able to do in the midst of the conversation takes me at least a day to flesh out. I am in awe!

  3. Ah, brilliant. I feel that I have no ability to do what Barnes was able to at this point in my life, in my mid-20’s. I get hurt too easily, and would “take the bait”. Also, my instinct to defend the music director would be strong, since none of their arguments against her appeared to have any substance.

  4. Paul Davis says:

    I’m not a Pastor, and trust me you never want me to be one…

    However, I have a friend at work who has a similar composure about people that irritate him, my response is always one word:

    Grace

    We can’t be like Christ unless we can show Grace and Humility to those who annoy, irritate or offend us, that doesn’t mean we give them a pass. But unless we show the love of Christ in how we deal with them, then we need to shut our mouth and find some other avenue for that frustration. This Pastor discerned the real reason they where upset, and zeroed in on it.

    Imagine my surprise when my friend told me on the way to lunch one day, that he really needed to try and be more like me with people!!. I laughed and said, ‘Well, following me is a BAD idea cause I’m a mess. But showing people the love of Christ is always a good idea!”.

    Good story and that’s a really good Pastor who can take the hits, stay on target and get to the heart of the matter. I’ve been that person more than once, thank God the men on the other side have shown me Grace.

    -Paul-

  5. I’m with Bob and Carol!

    I miss Dr. Adams!

    (by the way, Ted Adam’s wife’s name wouldn’t happen to be Alice, would it?)

    (now I’m blushing)

    • It looks like Steve Martin has successfully recognized the deeper soul issues at work here.

  6. “I sat forward in my chair and as quietly as possible said, “I’ve noticed that both of you mentioned Ted Adams. He was clearly a great musician, and I know he was also a very close friend of yours. You must miss him a great deal.”

    Reverse psychology crap drives me crazy, no matter who tries to play it on me.

    • “Reverse psychology” may not have been the right term, but I run for the hills from pastors who try to play games with my head

      • Brendan H says:

        They’re not trying to play games with your head. They’re trying to get inside your head.

        Which is important, I think.

    • I hate reverse psychology crap, but in this case, I think the Pastor perfectly hit the nail on the head with his assessment. They missed the old music guy is all.

      • I would have gotten stuck on the “she’s driving people away” bit – was it true? Were people actually leaving because of the music, or was this just Bob and Carol being upset?

        The point here is not that anybody wins the argument, it’s to minister to Bob and Carol and how displaced they feel – and their grief at losing their close friend.

        • Of course, just because Bob and Carol are upset about Dr. Adams’ death and how the disregard for his legacy seems to them to be a symbol of how their generation is regarded as redundant to the life of the congregation, it doesn’t mean that the new choir director isn’t being divisive or that the music isn’t a heap of noise.

          :-)

    • :leaning forward in my chair, speaking quietly, and with respect:

      In reading this scenario and your response (along with seeing your photo), I’m guessing you’ve not experienced much grief, yet, Allen. So what you may interpret as “head games” might, to Bob and Carol (are the tears repressed loss? sadness? fear?), be an invitation to openly grieve the loss of a beloved member of their Church Family, their circle of Friends…as well as to open-up about their own aging process; their own mortality…

      Are they becoming as redundant as Dr Adam’s anthems? It’s like peeling an onion and the Spirit guides the knife.

      • I have experienced grief beyond your wildest imagination. That is exactly why I understand the problems here. There are several

        1) The pastor has an attitude that he is full of wisdom. The only ones in the bible with the wisdom that this pastor claims to have is Jesus and Solomon. I have never met a pastor with the wisdom of Jesus or Solomon.

        2) Most pastors who try this approach do not have the training to make this kind of emotional analysis. It is best left to professionals. Pastors who try this approach almost always misdiagnosis.

        3) There are ethical concerns. He is pastor to Bob, Carol, and to the new music director. He may know private information about each of the parties. He cannot deal with conflict issues when he knows private information about each of the parties without making judgement on those parties.

        4) A second ethical concern. He is probably also responsible for ‘vision’ and administrative leadership of the church. The change in music and the direction of the worship service is probably his vision. It is a conflict of interest to make emotional assessments to defer what might be a legitimate concern.

        I have had two different pastors try this exact approach with me. In both situations they completely misdiagnosed what what was going on with me emotionally. In one of the situations, I was bringing to his attention a profound ethical/moral issue and he used the exact diversion attack that this pastor used to try to get me off the ethical/moral issue. This ethical/moral issue finally came to light at a later date after I left the church.

        • Allen, it is very clear to me from the reading of the passage that the two complainers really were just sad that their old friend was gone. Of course, the whole point of the passage was that we should listen and try to understand rather than just give garbage answers that we come up with when we feel we’re so smart.

          I’m also not sure that this pastor was having a high and might attitude of wisdom, and nowhere in the reading did I hear about Jesus or Solomon.

          You might be overthinking it.

        • Allen, I hear you. I did not put this up as an example of how all pastors should handle all situations all the time. So I’m glad for the push-back because this is a discussion of a case study and we need to recognize that this is just one situation used to illustrate a certain point.

          Nevertheless, I need to push back too. One reason I was attracted to this example is because I don’t think it shows any particular ability or training or insight that is extraordinary. Instead, I chose it because it showed me what happens when someone just simply listens well. The list of lessons I learned from it is simply a litany of what it takes to be a good and caring friend in any relationship. To me, it would be a shame if a pastor were to look at an example like this as something beyond the bounds of ordinary compassion, grace, and caring.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “Most pastors who try this approach do not have the training to make this kind of emotional analysis. It is best left to professionals. Pastors who try this approach almost always misdiagnosis. ”

          This is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Most of the commenters have been assuming that the diagnosis was correct. You are assuming that it was not. I’m not sure what to take away from this other than keeping an open mind, even once the diagnosis has been made. Unwillingness to act absent absolute certainty is a sure prescription for perpetual stasis.

          • donald todd says:

            The pastor is caught in the middle. He can try to understand and even sympathize with all the parties. However he will be forced to make a decision and then he and the congregation will have to live with that decision.

            I wonder if there is a middle road, a meeting of the congregation to remember the previous music, to note the change, and ask if there is a need to examine the current music. This should involve the new music minister. If there is an ingrained appreciation for at least some of the music of the past, it should be retained. Even evangelical churches have traditions in the small “t” sense of the word.

    • Bob and Carol were playing head games too, challenging the pastor’s leadership skills and pulling the “we’ve never done it like this before” game. The pastor called their bluff and gently challenged them into being honest with themselves.

  7. Taking another look at this, the first problem is that they see the pastor as the person whose job it is to fix the problem. If he didn’t have the role of “CEO” of the church, the flock would not need to come to him about the problems. Churches members need another path to deal with CEO type problems.

    • Allen, while I might be tempted to agree with you here, believing as I do that the “CEO” model is inappropriate for pastors, may I say that I had exactly these kinds of conversations with people in small churches where no such model was in place. If you are in a leadership position of any kind, you will get complaints like this and people will expect you to fix their problems.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    Interesting and very common type of pastoral conversation. One thing I always tried to do was go slow in the conversation. Think and don’t worry about pauses, even let them (pauses) linger. Listen for the real issue and find ways to address it.

    Also as pastor, let them know that ultimately the worship service is your concern. You should be meeting with those involved in worship to direct the planning and tone of the upcoming service (and season). Music should be in tune with the church year and designated passages of scripture. You can use this to to make suggestions to the choir director and if appropriate use some of the music that the complaining party wants addressed. While talking to the dissatisfied persons let them know you will try to meet some of their concerns in worship, but don’t surrender the service to them (or anyone else).

    Try hard to keep those promises, otherwise you will regret it!

    Before they leave tell them to always bring those kind of concerns to you and that they did the right thing.

    • I knew of a guy who was a sound tech at a megachurch. Every Sunday morning he closed the door to the sound booth and taped a sign on the glass window that said:
      “We are aware of the problem and are working on it.”
      Not very pastoral, but everyone was satisfied.

  9. This is why I never want to be a pastor. Trust me, I’ve been in this situation way too many times for my age, as the new choir director. Unfortunately, however, the pastor did not exhibit such wisdom. In fact, the only approach he could hold to consistently was agree with everyone except for me, who was routinely thrown under the bus. I don’t by the implied tone of pity for this couple who miss a dear friend. They way they are handling it is selfish, divisive, and irresponsible, no matter if how bad the new director is (and trust me, she probably isn’t). The pastor gently pushes their attacks back to them for clarity, and they keep changing their story with something new to be mad about. In this story, the pastor found the end of the trail. But in my experiences, and I imagine for many, many others in church work, the trail never ends. I know this is harsh and cruel, possibly even elitist, but I think that pastor would probably even agree with me when I say that we sleep easier when those type of people up and leave the church. Which is actually what usually happens, anyways. And this is not expecting people to be perfect. There are tons of church members who understand how to get along and cooperate, it is not too much to expect, and many churches even include this in their membership covenant. Ok, I’ll stop ranting. This one really struck a nerve.

    • Good points, and sorry for your bad experiences. Remember, this is a snapshot, not the whole story. It’s told to complement the point he’s trying to make and not to discuss the entire situation or relationship.

      • Well, as far as that goes, I really agree with the point I believe he is making with this. It was certainly a positive thing for me to read about how a situation like this might be approached in a good way, seeing as how it is hard to find real life examples of it. Should I stay in ministry, perhaps I will take the time to read the whole book. I hope more and more pastors are given this type of training, in the shepherding of souls. It seams that our emphasis today on pastoral training is entrepreneurial leadership and hermeneutical gymnastics. Those thing are not bad, but I want to belong to a church where I can be confident that my pastor is a person I can trust.

    • It’s so interesting that we each have internetmonk articles that strike a nerve with us. Mine was the whole “giving tree” fiasco.

  10. Not familiar with Barnes’ book (sounds&looks interesting), but all thru this vignette, my ‘bogus’ alarm was sounding more and more loudly, with a crescendo at the final floor-staring bit. It’s been my cynical experience that stuff that sounds too good to be true usually isn’t.

    Just my jaded impression — as ever, your mileage may vary.

  11. I’ve had similar conversations. I used to bite as soon as they got personal about me. I’ve learned the hard way to let those pass by. I have a counselor friend who is found of reminding me that the “issue” someone comes to you with is rarely the real issue.

    • ‘the “issue” someone comes to you with is rarely the real issue.’

      That statement, and the conversation above, remind me of M. Scott Peck’s book People of the Lie. He says that the person brought to him for help is not always the one who really needs the help but merely the “designated patient”. There is often an opressive, manipulative person behind the scenes, and that person should be on the psychiatrist’s couch instead. Or behind bars.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I think this is exactly right in many situations, esp where abuse or family problems or mental issues are the underlying concern. Most pastors do not have the skills to handle these. Disaster can be the result of attempting to do it. Some pastors try to spiritualize every problem. This is just plain wrong.

        My wife has a graduate degree in mental health counseling and knew of many instances where the pastor’s bungling made things much worse. I also know of a case where a pastor gave terrible advise to grandparents who became aware of their young granddaughter being molested by her absentee dad. Now, years later, this child s in her late teens (or early 20’s) and still suffering from the results. She has serious sexual and relationship issues that are still not being addressed. This ill-equipped pastor shares the burden of blame.

        However I didn’t read the situation here as being that type of counseling issue, but more of a run of the mill pastoral problem. But there may be more to it.

        • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

          Good points, there. One of the things pastors need to learn as they’re exercising pastoral care is when to refer folks to licensed, professional councilors. Even with the best CPE training, pastors aren’t councilors and shouldn’t present themselves as such. This case study, however, definitely fell into the pastoral care category.

      • “He says that the person brought to him for help is not always the one who really needs the help but merely the “designated patient”. There is often an oppressive, manipulative person behind the scenes,”

        Yes, I think this is true. The really sad irony is that if the “designated patient” starts to get better, the manipulative person gets even more difficult. Some people need to have others in their lives who they feel are more broken than themselves.

        As far as the “issue” not being the real issue, I’ve a bunch of stories about that. Back when I was a youth pastor, I had a youth worker tell me that he didn’t like the way the ministry under my leadership. Turns out, his feelings had nothing to do with my running of the ministry, he was hurt that he and I hadn’t become fast friends. When I came to the church, he tried really hard to befriend me, took me to a baseball game, etc. When I didn’t reciprocate the way he thought I should, he turned on me. The pastoral lesson here: those who want to befriend you the most urgently will probably turn on you the most quickly because they have emotional needs they think you are there to meet.

  12. It’s really impossible to get enough information from this short snippet to resolve the issue fully. It’s possible that this couple is overly distraught and dramatic and that some of the issues they raise are legitimate. It would be nice if the article at least admitted to that possibility. In a way, the scenario is a little too neat and clean cut.

  13. One of your points is knowing them (your congregation) well enough to understand some history behind the immediate situation. This is a very good thing to know but most pastors don’t even know the people in the congregation without first seeing a picture in the directory or having someone point them out. If pastors do recognize those individuals the second hurdle to overcome is are all parties comfortable talking about things without getting baited or defensive.
    If the pastor above knew the situation they why did he make Bob and Carol feel so small instead of just listening and giving them the best advice he in the depravity of man could offer which is to seek God in prayer.
    I told a pastor one time that I didn’t know him well enough nor was comfortable telling him the major crisis that was happening in my life at the time. His response was I was a bitter person. He knew nothing about me and was not qualified by a course or two to be a psychologist.

    • Penny, I didn’t get that the pastor made them feel small. They were attacking him! He just made an observation and it hit the spot. By the way, Barnes goes on in his commentary on this encounter to say that he recognized they were not ready yet to deal with their grief and their real issues, so he did not push it any further.

      Also, your point about knowing your people is absolutely important. Thanks for bringing that out.

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

        That knowing people bit is why I’ve realized that as I move on toward ordination, it’ll be best if I pastor a small church. That’ll be the only way I’ll be able to know the flock well enough.

  14. I kind of agree with the other comments that say this conversation has a ring of fakeness to it. I simply can’t imagine people reacting in a positive to a pastor like this. I’ve seen people act like total jerks to my father and other pastors over the years, and they’ve been responded to in grace, but very, very rarely have I seen people respond in a positive manner to any type of correction, even the most gentle. Perhaps being a pastor’s kid forces you to be a cynic, consider me cynical on this one. Honestly, anymore, I’d like to see more pastors respond to busybodies like this by simply pointing them towards the door. Even if they are appeased for a short while, they’ll find something else to complain about pretty soon.

    • Phil, see my comment to Penny. From what I can understand from reading Barnes, this illustration was NOT meant to say the issue was resolved. In fact he comments later that he knew they were not ready to deal with their real issues. So maybe they did end up leaving the church, I don’t know.

      His point was not to make this a neat little story with a happy ending, but rather just a snapshot of an encounter where listening carefully helped him discern something other than the issue that was being presented.

      By the way, I agree with you that there are times to simply say, “Enough!” to perpetual complainers. I have never been very good at that, and I’ve paid the price.

      • I understood the point that Barnes was trying to make, I just was having a little trouble mustering the suspension of disbelief required for me to buy in entirely.

        It is true that our personal experiences affect our perspectives on these issues, though. And the issue of people having problems with a particular minister or ministry within the church does touch a nerve with me. One thing I’ve noticed is that many senior pastors seem all too willing to throw their associates under the bus when they deal with these sorts of complaints. Yes, I’m sure that there are all sorts of underlying spiritual issues that cause parishioners to react negatively to things, but that doesn’t excuse their behavior. If these people are going and having meetings with other choir members about the new director, that’s something that can cause all sorts of strife. The fact the pastor is able to help them see that their grief is at the root of the problem is a good start. But will they own up to their actions? That’s the part that I find hard to believe.

  15. To the larger point of the post…

    I think the pastor does a good job of listening. He makes observations, but doesn’t condemn or give advice. Whether or not the situation is ultimately resolved positively is unknown. The truth is that this pastor has very little control of how the situation will resolve. The best he can do is let Bob and Carol know they have been heard, and help them see the new music director fairly.

    Funny, as I’ve been reading through the comments, I can’t help but notice how each of us is projecting his or her own hurts and experiences into the story, and this influences how we interpret the story. Some see the pastor as careful and wise. Some see him as condescending. Some see him has foolishly in over his head as he plays counselor. Some see the couple as trouble makers. Each of us sees the story in light of our own experiences with congregants and/or pastors. This is part of the point of the story I think. Each person projects their own experiences and emotions into their observations of events. A wise pastor needs to know the flock so he can understand why events are being experienced as they are by the flock.

  16. “I was already rubbing my temples as I asked, “What do you want me to do, Bob?”

    “Well, I think we all know what needs to be done. What we don’t know is if our pastor is a strong enough leader to do it.”

    Translated from the Greek, this means, “If you don’t agree with us, we are going to talk trash about you as much as we do the music director.”

    My first question would have been, “Have you talked with our music leader about this?” If the answer was “No”, and it most assuredly would have been, then I would have suggested that we arrange a meeting with myself, the couple, and the music leader. I can promise you, in 9 out of 10 cases, the complaining couple would politely decline the opportunity to express their dislike for an individual directly, to their faces. Would the couple leave the church? Possibly. And they would probably complain about the music at their next church, too.

    An old pastor of mine, when members of the congregation would bring gossip or complaints about staff members to him, would instantly respond with, “Well, let’s don’t talk about folks when they can’t defend themselves. Let’s get them in here right now and deal with this.” Not once in his 20+ years of ministry has anyone taken the opportunity to do this. And people have left his church because of issues they don’t want to confront directly. In the pastor’s words, though, “Everybody’s a blessing…some coming, some going.”

    • Also…”Well-Intentioned Dragons” by Marshall Shelley is a great read, a must for young pastors just starting out in ministry. It takes the reader through several different scenarios dealing with difficult church members.

  17. textjunkie says:

    I have to admit, when I got to the end of it I thought I had missed a link to the rest of the story. I thought he was just getting started in his interactions with them. That’s it? that’s the magic phrase that solved the problem?

    Color me dubious.

    But oh geez, the story definitely strikes a nerve. The number of churches I’ve been at where the choir/music leader/band/etc. are a constant source of annoyance and nitpicking by various members of the congregation–oy. It’s one of the reasons, I think, I’ve ended up gravitating to the early services that have no music.

    Though I imagine that is not the point of the case study. It doesn’t have to be the music; you can find the same conversation going on about the choice of sermon topics, the altar guild, the flower arrangements, how and where the ushers stand, the pause after the readings or the lack thereof. I remember getting bawled out as a teenager, when I was given the role of taking the offerings up before communion, and genuflecting at all the right places–but I turned around and came back to my seat before the priest did something that some old guy in the congregation thought was actually the time I should turn around and come back, and boy did he let me have it after the service. Luckily my parents were very supportive and understanding, so I didn’t get traumatized by it! But there’s always *something* that ticks somebody off, and if you’re lucky, they’ll come to the guy in charge to complain, rather than sowing dissension and pain and backbiting in the congregation. So how does the pastor deal with it?

    And how does s/he deal with the people for whom there is not a quick fix, who keep showing up time and time again? The church draws the broken and the wacky, so there are bound to be quite a few over time…

    • I will say it again–This was not intended to be a neat little story that provides a happy, tidy resolution. I don’t know how the situation turned out, though Barnes indicates later that they weren’t ready to deal with some of their underlying hurts. I posted this as an example of good listening. Period.

  18. These types of situations call for walking a fine line between being sensitive to the complaints (possibly valid) of one group while maintaining loyalty and respect for the other group.

    I was recently faced with a situation where one of my employees made it clear in a one-on-one with me that he had no respect for his boss (one of my directors). Even though I think there is merit to the complaint (and I’m dealing with the situation with that director privately), if I didn’t support my director and ask the employee to find a way to do the same, I set a precedence that could lead to chaos.

  19. It seems like the task of shepherding a flock is a lot more like watering a garden than building a house. Of the pastoral list at the top, I think most of those points represent a paradigm that identifies the pastoral role as one who fosters conditions for growth rather than “makes” things grow. That sounds like exactly the approach I’d prefer in, well, ANY leadership postition, including pastors. I think the pastor in the story does an excellent job practicing this in as much of the conversation as we’re given. Now, if he’s able to consistently do this for the whole of the encounter, and isn’t afraid of saying the difficult thing when the time comes…that’s art. The failure to overlook minor objections in order to perceive the real issue- that has sunk a lot of conversations I’ve seen. So far, he seems to be managing that. It’s a matter of choosing which hill to die on, so to speak. This guy seems to be a bit like my pastor, actually!

  20. As I read it, the basic outlines of the conversation are this:

    -All 3 people have cleared their schedules for an hour of conversation (‘It was clear that this was going to be a hard hour.”)
    -The husband may have a history of being a complainer and a head-ache inducing person for this pastor. ( “Bob began his now-familiar litany of complaints”, “I was already rubbing my temples” )
    -During the conversation, the husband, in particular, shows some aggression, launching some conversational grenades. (complaints about someone not in the room, “What we don’t know is if our pastor is a strong enough leader to do it.”)
    -The conversation, as shown, seems like it would probably have taken 5 to 10 minutes.
    -5 to 10 minutes into the session, the pastor comes to the insight that this is not the usual complaining, but is instead messy emotions related to grief over Ted Adams leaving. For the sake of discussion, let us assume that this is a correct insight.
    -The pastor reveals this insight about the real core issue out loud to the couple. (“You must miss him a great deal”)
    -The couple breaks off eye contact and ceases their side of the conversation. (“They both looked down at the floor, silent, for a very long time.”)
    -Apparently the conversation ends 5 to 10 minutes into the hour session without the couple giving any indication that they were able to receive this insight. (Chaplain Mike in 11:19pm reply to Penny “Barnes goes on in his commentary on this encounter to say that he recognized they were not ready yet to deal with their grief and their real issues, so he did not push it any further.” and at 11:29pm in reply to Phil “[Barnes] comments later that he knew they were not ready to deal with their real issues.”)

    Are you sure you aren’t just pulling our leg, and this is really a case study showing how NOT to counsel? Or how a pastor can use lots of techniques learned in seminary (avoiding the conversational landmines), came to a correct insight, but still ended up flubbing the main point of having these people more headed towards the possibility of a greener pasture at the end of the pastoral care than before? Or even of managing to remain in conversation with them for the entire hour?

    There isn’t going to be a companion case study that you are going to unveil today showing how the pastor zipped his lips after coming to the insight and instead of blurting out The Answer gently guided the conversation for another 30 minutes, at which point the husband says for himself “You know, I really miss Ted Adams” and the wife says “I miss him so badly that I cry all the time” and then maybe the conversation is able to take a tiny baby step towards the subject of grief and the messy emotions that can arise with grief?

    I’m skeptical. If grief really, truly was the core issue, this case study seems more like “A Manager’s Guide to Keeping People with Messy Emotions from Clogging Your Schedule And Throwing Your Organization into Chaos” than it does effective pastoral care.

    • You’re missing the point of the case study, Becky. This was not a case study in counseling about how to successfully resolve problems with complaining parishioners. Its purpose was much less limited than that. It was to show the importance of good listening. In the context of the book, Barnes is trying to show that the ministry of pastor is like that of poet—one who recognizes the streams that flow below the surface.

      I’ve had enough people complain to me on Internet Monk that Christians don’t listen well that I thought it would be good to offer a small example of someone who did, in at least part of a conversation.

  21. @ Chap Mike , and you’ve probably already seen it: YOU MUST go check out “Taming the Image” over @j Out of Ur. somebody has borrowed your brain and soul to write a piece over there…..hope they return it (your brain/soul) in good shape.

    GregR