As part of the ordination process in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have had to meet with a regional committee that examines my readiness for ministry. I met with them for “final assessment” this past Saturday. I preached a sermon before the committee and submitted quite a bit of writing, including a one-page statement of faith. Everything went well, and they eventually voted unanimously that I be certified ready to receive a call as an ordained minister. (Hooray!)
There was a bit a constructive criticism involved in the meeting. It was certainly very respectfully, even kindly offered and helpful. And I was reflecting afterward that this is part of what has drawn me to pastoral ministry: I would imagine pastors get more criticism, and from all kinds of people, than professionals in most any other capacity. Because pretty much everyone has opinions about theology and liturgy and how a church should be run, and what pastors ought to do or be like, regardless of their (lack of) training or education or their position.
Of course, receiving criticism induces anxiety, which is not pleasant, but the reward of managing that anxiety, and learning both when to change, and when to stand one’s ground, is … well … something I highly covet. I have always wanted to become wise, and I think being confronted by people who disagree with me will assist me toward that goal.
The problem is … so many people are afraid of confrontation and would rather stop attending a church than call the pastor out on something they think is not right. I don’t know yet whether the congregation I get called to will need encouragement in providing criticism or not. But I’ve been considering how, in either case, I could institute some practices to invite constructive criticism. I could start a suggestions box (actually, I think that would be a great idea for other reasons, too). I heard about a pastor who sends his sermon manuscript to several people for critique a few days before preaching. That sounds awesome. I’ve also had an idea that maybe there could be a quarterly “Town Hall” type of congregational meeting. I would like to find ways not just to welcome input, but to solicit it. A lot of people don’t offer anything unless asked directly.
Anyway … I just can’t wait to have all kinds of people tell me nit-picky, odd, and conflicting things about how to do my job! Hooray, conflict and anxiety! (Hooray for growing wiser.)