I don’t understand what people are thinking when they approach me on a Sunday morning with that fire-in-the-eyes look that says “let me give you a piece of my mind”. Can’t they understand that I’m busy? Don’t they see that I’m juggling a bunch of different mental and actual demands? Apparently not. And people in ministry all over the world and throughout the history of time have had to deal with the people who want to get into a conflict at the worst possible time of the entire week. It’s crazy.
This happens to me about three times a year now. I’m fortunate. Other worship leaders and/or pastors get it every week! But in one of the more memorable episodes, after a morning when I used the “That’s My King!” video as a call to worship, I was approached by an individual who had been very offended by it. He expressed himself to me for several minutes and every instinct in my body was to give it right back to him. I wanted to return the favor and give him a piece of my mind.
But I didn’t. I listened, gave lots of head nods and “hmmms”, thanked the man for sharing his concerns with me, assured him that I meant no offense, apologized for any offense that was caused, and he left slightly pacified. Of course, the rest of the afternoon I spent rehearsing in my mind what I could have said or what I should have said to set the man straight.
I wrote a former seminary professor of mine, Steve Brown, the next day and I apologized to him. If you’ve ever listened to Steve or read any of his stuff, you’ll know that he encourages pastors/people in ministry to be real, to not be afraid to offend people, and to not take people’s “stuff” when they they throw it at you.
I said to Steve: I’m sorry. I let you down. I had a guy come up to me after church yesterday who laid into me and I just stood there and took it. I didn’t fight back. I should have. Next time I will.
He wrote back. Here’s some of what he said:
I just stopped and prayed for the guy who came up to you with his drivel…
…that he gets the hives.
We showed that video at our church and the people were cheering by the end. Anybody who doesn’t “get” the power of that is spiritually dead.
And you didn’t let me down. In fact, you did the right thing. Jesus said that we were to be as innocent as a dove and wise as a serpent. You did the innocent thing. The wisdom comes in knowing whose butt to kick and when to put it off for a better time. The last thing you needed was to “speak truth” to a guy like that.
But there will be other times. Keep your gun loaded.
Steve was right.
9 times out of 10, when people approach you on a Sunday morning with complaints, the wise response is to kindly listen and then thank the person. You don’t need to deal with handling conflict when your attention is on leading the congregation and leading your team.
The only time I think it’s wise to rebut people is: (1) if it’s before the service. Tell them it needs to wait. Don’t let them throw you off your game. And (2) if they’re attacking you personally. They can criticize your song choices, volume, arrangements, etc. But if they come at you personally, you’re within your rights to say to them that you’d appreciate it if you had this conversation some other time and perhaps with your pastor present. That should take care of that.
We have enough on our plates on Sunday mornings without having to add doing battle with offended congregants. In that moment, unless it’s before a service or they’re attacking you personally, just let the Holy Spirit be Christ in you. And just like Jesus took scorn and insults and responded (most of the time) with love and wisdom, so let our response be also.