The Reverend Stacey Simpson Duke preaches at First Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Reverend Stacey Simpson Duke preaches at First Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Dear Matriarchs,

I’ve been preaching a lot of prophets lately, and their connection to our current situation, which has caused some direct feedback from members of my congregation including shouted disagreement and a door slam while walking out in the middle of a service. How would you handle these things, and the inevitable emails that follow?

Signed,
Suburban Preacher

Dear Suburban Preacher,

God be with you as you have the courage to preach the gospel truth. Sometimes shouting and slamming doors are the only sign that you are preaching the truth! Even so, it is hard when you are in the midst of it. Maybe you could address the concerns and frustrations in a smaller group setting such as a Christian Education class or small group discussions. With certain individuals could you meet with them with one other mediator type person (a trusted parishioner)?

Blessings as you seek to be faithful in your preaching and leadership.

Rev. Kelley

Dear Suburban Preacher,

The Bible is an equal opportunity offender – in terms of politics, theology, etc. But we have to love our people as we share prophetic words. That doesn’t mean watering down the message but it does mean sharing the message in a way that it can be heard. As for slammed doors and contrary emails, I would definitely contact the door slammer – assuming you know the person – and offer to have coffee and talk. Conversations by email are also better done in person when the topic is heavy. And while Advent – and our news outlets – are full of prophetic voices, try to balance those hard words with some softer words as well. Bless you, Pastor.

Peace,

Jan

Dear Suburban Pastor-

Not knowing all the details, it is difficult to know what course of action I would take. By “current situation” do you mean the national conversation about race and justice or is there something specific to your congregation? If it is the first, perhaps this is the time to invite someone from outside the congregation to moderate an Adult Forum.

Is there consensus in the feedback that you have received or are a variety of opinions being expressed? Is there polarization going on between you and members of the congregation? I would hope that you have had some conversation with leaders in your congregation and perhaps colleagues so that you do not feel isolated in this situation.

I would not make public statements about the shouting or the door slamming. I would keep a written record of everything that has happened. I wouldn’t make any immediate responses to email. Quick replies often make troubles worse. If you have notes or manuscripts of your sermons, reread them. Most importantly I would want to have a conversation with individuals as to why they are so angry. What did they hear that caused them to be upset? What feelings were triggered? I would set a goal of clarity and understanding.

Praying for peaceful resolutions.
Heidi aka RevHRod

I think that preaching prophetically can be uncomfortable in many contexts, Suburban Preacher. I think it’s important to remember that preaching is a monologue, and a privilege. Providing opportunities to allow the voices of our people to be heard is our job as leaders…and pastors.

I think it’s imperative to acknowledge that those listening to a sermon are especially challenged to have to endure a single voice on a topic. (I would certainly say that to those who are e-mailing and approaching you.) I would thank them for caring deeply, even if they have reached different conclusions. I find it helpful to remind people that people of good faith can disagree, that my door is open, that I’d love to hear their take on the passage or on current events, and will be available following worship for conversation or to make an appointment for private conversation.  When we have very charged topics, I work with our staff to ensure that there are opportunities for roundtable discussions or a special guest star to help us converse about something challenging.

With prayers for all who are called to pastor in these very, very challenging times.

Jennifer
***********

Readers, how are things going for you in this season of prophetic gospel texts in a world where justice and the need for more of it are in the news every day? How do you handle it when your words rile up a member of the congregation? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Ask the Matiarch will be on hiatus over the holidays and return on Thursday, January 8th. Our queue is empty, so please send your questions for our panel to askthematriarch at gmail dot com.

 

5 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: When they slam the door on the way out

  1. I have lived through this myself. Somebody told me “if they’re not threatening to pull your ordination, then you are not preaching the Gospel….” but still, it is hard to keep preaching in the face of the moment, the door slam, the emails afterwards.
    I have tried to model good boundaries with my behavior: (no, this is the text, we are here to worship, not to get sidetracked by a slamming door or yelling people…) to thank the people (sincerely) for coming to me with their disagreements, and to suggest meeting later to discuss this more thoroughly….and then to keep on preaching (you can go have a good cry later, after everybody has gone home. because you will.)

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  2. I’ve always worked on the maxim that the role of minister is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The Bible is about true justice, not our human version thereof – and sometimes it’s going to be upsetting. If someone *does* get upset, it means I am doing something right. In one congregation, woman got up and stormed out of the service which was Holy Humour Sunday – red faced and almost door slamming, except our doors were on very silent two-way hinges. I spoke to her later in the week, and she was honest that she didn’t think we should be laughing and dancing in church. I asked why not. She had no answer. I asked if she thought Jesus danced at celebrations. She had not thought of that. The song which offended her was “YMCA”. I asked if she knew where that came from – its context. Imagine her surprise at finding out it was a song designed to get youth off the streets and to get their lives together. She still doesn’t think we should laugh and dance in church – but our relationship was not damaged. Most of the time, when people stomp out for whatever reason, it’s about them – not about us. People who slam out only do damage to themselves, and we miss the point if we take it personally. I have always invited people to disagree with me about something in sermons. Suggest meeting later to talk, after they have cooled off…..

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  3. We’re going through something similar, although not quite so dramatic, with a woman whose son is a police officer.

    In similar situations, have called and said something like, “You must feel very strongly about what you heard, to leave in the middle of worship. Will you tell me about that?” Then I listen and try to keep in mind that my words may have struck her/him with the same painful force his/her words are now striking me.

    I try to bring the conversation back to the scriptures. “What do you believe the Bible says about this? What do you think that means?”

    Then I try to have a conversation about, “What is God’s will for (topic) and what is our role in moving closer to it?”

    What I usually hear is that they realize it’s not God’s will for people to be murdered or go hungry or be marginalized, but they don’t know how to get from here to there (as the rest of us also don’t) and worry that something precious to them will be lost without accomplishing anything.

    I try to avoid the situation by talking frequently about prophets (without ever claiming to be one, certainly) and explaining that they weren’t people who foretold the future so much as people who spoke God’s words before their listeners were ready to hear them. Certainly the slam of the door emphasizes that. We all are in different places in our understanding, I say, but we believe — oh, we believe! — that the Holy Spirit always is out in front of us, calling to us.

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  4. this is not particularly relevant, I suppose, but occasionally when I was teaching a student would come to me before class and say, “I have to leave a bit early today, I’m sorry,” and I would always say, “Promise me you will stand up, slam your books together, and slam the door on your way out?” and they would be quite appalled. But it was a way to ensure that the rest of the class would sit up straight and wonder, “What did we just miss? What’d she just say?” so I thought it was paedagogically useful…

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