When enough is never enough


The church matriarch. The dearly-beloved-by-everyone-in-the-church matriarch doesn’t think that you visit the elderly enough. Not the sick, the elderly. Actually they may be considered “homebound,” because they can’t make it to church. But you know from your visits that they can make it to the hairdresser, and the bridge club, and the women’s club. They suddenly became unable to attend church when the retired interim pastor makes way for you–the young installed pastor.

And so you begin to mark dates on your calendar, and you visit more.

When the complaints don’t stop, you visit more. But an afternoon in someone’s living room is time-consuming, it’s one-on-one. So the impact on the larger congregation is quite minimal. But people are lonely, and they want to see their pastor. Not the deacons, but the pastor. And, of course, the retired interim did nothing but visit the elderly women in their living rooms (and you suspect that he might still be visiting…).

And so you visit more, and more, until you’re utterly exhausted and not getting much done for the larger congregation.

And they’re still complaining.

You know that you can’t give them what the interim did (namely, long visits from another elderly person of the opposite sex).

So, what do you do?

photo’s by HRKVC

16 thoughts on “When enough is never enough

  1. she sighs with recognition.

    i go when i can, stay as long as feels right, and let. it. go. or try to.

    some older members who are mobile have disappeared. probably because i didn’t visit except when they were sick or hospitalized. but… they never invited me. ever.

    i’m preparing to leave and i know that when i do some will say that i visited and visited and visited and loved them SO WELL and others will say “she didn’t care about us old people at all.” sigh. and then there are the young families who are sure I don’t care. perhaps they’ll get a superhero for their next pastor.

    not bitter, really. this just hit a nerve.

  2. why not ask the retired pastor to help with the visiting? In a similar situation, feeling a lot of resentment toward the retired pastor who was here before me and much beloved, it took me a while to reach the point to be comfortable enough in my own skin to say, “visiting like this isn’t my strength (not to mention it lacks a serious sense of stewardship)”. And then saying to the pastor, ‘they really like it when you visit, if you have time would you mind stopping in an seeing them every now and then?’ Would that be determintal to your ministry if the person they visit doesn’t come to church anymore anyways? Maybe, but it might be worth a shot. Just a thought.

  3. Perhaps I’m to pushy but I’ve always offered to find them a ride to church the same way they are able to find a ride to get their hair done or go to the store. If they say no then I ask them why not? They usually say something about not wanting to put someone out or sometimes they are really honest and say that it doesn’t feel like “their” church any more.
    I have also found that the greatest complainers are the most selfish people as well, it’s almost always about them and what they want and like and rarely a genuine concern for reaching the world and building the kingdom of God.

  4. I wonder what the congregation is doing to support the treasures of the church? Where is the diakonate and the time invested by the congregation in bringing folks to meetings and functions at the church? It cannot be solely on your (the pastor/associate pastor) shoulders. It is all our responsibility.

  5. RevGraySox,

    This actually isn’t a present concern. It’s one that I went through, and one a friend’s going through now… but… ask the pastor to help with visiting?? I was much too selfish to do that!

    Actually, I would have loved to, but in my case, he was actively pouring gas on the smouldering sparks of discontent.

    My friend Jan was talking the other day about how most of us serve two congregations in one. I find this to be very true.

  6. I think there is a real danger of squeaky-wheel syndrome taking hold. That is, the pastor ends up doing whatever the most whiny person wants her/him to do. What this can lead to is reinforcing behavior that you don’t want.

    The problem of course is that the whiny people are the ones you’ll hear from the most, like it or not, and you know that if they’re whining to you they’re whining to everyone else as well, and you worry about how you look to people outside the situation (or at least I would).

    But I try, in general, to be very careful not to reinforce behavior I don’t want repeated. Especially if the complaining is going on around me but not being directed at me personally. If it is directed at me personally, I’d try to get behind it to the real issue. What is the precise expectation that you have that isn’t being fulfilled? A general “do this more” gets nothing from me because I don’t know how to know if I’ve succeeded, except to wait to see if you stop complaining. Rather, get a more exact definition of what it is that people feel should be happening – say, six one-hour home visits per week, or something else specific.

    Then, if it really is crucial, and is a broad congregational concern and not just a couple of chronic complainers, ask “Which of the things I do now would you prefer me to stop doing so that I can take this on?” I don’t want to ever give the impression that I can just take on more responsibilities. I can’t. I’ve got a limited amount of time in a week, and if you want more, say, visitation of the elderly, then you have to let me off the hook for something else and pick up the slack as a congregation. If the congregation isn’t willing to do this, then as hard as it is, it has to be “no deal, I’m sorry. I’ve already got more than a full-time job and there isn’t anything it seems like I can drop to pick this up.” Then, “How can we, as a congregation, find a way to fulfill this need that we have?” You might even be able to corral the complainer into a leadership position on the issue. “It seems like this is something you’re passionate about. How do you think we can address this problem? Deacons? A visitation ministry? Could we also serve the wider community with something like this? Do we have the people and energy to sustain it?” And so on. Now, it isn’t about whether the pastor is a good pastor, but its about how the church is going to be the church.

    Also, I would say that this should happen out in the open, with a group of people to discuss it with, so that everyone sees how you’re making the decision, and so later when someone says “she doesn’t care about us” or “she just refuses to listen”, those stories can get put to rest really easily…

  7. If that retired pastor was serving as an Interim, it would be a violation of pastoral ethics to continue visiting. I realize the boundaries are squishier in some communities where retired pastors are concerned, but in the UCC, we are supposed to GO AWAY, not keep dropping by.
    You’ve really hit the nail on the head about the lengthy visits from a member of the opposite sex. And I would suggest that the kind of ministry that consists of long afternoons with individual parishioners leaves vast other areas of church life wanting. Which doesn’t answer your question at all.

  8. In reading the many responses about “visiting” and the fact that the homebound persons can get to the store and hairdressers, but not get to church, one might ask why aren’t they getting to church? Because they can’t or they won’t, and where does the retired pastor play into this situation. What did he do that you cannot? or Have not?

    Maybe arranging a day “at church” for those squeaky wheels might get their attention, and all together under one roof might be better than a dozen odd living rooms?

    If you allow the dissension to continue then you are enabling them to continue to talk and criticize while that undermines the pastoral work of your church. We face this in parish life here as well, the ones who can’t seem to find happiness in little things, because they are used to big things by those who came before us.

    The first thing I like to do is pray, then consult their list of needs spiritually, emotionally and mentally, and if cannot help them, then find someone who can. This is where the parish could help you fill those gaps where those who are wining need to be filled.

    We can’t heal everyone, however Godly we want to be or to present to the parish. Eventually someone gets put off for some reason or another, and we fight to regain their trust and respect. There is always one in the bunch who’s main goal is to undermine pastoral care just because they can be a huge pain in the pastoral ass…

    That’s where prayer is necessary.

    You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. just the same, you can visit the homebound day after day, and for some, that is not enough, at that point I would contact those who came before to help mitigate that which is going on now from getting worse.

    It’s Friday, But Sunday is coming…


  9. This hits home for me though I cannot (yet?) apply it to a ministry situation, but I am quite familiar with feeling like I am not measuring up to the standards of various people in my life. God has really confronted me about this lately so I have had to remind myself of Colossians 3.23-24 which says: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” While I should do my best to be at peace with everyone so far as it is up to me, I am not responsible to please everyone. And that is indeed a reason to praise the Lord!

    PS – I have a blog now…it only has two posts thus far but it’s up! http://pinkhammer.wordpress.com/

  10. I always get into these traps. When I’m in these situations, I have the hardest time blowing off the criticism. I know I should, but I usually end up trying to work harder… which rarely accomplishes anything other than burning me out.

  11. I was going to say what Songbird said. If he is still around, that is a problem, and a sticky one, because you can’t tell him not to visit(well, you could, but it would be a “lose”, even if you are right).

    I was blessed to have a retired pastor who supported my ministry in every possible way, including by saying he would not do funerals. he stuck to it, too.

    that being said, I don’t have an answer for the young minister. there is someone who is not satisfied not matter what she does. And that is the truth.

  12. This notion of “visiting the elderly” seems very 1950s – and yet I do it too. Mostly I visit the ones who haven’t been out in so long that they don’t know many people left in the congregation. They know me (because I’ve been their pastor forever) and so it feels more comfortable/familiar. And yet . . . this is truly the role of the deacons/Stephen Ministers/visiting team. No longer in our culture can the pastor do home visits, except for emergencies, IMHO. Especially if the congregation is expecting the pastor to cast the vision, move them forward, alter the culture of the congregation from a Constantinian to a 21st century model . . . UNLESS this pastor is specifically charged with home visitation as one of her/his top priorities.

    Yes – the squeaky wheels indeed try to control us. And I’m the first to admit I’ve been controlled. But the congregation/Session needs to help you clarify what you are called to do: spend your afternoons visiting homebound members or something else.

    Have a good Holy Week –

  13. This has hit a nerve with all of us I see. I too never feel as if I visit enough at all and am always working not to feel guilty about it. And it is not only the elderly – there are still those folks who believe the pastor should just stop in and visit everyone in the congregation for a long home pastoral visit. And then there are those who came to the church once or twice twenty years ago, whom I have never met, but consider this their home church – so they complain that the pastor has never visited them. Off and on through out the church year – I put a reminder in the church bulletin that if people want a home visit – they have to ask me for one. I remind them I can’t be a mind reader and if they ask – I will come. I am pro-active about visiting new folks and visitors. I always make it to the hospital and the nursing homes. I also spend much more time working with single parents in crisis, young mothers having panic attacks, people suffering from depression who need to talk. I am taking someone to their colonoscopy appointment soon. I also go to kids soccer games, plays and recitals. And that is the best I can do – thanks be to God! We have a couple in our church who are getting a ministry dog in a few weeks – and they have begun doing all kinds of visits in anticipation of having the dog – whom they will use for visits everywhere and to anyone. They are so excited – I am planning on being the “god”mother of this dog who does pastoral visits! http://www.neads.org/index.shtml

  14. I’m glad to hear about the guilt. I don’t really visit these folks much. There are others in the community who do. I tend to be callous about the folks who can find a way everywhere but church. Especially when I know that church wouldn’t be that hard. But I also feel guilty. Still, I seldom do it.

    Sick visits are one thing. Truly homebound visits are in the same ballpark. But well elderly who choose not to come to church? Nope. In parish ministry, something always goes undone. I let this be it for me, except on rare occasions.

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