The defensive pastor, the annual meeting, and four critical lessons


The young pastor glanced at me and nodded his head towards a crowd across the room. ‘That man has a problem,’ he said.

I knew who he meant.  But I reckon my young pastor friend was mistaken.

It was the night of the Annual Meeting.  Now, whatever your denomination or tribe, I’ll bet you have one, and they’ll follow roughly the same format: legal, financial, vision cast and questions.

You with me?  ‘Legal’ often includes the election of various officers, or the reports on formal activities.  ‘Financial’ means accounts and budget.  ‘Vision cast’ means the pastor trying to shape the direction of the congregation for the year(s) ahead,

And ‘Questions’ means potential car crash.

Because, as every pastor knows, questions can come from anywhere, on anything.  It’s like an unseen exam on the whole your ministry.

Now, when you’ve been around a bit you’ll have learnt not to even think about answering lots of the questions.  Money and buildings whizz their way to the relevant committee heads.  Ministry areas like youth work or small groups find their way to the right volunteers or staff.

But some questions need to be answered by you, the pastor.

The stuff of nightmares…

And the problem is, that it’s not just the subject – it’s the speed and the angle. Some questions are like a friendly, gentle lob, which you can respond to with ease, but some come tearing at you through the air, with disguised spin and a nasty way of bouncing off the grass. If you’re a tennis fan, think of facing Sampras’ serve.  Cricket, think of facing Warne or McGrath. Americans, I have no idea but Im sure you have a seriously nasty baseball pitcher (is that the word?) you can supply.

They’re intending to do damage.

And, again when you’ve been around a bit, you’ll learn to keep muttering ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, a gentle answer turns away wrath.’

My young pastor friend was in a different place again.

True, the line of questioning was not friendly.  He was going through that season of ministry where the shine of being the ‘new’ pastor had just worn off, and people had moved into much greater familiarity with him, and with his strengths and weaknesses.

One of his strengths was being a bold and visionary leader, willing to give a confident direction to the church. ands usual, some didn’t like that, and said so.  Situation normal.

His greatest weakness was being prickly.

His second greatest weaknesses was interpreting disagreement at disloyalty.


Think through that opening comment, and you’ll see how toxic that interpretative combination can be: ‘‘That man has a problem.’

No disagreement, no criticism was ever valid.  Nothing was ever my friend’s fault – it always lay with the others, ‘them.’

No disagreement, no criticism was ever valid.  Nothing was ever my friend’s fault – it always lay with the others, ‘them.’

And it was terrifyingly psychologised: ‘a problem.’  Meaning, he didn’t need an answer, he needed counselling.

Now you’re probably not falling into that trap, but it still has lessons for us to learn.

Keep calm, and keep a hold of your responses. By which I mean, you probably know how you respond under pressure.  i reply too quickly, my heart starting to race, and can find myself hurtling towards a crushingly worded reply, with the questioner my intended victim.  I have to know that about myself, and find a way to remind myself not to take that route.

Assume your questioner means well. Because mostly, they do.  And despite what we think, it takes a lot of courage to stand up in a meeting and challenge the main leader. to reach that point, many a person has had to force themselves into quite a state to be willing to stand, and it’s that emotional state which is speaking.

Assume that if your questioner is being nasty, the rest of the room will see that. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve had it happen to me.  The intentionally tricky question.  The false choice.  The imputed motive.  The reality is, though, that unless your whole meeting is in a state of meltdown (which does happen, rarely), most people will not be feeling that aggression, and will – because they are a kind lot – want to take your side, because you’ve been insulted. Remember, in most cases when people say ‘a lot of people are saying…’, they mean, ‘I think…’

Do not match the emotional tone of an inflamed question. Deliberately go down beat.  Absorb the heat, match a scowl with a smile, and – in general – suck it up. Because the alternative will inevitably turn into an ugly shouting match.  

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1), even at an annual meeting

4 comments on “The defensive pastor, the annual meeting, and four critical lessons”

  1. I think this is SO important, and touches on iceberg tips. There’s a recent book that I’ve now read twice through in the last 12 months – it’s not the only one to deal with the topic, nor necessarily is it the most comprehensive. But it presents an inescapable case: Goggin & Strobel’s THE WAY OF THE DRAGON OR THE WAY OF THE LAMB. Too many slide down into the mire of mini-dictatorship and a handful even come close to a toxic leadership style of the cult leader.

    This post is a helpful early check

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