When ministers crack: Why telling your church what you think of them might not be the best idea

Church, the old quip goes, would be alright if it weren't for Christians.

We've all felt it, and no one more than hard-pressed pastors. Most of us, however, grit our teeth, grin and bear it, and hope for better days.

Not so Rev Andy Thewlis, Vicar of All Saints in Burbage, Wiltshire. Following what one suspects was just one passive-aggressive email too many about the church flower rota, he fired off a 1,200-word letter to everyone in the church, accusing them of criticism and negativity and saying some were 'actively sabotaging the ministry of their vicar and their church'. According to The Times, Thewlis said: 'The arrogance of some church members through emails and conversations on an almost daily basis is wearisome. It drains energy, robs enthusiasm and reveals that some as we were told would prefer not to have a vicar.'

Brian Robert Marshall/Wikimedia CommonsBurbage Church, Wiltshire.

He was hauled in to see his bishop and subsequently wrote another letter to the church, this time apologising, but is looking for another post.

The poor fellow can hardly be enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. But at the risk of extending it, here's a thought.

All around the country, there are ministers thinking, 'This man is a hero.'

Without taking sides – who, after all, can know the inside story here apart from insiders? – pretty much every minister has felt like doing what Mr Thewlis did. Most of them, even if they get as far as composing that tell-it-like-it-is email, manage to avoid pressing the 'send' button in time. But for all too many, being a pastor is just hard work, and sometimes the cracks show.

Church life can be tough. People are unbelievably irritating sometimes. Pastors can feel that ministry is an endless string of disappointments. All those high ideals run up against the harsh reality of human nature, and it's not a pretty sight.

So what's a minister to do? Sensible pastors will look for support first of all from fellow clergy. Yes, our older and wiser pastors will say, your church is made up of pains in the neck. Oh, and by the way, are you quite sure you aren't one too? Because if we're honest, the faults are unlikely to be all on one side.

But more than this – sooner or later, every minister has to come to this conclusion if he or she is to thrive: that this is what the job is. Some churches are harder than others. Some have toxic cultures going back generations. Some are in the grip of particular individuals or families, or particular theologies, that make it really hard for them to be Christlike.

Going to a different church is like moving to a different house and getting to grips with the garden. Sometimes the soil has been cultivated, the grass watered and the flower-beds weeded. Sometimes it's just cracked clay and brambles. But you do what you're called to do, for as long as you can do it, and you hope your successor's hands will have fewer blisters because of what you've done.

It's sad when church relationships break down. We should all behave better than we do. 'We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory' (2 Corinthians 3:18); but we are not quite there yet, and we must be patient with each other until we are.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods

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