Offensive Clergy

I have always found it very easy to offend people. When I was in Year 5 I was slapped by a man in the street for sniggering at his massive orange afro. I regret the incident enormously but the lesson I learnt has stuck with me. People will take offense at even the smallest of things.

Over the last ten years of ordained ministry, this lesson has shown itself true. You would be amazed at the things people have complained about and taken offense at – some big, some small. My view on the Boxing Day Tsunami was published in the Mosman Daily and I had letters and phone calls galore. One of my alter-egos rode his scooter in a church building and I had a series of "queries" about the legality and appropriateness of such behaviour. Neither of these actions involved any substantial change to the ministry I was doing and nor to the ministry of the past.

In the midst of such complaints I have always tried to do what Narelle Jarrett told me to during our first year Moore College subject "Grief". Sit down face to face with people and listen.

Almost every time the people involved have not only appreciated the opportunity but have become friends. We have not always agreed on the matter, but we have learnt more about each other and understood perspectives more clearly. We've sometimes agreed to disagree and sometimes people have left the church and gone to another with my blessing.

Of course, not every conflict is so easily resolved and when the clergy go on the offensive in an effort to humbly and prayerfully reshape an entire ministry, tensions are often high and people are quickly offended. I can (thankfully) only imagine how stressful this must be for both clergy and parishioners. I just hope that if I encounter such a scenario, I will continue to follow Narelle's advice. I hope others will help me to remember it. I hope my bishop will be aware enough of the situation and from day one be saying to me, "Sit down face to face with people and listen."

Perhaps I am an optimist, but its for these reasons that I am glad that the Parish Relationships Ordinance still stipulates that a minister's license should not be reviewed until at least four years of incumbency. Listening should lead to discussing, discussing to learning, learning to growing and growing to changing. This process takes time and I felt two years was not enough. Undergirded by prayerfulness, thoughtfulness and good theology, I hope no Parish in our Diocese ever needs enact the Ordinance.

You'll perhaps be interested to know that I now get criticised when my alter-ego is not riding his scooter in the church building enough.

Comments (6)

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  • Ron Bennett
    October 16, 12 - 8:25am
    Hi Nigel,

    thanks for the interesting thoughts. Unfortunately I think we are offended a little too easily (or maybe not offended enough sometimes?) these days. The other unfortunate thing is that when it comes to church we walk in with preconceived notions on how things should be done or sermons said.

    If we have the openess to do as you said, sit down and chat about our differences, then maybe things will turn out more Christ like. I do agree with your last comment though - sometimes ministers/clergy do not ride their "scooters" enough.
  • Stephen Davis
    October 16, 12 - 1:17pm
    Interesting article Nigel but do you really want to be offensive? Try preaching the gospel warts and all to some so called church goers and then you will REALLY be told how offensive you are. People are so ridiculously thin skinned these days, sometimes just the fact one breathes can cause offence!
  • Barry Lee
    October 18, 12 - 9:35am
    I too was pleased that we reversed the decision made last year and kept the four year moratorium. If we had allowed the debate to go on longer last year I suspect that we would not have needed to revisit it this year. The Ordinance came about because many in Synod were appalled at what happen in Pymble parish some years ago and that happened at the 2 year mark. Lyle Shaller in his books on church dynamics suggests it takes 5 years for congregations to make the adjustments necessary for a new pastor to reach the point when his ministry will be most effective. 2 years would simply mean that all clergy appointed to parishes were on a trial basis.
  • Fred Smith
    October 18, 12 - 12:54pm
    Fred once preached a pipper of a message, including a warts and all gospel message and was afterwards taken to task by a long time member of the congregation who was offended that he had mentioned Rugby Union in the introduction. There's no way that you can ever predict what is going to cheese someone off. And in our church, elders and pastors have YEARLy reviews.
  • Fred Smith
    October 18, 12 - 2:49pm
    I am not Fred I am his wife Lydia!
  • Stephen Davis
    October 19, 12 - 1:48pm
    Fred, now you have got me completely confused!