A rocky metric for preacher effectiveness

My favorite story about John Wesley is one he tells somewhere in his journal.

He is getting ready to do some field preaching. He looks down at the ground and sees a lot of fair sized rocks and dirt clods spread about. These are ready ammunition for his heathen foes and the mobs stirred up by his critics in the church. So, he moves to another field where the rocks are not quite so big.

I am so completely not like that.

I’m really good at giving so little offense that no one thinks to pick up rocks at all. I could preach in a meadow full of baseballs and never worry a trifle about flying objects coming my way. This is one of my most un-Wesleyan traits as a pastor.

Maybe this should be part of our new metric for “effective” pastors.

Question 1: How many rocks have been thrown at you by people listening to you preach?

7 thoughts on “A rocky metric for preacher effectiveness

    1. Probably a Reinhold Niebuhr fan.

      Or a nut. We get some of those in church, too.

  1. I don’t know if your comment was serious or not, John. But I’ll say what I said on another blog not so long ago to a very similar post.

    Being a leader means telling the truth and there are times when the truth will make people very angry indeed. Many ministers – and I’m one of them – don’t really relish the months of aggravation that they know will ensue from telling the truth, so they keep silent. That is a bad thing.

    However, pissing off the congregation for the sake of pissing off the congregation is just adolescent and stupid.

    Fortunately, the one time I decided that I had to take an unpopular stand (and got months of aggravation for it) was well into my three years and people trusted me and knew that I loved them and they loved me back. Had I not first established that trust, I think my ministry in that place could have fallen apart. (I should stress that the time was much more by luck than by judgment but it taught me a valuable lesson for the future!)

    1. I agree entirely with both sides of your point, Pam. Thank you for the comment.

      My post is inspired by my awareness that I am much more prone to the error of silence than the error of adolescent trouble making.

  2. John, I too error on the side of silence. But I am also aware that we are not in the “Church Business” to make friends but instead are there to serve God. Keeping things happy can be just as much as a sin of stirring things up for the sake of stirring things up.

    I have been hit by a rock or two and some have left battle scars. Some were set-ups and others were of my own doing. Pam is 100% right, until trust is there, nothing healthy can be done. Once that trust is there though, if rocks start flying…it is just a sign of effective ministry. Maybe you’re right, it should be a sign of pastoral effectiveness? Instead of notches on a belt (aka numbers/stats), we can compare and contrast bruises and beatings. Maybe dodge ball should be a required course in all seminaries?

    Thanks for thought invoking words.

  3. Another thought, here.

    I can’t see how the institutional church is ever going to get pastors to take a courageous stand that they know will cause trouble unless there is also a support system in place for the pastors. That support system in the UK Methodist Church sometimes does not work as well as it’s intended but if the UMC really does have a system where pastors are expected to compete with each other, then I don’t see where the support is going to come from.

    It’s all well and good to tell pastors that they should have a personal system of support in place for themselves, but in practice it’s not that easy. If you’re going to take a stand that you know is going to annoy the congregation – and remember that “the congregation” frames your everyday working environment as well as your living environment in many cases – then I think it’s really only other pastors who can understand.

    I’m just learning that there is a whole aspect to community and to discipline that can only come to fruition when we make ourselves accountable to other people and when we “allow” other people to support us.

    If the church is going to structure the “stress points” at “pastor versus pastor” and “congregation versus congregation”, then a pastor is going to need SOME point of stability in his or her life. This actually plays into the “peace at any price” scenario, I think.

  4. Great post. Love the story, and am challenged by it.

    I recently heard a UMC pastor (in his 13th or 14th year in his current appointment) speak to younger pastors, most of whom, are in their early years in an appointment. Referring to a couple comments he made at his church, he added something like, “But that’s a comment for year 13, not year 1 or 2.”

    That was helpful for me.

    Leaders need a lot of traits, I suppose, but two absolute essentials are COURAGE and WISDOM. We must be courageous, and as others have indicated, we must also use wisdom in when/how we express our courage. But mostly we need more courage. 🙂

    We shouldn’t allow our ministry to be stifled by fear of rocks, nor should be seek to become targets of rock-throwers.

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