A Parable (That Really Happened)

One day, a youth pastor was summoned to the senior pastor’s office, and he was asked to bring along the junior high director. There they met with a married couple who had grievances against the youth workers. The parents complained bitterly that their two teenage sons were not being ministered to adequately, that the youth pastors had not shown them enough attention, and that their sons had not made friends in the youth group.

The youth pastor and junior high pastor sat quietly and listened, as they had been directed to.

The married couple went on to make other complaints against the church: they had not received timely pastoral care, and the man had not been given the promised solo during the Christmas Day liturgy.

Finally, the senior pastor spoke. “I have heard the cry of your hearts,” he said, “And it seems to me that you are asking to be released from the covenant of membership at this church. I hereby release you.”

“No!” the couple cried, “We want redress! Fire the choir director! Punish the youth pastors!”

“You are hereby released from the covenant of membership at this church,” the pastor replied.

“That’s not what we want! Satisfy our anger!” the couple demanded.

“I release you from our covenant of membership. May the Lord bless your journey.”

With that, the pastor opened the door, and the couple departed, never to be seen again.

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  • Tom

    You claim this really happened, eh? Sounds like. Myth to me. My reality has been vastly different!

  • You were one half of the married couple, right?

  • Thom

    Hmm, what can I say, I am skeptical.

  • Keith Rowley

    I wonder what the healthy way to respond would be when the church REALLY does hurt people and they have a real grievance.

    • Keith, do you suppose that anyone on the pastoral staff was unaware that this couple had grievances?

  • Meg

    Wow! I was in a similar situation- a family had issues both with the senior pastor, but especially with me as the youth pastor. He stood by our choices and didn’t ask them to move on like in this parable, but certainly encouraged them when they found a church that was a better fit. Having a senior pastor who spent 14 years in youth ministry made a huge difference. He’s the reason I stayed at that church for as long as I did.

  • T.S.Gay

    There is so much cultural baggage about church in the North American genre in this parable. “I hereby release you”. Really? As if a man has control over one being in the church or not. Personally I think if you think you can go to church, you have already made yourself schizo. You can’t go to church if you are the church. And the talk of “this church”, as the senior pastor utters, is another cultural reality that needs serious reconsideration. I think it is best to leave these pastors and their followers in their own bubbles for a while longer. I really believe their bubbles are going to to get smaller and smaller before they are able to make the paradigm shift that is obviously needed. My understanding is that the call of this age- for the symbols, myths, epistemologies, events, and structures that unify-are hard for the protestants to grasp because its history is schism.

    • Bobby

      I think you’ve completely missed the point of the parable.

      • Luke Allison

        Yes, your glasses are fogged.

  • Meg

    I think we have to remember that this is written in parable form and not read into it a message that’s not there… If some people refuse to be part of solving problems and don’t desire to lift up a community but tear it down, perhaps they need to know they aren’t tied to being part of a specific community. In my experience there were lots of healthy conversations and attempts to mend fences before realizing expectations didn’t fit the reality. If someone has fundamental issues with things that make a specific church community what it is, or expect that their needs are greater than the big picture needs of that community and the greater Kingdom, then by all means of a pastoral encouragement to loose the perceived bounds of membership with one specific church community so they have the freedom to make choices about how to move on from these issues is complete acceptable.

  • Tim

    I love stories with happy endings.

  • Keith Rowley

    In THIS case I think the exact right thing was done. My point was that this might not be the best reaction to ALL parishioner complaints.
    However, my reaction comes at least in part from being badly hurt by the way the pastor in my previous church handled a situation. Or in his case refused to deal with it because he had a pathological tendency to avoid conflict at all costs.

  • Keith Rowley

    Sonetimes church leaders really do screw things up. A youth leader really does ignore one person who needs them while showing favoritism to another.
    I am assuming the grievances in this case were mostly groundless. I want to know how you think a pastor should respond when the complaints are NOT groundless and in fact the family WAS mistreated by the staff.

  • I’ve heard this one! Hmmm, wonder what church and which pastor this was…

  • Cathy Mia Kolwey

    If only more senior pastor’s were healthy enough to support their staff in this way, and not caught up in pandering to donors (who are often the ones who feel such indignation) or saving the victims to assuage their own matyr complexes.

  • Mark

    Not really a parable, more of a fairy tale, sr pastors like that don’t exist. 🙂

  • The haggard

    I was a senior pastor who did this very thing. I responded to the threat, “if you don’t change the way this church does things, we are leaving and many others will come with us.” I replied, “don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.”

    True story… No parable.

  • Charles

    “Parables” like this are two-way streets. My spouse and I were called to the Sr. Pastor’s office of a very large, tall steeple church, for what amounted to an inquisition. We were part of a a small group that offered support for parents, family and friends of LGBTQ loved ones. The Sr. Pastor was fearful we were becoming “advocates” for LGBTQ folk and not really a support group. We, in effect, were shown the door. I’m afraid these types of discussions are more common than one would think. Sad state of affairs within “the church.”

  • A couple told Charles Haddon Spurgeon they where leaving to find the “perfect church.”

    He said “Let me know when you find it.”

  • Marty

    I love this parable. I don’t think it much matters what the couple’s “complaint” is, at some point you might have to say “this isn’t the place for me.” If you have tried to change things and you get no where and the things you are trying to change are really important to you, then it’s time to go. It doesn’t really matter if the change you seek is the color of the carpet or changing clergy who aren’t doing their job. If it’s really important, you need to leave. From the point of view of the clergy, if someone is seeking a change you just can’t abide, trying to appease the complainer won’t do much good, so it’s time for them to seek another place.

    The trick in all of this is knowing yourself and knowing what can be tolerated and what cannot.

  • This is certainly courageous, and a demonstration of wise priorities.

    Ultimately the parable is an argument for non-violent communication. The couple in question were unable to express their or their children’s needs objectively, but insisted on externalising those needs to others’ responsibilities, shown in blaming others for not meeting them.

    This is violent, and is further escalated by adding new complaints. There can be no reasoning with someone who is unreasonable.

    My wife and I recently left a church for the opposite reason. The whole church communicates violently, and we decided that it was ultimately unproductive for us to stay and try to continue to effect change amidst the sweeping dysfunction.

    For example, when I told a fellow leader that I felt negated, she wagged her finger at me, and responded “No, no, no!”.

    If you are in leadership, or if you are facing conflict that appears to be unresolvable, and you haven’t heard of non-violent communication, it is a remarkably effective idea worth looking into. (http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com) If you can get everyone to buy into it, that is… :-\

    • Bobby

      Wow. A person really did that to you? Wagged her finger? Haha…how did you respond?

  • Curtis

    My family has been in a similar situation where we felt we were not being ministered to by a church. Meanwhile, people all around us seemed to be quite happy with the church. We tried for eight years to make something work for us, volunteering for several committees and teaching Sunday school. Finally, after eight years of trying to connect and still feeling we were no closer to the community, we left for another church, where we were warmly welcomed. I guess we are slow learners, but somethings connection with others is a slow process, and you want to give it time to grow. Eight years was the point where we knew nothing was going to grow there for us.

  • Luke Allison

    True story from two weeks ago.
    Due to a misunderstanding, three middle-school-age boys were brought into our youth pastor’s office and asked if they were the boys seen on camera tearing a mirror off of someone’s car. They were dressed completely similar to the three boys seen on the video, and were in the same are at the same time. It was almost too perfect.
    The pastor handled it very well, repeating the phrase “I’m okay being wrong on this one, but it really looks like you guys.” The three boys flatly denied it. Which made sense, because it wasn’t them! A really unfortunate misunderstanding. It didn’t end with them being accused…it ended with them being told we’d look into it further.
    A few days later, one of the mothers of the boys asked for a meeting with the pastor and his boss. She proceeded to go off on them for a good hour. The youth pastor repeatedly apologized. The senior pastor apologized. In the end, that wasn’t good enough. She began to complain about everything from the last retreat we had (four months ago), to the food drive we were doing, to the way the weekend services are too crowded, etc.
    At one point, the senior pastor stepped in and asked, “What do you want?” She kept on going.
    At what point is a grievance with a church really a grievance with ourself, with God, with our situation, with life in general?

    I understand that legitimate grievances occur, but far too often a “grievance” is more about the parents’ latent sense of guilt over their childs’ upbringing than anything that has been done or said by leadership. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    • Joy

      Sometimes people who complain just want to be heard.

      • nathan

        That’s what a therapist is for…or a blog…or even maybe going and planting a church. It obviously worked out well for that guy in Seattle.

  • It’s a parable because the redress of grievances does nothing to release a person from the power those grievances have over his or her life.

    If the couple had been trapped, powerless, then justice should be done. But because the power differential in this story is voluntary, and the couple aren’t particularly interested in the personal relationships involved, it’s better for them to simply walk away and be free. This is better for them whether their grievances are reasonable or not, since they truly feel hurt.

    And i don’t think this parable is necessarily about church.

    • I think you’re right, Dave. I wonder what it is really about…

  • Wanderer

    I love the part where the pastor listens really deeply to understand the root of what they need instead of just getting hung up by their initial words. Oh wait…. That didn’t happen here.

  • Stephen

    Look, im not gonna say that there arent people with ridiculous complaints rhat will never be pleased, but this really sounds like a convenient parable used to invalidate anyone who has a critique or criticism. “Hey, I don’t like it when people have opinions that disagree with me so I’ll just relegate them to ‘whiner’ status so I can dismiss them.” The corporate church has a strong history of doing this and I’m sad to see it happening here

    • Deanna

      It came across that way to me, too. The pastor should have said, “I hear you and I feel your pain. How can I help in a way that is beneficial for everyone involved?” For a church to kick out anyone who has a need so that they do not have to listen, to love, and to respond is a travesty, but it would also be just as much a travesty to chastise the ministers involved without seeing if they are willing to help.

  • Ceryle Alcyon

    Authoritarian much?

    These people do sound difficult, but, as Joy suggests, perhaps they needed to be heard, and, as members of the flock, they deserved guidance rather than censure. Unless, of course, there is a great deal of implied backstory here.

    I hope Nathan is not a member of the clergy, because pastoral counseling is indeed an important part of a minister’s job. But perhaps that’s only true in main line denominations like my own, where the pastor’s responsibility is definitely both to serve and guide his/her congregation and its members.

    Or is compassion too effeminate an approach for most of you? If so, all I can say is, you reap what you sow.

  • Stefanie H

    As a pastor, I wish more leadership would follow this story–I’ve been the one forced out because a few, unChrist-like “members.” Why can a few unhealthy people steer the entire ship?

  • Comet Bowen

    This parable has been bothering me since I first read it a few weeks ago. I know there are people who are totally unreasonable, who have grievances that no one can satisfy, who poison the atmosphere for everyone around them, as the couple in the parable appear to be and do. And I truly applaud anyone who will stand up for and support their staff against criticism, as this pastor did.

    Nonetheless, I am uncomfortable with what happened in this story. I think it is more likely to reflect what we do do rather than what we should do. Maybe what makes me uncomfortable is the idea of disfellowshipping anyone, no matter how egregious their sin may be.

    I suppose it depends on what the implications are of the covenant of membership from which the pastor released them. What was stated or implied in that covenant? What were they to do, what was the church to do, and what was to happen as a result?

    I think of the various covenants between Yahweh and Israel in the Hebrew Bible. Did Yahweh ever release Israel from its covenant and show the people the door? From the expulsion from Eden to Noah to David to the Babylonian captivity, what sticks in my mind is that Israel disobeyed and screwed things up badly, Yahweh exacted justice, but then Yahweh went on and made another covenant with the people. Yahweh was always with Israel.

    It’s in the New Testament, too; e.g. Mt 28:19-20. “Go ye therefore and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. Amen.” Yes, God always with us, part of the good news.

    So then how can we cast someone out? Sure, there might be a congregation out there that would suit the couple in the parable better, and if they find one, great. Perhaps they could be asked to take the equivalent of a “time out” from this church if they are driving everyone nuts (which they undoubtedly are) and if they are so disappointed with what they have. But I continue to be troubled at the idea of not explicitly stating that they are free to come back. At least leave the door open.