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By Scott Olbert


t. Mark Lutheran Church is moving along in the call process with seminarian Rick Sorensen.


After stuffing himself at one of their famed buffets, he answers questions from the con- gregation. When asked about his attitude toward change, he repeats the wisdom of a favorite professor: “I won’t make any sig- nificant change in the first year. I want to get to know how you do things around here.” Sorensen receives the call and goes about getting to know the people. He finds that younger couples, as well as middle-aged and older members, have interest in a con- temporary worship service. He appoints a worship task force to look into the matter. Before long, the church council approves this second worship service and hires one of St. Mark’s guitarists as coordinator. So many members are happy about the change that Sorensen is floored when his bishop phones to tell him that he received a rage-filled letter from a parishioner. Bill Anderson accuses his pastor of being “a liar and a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.” Ander- son is also venting with some older, long- time members. Sorensen becomes increas- ingly depressed and anxious, uncertain of how to approach this angry member.


What’s going on? As an ordained or lay leader, how do you make sense of this fictional situation? How would you resolve the situation? Your answer to the first question determines your answer to the second. A decade ago, author and Presbyterian pastor G. Lloyd Rediger called people like Anderson “clergy killers.” He saw them as “Destructive, Determined, Deceitful and Demonic.” Today, influenced by the alarm- ing trends among adolescents, some label Anderson a “bully.”


Olbert, an ELCA pastor serving a contract call at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Chatsworth, Ill., is a pastoral psychotherapist and president of Limina Institute.


30 The Lutheran • www.thelutheran.org


Loving the enemy


An increasing number of fragile and vulnerable people are in our pews


While both viewpoints may contain truth, neither helps us fulfill Jesus’ kingdom ethic of “loving the enemy.” If possible, we want a perspective that provides a practical basis for dealing with antagonists that we can integrate with gospel values.


As Lutherans, we view Sorensen


as Christ’s representative, symbolizing the shepherd who cares for the sheep. Notably, even the bully is inclined to see the pastor in this way. Our expectations include hearing God’s word in the sermon, pastoral care dur- ing a time of crisis, and that the pastor be a person of integrity. What may be less apparent to us is that Sorensen, in his role as pastor, also serves a psychological function for us. We need people we can look up to, people we can idealize: a parent, a beloved teacher, a mentor or our pastor. People we idealize “keep us together” emotionally. What a miserable experience when we feel as if we’re falling apart. Prolonged stress, the loss of someone dear to us, or these hard economic times may make us feel as if we could fall apart. This brings on disintegra- tion anxiety. We’re going to “lose it,” or “lose our mind” or “start crying and never be able to stop.” In the face of scary times and dread-filled emo- tion, pastors are critical to our vitality and well-being. They provide an anchor during the storms of stress.


In this regard, newer theories can change the way we think about the human experience. At one time we thought a healthy human being was someone with a high degree of independence and autonomy. In clinical work, clients often say, “I want to reach the point where nothing anyone does affects me.”


This is an illusion, for it is increasingly clear that our sense of “self” is not just reliant on us but on a variety of others. Our relationships, work and hobbies, pets, and congregation and pastor all contribute to or under- mine our well-being. Just look at your dog, leaping around the room when you walk in the door. Observe how you feel. This experience should con- vince you that your well-being is not just dependent on you.


Back to Bill Sorensen doesn’t know Anderson has a fragile sense of self, that he’s prone to falling apart or fragmenting. Anderson needs Sorensen to func-


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