Expectations of the minister’s role are increasingly demanding and unforgiving.

Having spent the past year researching the positive and negative dynamics at work within the church of Jesus Christ, author and editor Marshall Shelley offers some specifics to strengthen the relationships between pastor and parishioner.

While he knelt in prayer at his church in Onalaska, Wisconsin, 64-year-old parish priest John Rossiter was shot and killed by a 29-year-old man who objected to the priest’s decision to allow school-girls to read the Scripture at a children’s mass.

Granted, that episode last February is an extreme example of parishioner dissatisfaction. Many churches enjoy their pastors and find ways to show their appreciation. Assassination, thankfully, is still a rarity; unfortunately, reports of clergy casualties from emotional assaults are not.

“I’m the fifth pastor in eight years at this church,” wrote one Nazarene pastor to LEADERSHIP journal. “In the last two years I’ve found out why. But my congregation is not the only one. There seems to be a lot of hostility toward pastors in our town regardless of denomination. The constant struggle with personal attacks and putdowns has drained me of enthusiasm. I feel like I’m bleeding to death.”

Despite being a gathered community of saints, the church continues to be, as one observer puts it, “the one place where all are welcome … the difficult and the dear … the one public place in the world where one can vent one’s gall, relieve one’s frustrations, reveal one’s distortions, and still expect to be heard.” After spending the last year researching one thorn in the pastor’s flesh—difficult ...

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