They were a homey-looking couple. He was a large man with work-worn hands. Children loved his jokes and easy-going way. A charter member of the church, he served on the board. She was dainty with freckles on her face, everyone's favorite Sunday school teacher. When they walked into Pastor Jay's office, she spoke first: "Pastor, we believe you're a failure, and we'd like to help you." They went on to list every area he was failing in, from his preaching to his marriage.

Pastor Jay went home that evening and said to his wife, "I've spent three years in seminary learning to be a pastor. Now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?"

Sixteen years later he is still the pastor of the church, and the homey-looking couple is still serving, but not without resolving their conflict. Both Pastor Jay and the couple have learned some lessons through the years.

Recognize that conflict will come

Christians are taught, "The world is against us," and exhorted to "Stand firm when the forces of darkness attack." They're ready for, even looking forward to, battling the minions of evil. They may not be ready for friendly fire.

Pastor Jay, fully prepared for the adult entertainment center down the street to attack him in the newspaper, never saw it coming from the gentle giant and his sweet, little wife. He should have. Recently, during board meetings, whatever the pastor suggested, this man took the opposite position. Pastor Jay told himself, We just see things differently, but the principle, "Recognize that conflict will come" suggested there was more to it than that.

Identify the kernel of truth

Pastor Jay had to sort the issues: Which of this couple's complaints were valid, and which ones were not? As Jay looked honestly at his life, he knew that they were wrong about most of their accusations. He had a great marriage—in fact, he thought his was one of the happiest marriages in the congregation. And I can't preach as well as Billy Graham, but I'm doing my best and growing. Many others in the congregation assured him of that.

However, one area that resonated was in how he was treating the women of the church. It had been so drummed into Pastor Jay's head that he must be careful in his relationship with women in the church that he had mostly ignored them. In order to avoid anything unseemly, he didn't speak to them individually at all. He now saw, from the couple's comments, that this made the women of the church feel uncared for. He would have to approach things differently.

Avoid rallying members to your cause

Pastor Jay wanted to tell others on the board about this couple. He wanted someone to reaffirm that he was a good pastor, and that he wasn't a failure. However, Jay realized that by doing so, he would polarize the board, making them take sides.

Instead, he contacted pastor friends outside the situation. They were able to encourage Pastor Jay to remain steadfast and help him to think through the solutions to his problem.

Affirm the areas you can

Pastor Jay asked to meet with the couple again. "Thank you for being honest enough to come to me with your concerns," he said. He pointed out that God had used them to show him he should reach out more to the women of the church. About his preaching, he asked them to be patient with him and to pray for him as he learned how to communicate more clearly. (Unknown to Pastor Jay, his wife had written the couple about what a great husband he was, which solved the issue of his marriage.)

The couple left the office content. They had aired their concerns and felt that they received honest answers to their questions. They gradually began to trust Pastor Jay's leadership in the church. Pastor Jay felt grateful; he knew the couple could have decided there was too big a gulf between them and left the church. But even then, he felt good that at least he had handled the situation as well as possible.

JoHannah Reardon, a pastor's wife, is an associate editor with