by Loren Seibold | 10 September 2023 |
This piece was published for the first time in 2016 in Elder’s Digest. I wrote it at a time when I was working as a parish pastor. I still think the points here ring true.
We pastors care deeply for our church members. We think about you during the week, pray for you, and want to do whatever we can to give you spiritual comfort. But one pastor serves many parishioners, and not all of you are equally appreciative of a pastor’s good intentions. What follows applies to only a small number of people in a congregation, but that small number can do a great deal of damage and may account for why only one out of 10 pastors will last to the end of his or her career.
So here are 10 things, in no particular order, we pastors would sometimes like to say to a few of our church members. Your pastor may not say these things to you directly—church relationships are too fragile—but they occasionally wish they could.
- I have many parishioners, too many to call every day, so I may not know when you’re sick, discouraged, or otherwise in need of pastoral care. If you want me to do something for you, perhaps you might tell me what’s happening in your life rather than just complaining to others that I wasn’t there for you.
- If you say hurtful, unkind things about me and my family, my feelings may be hurt, and I may even become angry. I’m not called to ministry to be your punching bag. It is likely that I will minister to you less effectively—and certainly less cheerfully—after you’ve insulted me.
- Just because you have a strong theological opinion doesn’t mean that my different one is wrong, or that you have the right to judge me as unfaithful. Some of the topics we talk about in church have been under discussion for 2,000 years or more. It’s unlikely that you’re the only one who’s ever thought clearly about them. (And, by the way, attacking me or others on points of theology when your own life is a mess doesn’t make you look better. It just makes you look shallow.)
- It is entirely possible that I walked by you at church on Sabbath morning without acknowledging you. That’s because during those two or three hours, I teach a class, run the service, preach, and try to minister to those who are actually in crisis. If I neglected you, I’m sorry, but I can assure you, it wasn’t intentional. So please don’t go around telling people that I ignored you.
- I provide leadership, but I can’t do miracles. When we’re talking in a board meeting about where the money is going to come from to keep the church school afloat (the school to which you won’t send your own children) and you turn and look at me as if I have the answer, you may be disappointed.
- It’s not unlikely that my sermons aren’t as good as the ones you hear on TV or the radio. But when you send your tithes and offerings to them rather than to your local church, please remember that these celebrity preachers won’t come to the hospital to anoint you or be there to do your marriages, baptisms, and burials. I will.
- It doesn’t help at all to tell everyone else you’re upset with me if you don’t tell me. Before you grumble to everyone in church, you might want to consult Matthew 18:15-17.
- I ask you to think carefully about the following question: If you get stars in your crown for bringing people to the Lord, what will you get for chasing people away from the church with unrelenting criticism and continual controversy?
- I suppose that calling me at the last minute on Sabbath morning to tell me you’re not going to be there to do the task you’re scheduled for is better than just not showing up, but couldn’t you have called a replacement? I’m not relaxing on Sabbath morning just waiting for you to give me something to do. And, as much as I’d like to, I can’t be in two places at once.
- You say you want to be the pastor’s friend. I should warn you that, for all the reasons above, we pastors have become wary of friendships in the congregation. Please understand if I don’t let my hair down with you. I care about you, but I may prefer to keep our relationship professional. It’s safer that way.
I’m just reminding you that your pastor is not God. We’re not omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, or omnibenevolent. We do our best, but we can’t be all things to all people all the time. Would you be so kind as to take this into account when you work with us or talk about us to others?
Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today. A version of this article was originally published in Elder’s Digest in 2016.