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What not to say to a pastor | Columns


I have been in ministry for over a decade now, and have met many other pastors who serve the church of Jesus. I’m even married to one!

It may surprise you, but there are things you shouldn’t say to a pastor.

Yes, you read that right. There are things you really shouldn’t say to a pastor, a reverend, a priest, whatever you call your religious leader.

Now, I don’t feel comfortable speaking with 100% certainty for all other religious leaders everywhere, but I think it’s quite likely that other pastors will agree with me. If you’re wondering if your pastor or a pastor you know would agree, show them this article. You are likely to have a great conversation!

There may be more, but I’m going to share three things best left unsaid.

What NOT to tell a pastor:

People also read…

“I thought pastors only worked on Sundays.”

I know this might be an ice breaker or a joke, but it’s just not funny. It’s not funny, because there are people who believe in it. Behind every Sunday morning service is a pastor who has spent hours praying, reading, studying, writing, editing and, at times, practicing the message. In addition to preparing for Sunday, pastors also visit the sick and bereaved, organize and help plan the church calendar, communicate with staff and volunteers, and many other duties. It’s often hard work, and it’s often rewarding work! It is, however, more than Sunday morning. (Colossians 3:23-24)

“You work for the church” and “Some people feel…”

Well, sort of, yes. And no. The church may pay our paycheck, but ultimately the pastor’s hiring committee is the Holy Trinity. It is God who calls people to ministry. We work for God. We serve God, and in serving God, we work alongside the church to equip Jesus’ followers to live and love more like Jesus.

Often, as pastors, we do not serve Jesus perfectly. Often we do our best. This is why the phrase “some people feel…” is so problematic. We want to serve Jesus with you. Filing complaints from unknown parties is at best frustrating, at worst hurtful. We can’t reconcile or seek to better understand a problem when we don’t know who is upset or why. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing it face to face with the pastor, then it probably shouldn’t be said. It takes courage to openly and honestly engage in a conflict and seek a solution. Yet this is the way of Jesus. (Matthew 18:15-16)

“I used to go to church, but” and “I’ll be back, pastor…”

It’s always helpful to know why someone didn’t go to church, especially if you or someone you love has been sick. Your pastor wants to pray for you and support you! It’s also good to know that you’ll be out of town, especially if it’s for more than a week. I want to make it clear that these are not the cases I am talking about. What I’m talking about are prolonged or frequent absences that lead to very awkward conversations. If you feel the need to explain why you didn’t come to worship, Bible study, or any other church function, don’t expect your pastor to assure you that your leaving is OK. It isn’t, and you wouldn’t want it to be. It may be OK as long as the church hasn’t collapsed without you. It can be OK as long as God still cares about you and you will be welcomed back. It’s always true! What is wrong is that your leaving is not what is best for you or for the people who worship with you. We are created for worship, and you will worship whether you go to church on Sunday or not. It was never a question of whether you will worship, but rather what or who you will worship. Coming together with a worshiping community to be in the presence of God is important to everyone there. Don’t let the style of worship, the comfort of your bed, the struggle to get your family out or have them not come with you, or the challenge of who you worship with, be a reason not to worship. If the place you loved isn’t working for you, go somewhere else. But, go love it! It will always be easier not to come to worship, attend a Bible study, or participate in church service functions or projects. Seek God anyway! Additionally, pastors became pastors because we believe that a relationship with Jesus and spiritual development are fundamental to being whole, whole-hearted people. Worship is an essential part of it! (Hebrews 10:24-25)

You didn’t expect that, did you?

Your doubts, your fears, your uncertainties and what you don’t understand

We want to know where you are struggling in your faith or if you have no faith at all. We want to know what you are unsure of or what you don’t understand, whether it’s something you’ve read in the Bible, a part of church teaching, or operation of the church. There is no question too silly or doubt too outrageous. We may not be able to answer all questions or address all concerns; however, what we will do is listen and respond to the best of our abilities. (Philippians 2:4)

It’s really hard to pastor people you don’t know. We want to know the people with whom we serve Jesus – the good, the bad and the ugly. No one is perfect, including your pastor, so it’s okay to share both the strong and broken parts of your life. This helps us take better care of you spiritually. You can cry and share your anger and disappointment. You can share your worries, your hopes, your dreams. We want to know if you are sick or undergoing surgery. We want to know how to best support you spiritually throughout life, and that means knowing you. We especially want to know about your faith experiences and how you came to know Jesus. (Galatians 6:2)

Where do you see God at work

If God has answered your prayers, tell us! If you saw a robin on your way to work yesterday and it reminded you of your mom who passed away, let us know! God sometimes uses creation to remind us that we are loved. If you read a scripture passage that impacts your life, let us know! If you hear a song on the radio that encouraged your faith, let us know! If you heard something in the sermon that sounded like God was speaking directly to you, tell us! We desperately want to know how God is working in your life! It encourages us while increasing your awareness of the constant activity and presence of God in your life and in the lives of those around you! It is the experiences of the sacred that underlie our worship. Sharing your experiences of God is what you should tell your pastor. It reminds them why they became pastors in the first place. It reminds you and your pastor of the goodness of God. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)