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A Place to Stand: Healthy Boundaries between Pastors and Congregations

October 3, 2016

 

Most pastors I know have clear calls to ministry, work long hours, carry battle scars, sometimes get discouraged and struggle to balance vocation and family. They really do have servant’s hearts but they are human and there are a few considerate things the people in the pews can do to support their pastors. If you could be a fly on the wall when pastor’s talk among themselves, you may be quite surprised by what you hear and how often you would hear the same things over and over.

Here are seven things your pastor would love to tell you (but probably won’t):

1. Don’t give me another book to read.

Reading a book takes hours and reading a book about something in which your pastor is not interested will simply never happen. When you ask the next Sunday if they read the book, you put your pastor in a really bad position. “That is simply never going to happen” seems harsh and “I will get to it this week” is probably not true. If you want your pastor to read a book, recommend it, tell why you think it will be a blessing and summarize it in a book review of 250 words. They can pick it up themselves if they want to read more.

2. Don’t complain about something just before worship.

This establishes that your need to vent is more important than the people in the sanctuary receiving the best your pastor has to give. Pastors know there is often discontinuity in the church but right when church is getting ready to start is NEVER the right time to bring something up. Nothing will ruin a sermon before it starts quicker than a complainer.

3. Please call for an appointment.

Pastors work under deadlines. We have to write articles, fill out reports and write and rehearse messages. When a funeral or emergency pops up, those deadlines stay in place often creating highly pressurized afternoons of preparation. Your pastor is a professional, please call and make an appointment so they can give you their full attention.

4. Don’t call your pastor at home unless it is an in emergency.

Large churches have clear systems for Congregational Care but pastors in small churches are on call 24/7/365. If it is an emergency, CALL your pastor but if it will wait until tomorrow, let it. Clergy marriages and families are greatly impacted on the negative side when a family supper, a movie night, a vacation or a school event is interrupted by something that could easily have waited until tomorrow.

5. Don’t communicate frustration over Social Media.

Back in the old days it was harder to send hate mail. You had to find paper and a pen, write the letter, get an envelope, buy a stamp and put it in the mailbox. This process could take hours and often the letter was intercepted by the writer somewhere along the way and destroyed. And even if the letter got mailed, the conversation was one on one. These days you can whip off a digital hunk of burning frustration in seconds and hundreds or thousands of people can see it. Such posts shoot cannon balls below the waterline of the old Gospel Ship and are never appropriate.

6. Don’t expect a long conversation on Sunday morning.

Your pastor needs to speak to as many people as possible as they enter and exit church. On a given Sunday morning, I make personal contact with hundreds of people. If you need more than 10 seconds of your pastor’s time, let it wait for another time.

7. Remember everything you say gets back.

Most lay people don’t believe this but it is true. There are dozens of people in every church who rush to tell the pastor every bad thing people are saying about them. They consider this to both be their spiritual gift and their ministry. EVERYTHING gets back. If you are going to talk behind your pastor’s back, say really good stuff. That gets back too and builds trust.

All churches want emotionally healthy pastors with strong marriages, great families and relentless passion for ministry. All churches want dynamic and well prepared preaching and teaching. Congregations who follow these seven simple steps go a long way to insure themselves just that!

full house

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

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