Pastors, by definition, should love people – a lot. Our calling involves caring deeply about folks and their various plights in order to lovingly apply the gospel to their particular circumstances. This work, therefore, involves having many conversations, where the pastor listens carefully to people and responds with prayer and encouraging solutions (hopefully, gospel-grounded solutions).
But there is one category of person that makes this work difficult, if not impossible. Without oversimplifying or over-stereotyping, this person almost always states the thing most experienced pastors dread to hear: “I’m going to come down there and talk to you.”
Fellow pastor, you know as well as I do what this statement means. It means this person is going to come into your office and talk TO (not with) you for at least an hour and sometimes much longer.
Here are some of the usual features of this event (alternating “she” and “he” to show this person can be either male or female) :
- She does not attend your church (or any church) regularly, but she feels the authority to tell every church how to conduct its business.
- He has made a royal mess of his life, but is intent on blaming that mess on everything except his own poor decision making (he will blame everything from Obama to the weather).
- She does not stop talking. She offers no pause in her barrage of words. For the pastor to interject a thought, he would have to kindly ask, “Will you please stop talking now?” But even then, there is little hope of compliance. Typically, during this meeting, this person speaks a full 95% of the time while the pastor sips coffee in an effort to keep from nodding off. Oddly enough, when this person does come to church, she nods off within the first two minutes of the sermon.
- He does not care in the least what the pastor might think or have to say about the issues he is facing in life. When the pastor does get a sentence in, he ignores it or quickly dismisses it and goes right back to rapid-talk mode.
- She is not usually a believer, a fact that is obvious to everyone but her. She sees herself as very holy, and says she can’t wait to be a beautiful angel in heaven one day.
- He almost always finishes the meeting by saying to the pastor, “I sure feel better now,” or some similar sentiment.
I want to be clear about something. When one of our faithful church members comes to me for pastoral prayer and guidance, I am thrilled! I have had hundreds of wonderful conversations and prayer sessions in my office or elsewhere with the sheep of our church. On those occasions, I do my best to ask certain types of questions that help people express their fears, joys, and hopes, and I do my best to encourage these followers of Christ in their faith. These types of meetings are a major highlight of any caring pastor’s ministry.
The person I have described above does not fit in that category of faithful sheep speaking with their pastor. The person described above is the one you bump into at the store, and he recognizes you as a pastor and says, “You know what, I’m going to come down there to that church and talk to you real soon.”
Earlier in my ministry when I heard those dreaded words, I actually rejoiced. I thought of the person as a prospect for our congregation. I thought I would listen to her and solve her problems by pointing her to Jesus and the gospel. Then, I thought, she would trust the Lord for salvation and be filled with the Holy Spirit. After that, she would most certainly join the church and quickly start leading a small group.
After far too many of these types of conversations, however, I have come to see that this person is not interested in Christ, the gospel, my church, or me. He is only interested in talking a lot about himself, and he likes the idea of directing that talk to someone with some supposed spiritual clout. It makes him feel better for some reason.
I realize this post is a tad on the cynical side. I also realize that Christians (including pastors) must take every advantage to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible – including the person I am speaking about. I am not advocated complete avoidance of anybody. But I can see why many pastors have taken to hiding their cars from visibility in the church parking lot and why many pastors carefully train their secretaries to shield them from obvious time-wasting intrusions that do no real good for anybody.