Ministers, priests, rectors and rabbis are all different, as is true of any profession. We bring different talents, strengths and weaknesses to our calling, as Paul pointed out in his letter to the Corinthians: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit” (I Corinthians 12:1-3).
It is unfair to compare on minister to another. Furthermore, I would venture to say that all of us are striving to bring a word of God’s Grace to struggling souls, including our own. We are imperfect vessels of clay; we bleed, and we hurt badly sometimes. We need understanding, forgiveness and prayers, just like anyone else. Bearing that in mind, there are some things pastors may or may not tell their parishioners. I speak from over fifty-five years of experience as a minister.
Here are some things we may forget to tell you:
1. Our minds are often so focused on the sermons and the mechanics of worship on Sunday that we may not “hear” what you say as you leave the church on Sunday mornings. I remember only too well when a woman made this remark as we shook hands, “My grandfather die last week.” Before my brain could process her words, I responded, “Wonderful!” Then, embarrassed, I tried to correct it. So please, don’t give us any important information as you are leaving a worship service.
2. We appreciate it when you say, “I enjoyed your sermon” as you exit the church on Sunday mornings. But there are times when it would be refreshing to hear somebody say, “I’d like to come in sometime this week and talk to you about your sermon because I’m not sure I understood, or agree with, it.”
3. Please make notes if you plan to quote what we say. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people quote words I didn’t say. (Actually, some of it was brilliant).
4. It would be good for you to lower your expectations of the pastor/family when it comes to knowing everyone’s name, including the children. If a church or synagogue has 500 or more members, it takes a good while to know names. I had over 4,200 members in one church in which I served. I had been there just over one year when a woman came up to me with her hands on her hips and asked bluntly, “Now, what’s my name?” I am sure the Lord was with me when I answered, “Well, honey, if you don’t, how do you expect me to know it?” She never asked me that again.
5. We cannot be everything to everybody. Some expect us to be liberal, some conservative, while others expect us to be fundamentalists. We have different gifts, and we cannot excel in all departments. I didn’t’ train to be an efficient businessman, so I tried to turn administrative duties over to the laity. We can be so bogged down in maintaining buildings and budgets that our pastoral care goes lacking. I think this bothered me the most.
6. Remember that ministers have the same temptations as you have. It seems that there is a double standard between clergy and laity. Right is right and wrong is wrong, no matter who you are. Everyone needs to be accountable. Perhaps the anonymous author of this little poem expresses it for all of us:
“God knocked on the door of my heart one day,
And I looked for a place to hide.
My soul was all cluttered—full of debris,
And things were untidy inside.
I stood with my hand on the latch of the door,
And gazed at the mess in the room.
When I opened the door, my soul blushed to see,
God left on my doorsteps, a broom.”
7. You may have to help us with our grammar. This may not seem important, but the English teacher in the congregation may beg to differ. A teacher in one church I served brought to my attention that “each and everyone” is a redundant statement. “You are saying the same thing twice. If it is each one, it is also everyone.” Lord knows I don’t want to be redundant. When I was a district superintendent, I noticed another incorrect statement as I listened to others preach: “Thanks for doing this for my wife and I.” It should be, “for my wife and me.” Oh well, I’d rather hear someone say, “I seen,” and really see something than to say, “I saw,” and never see a blame thing.
8. If you disapprove of something your minister said or did, please go to him or her directly and talk to them. One of the worst things you can do to church is talk behind our backs and stir things up in the congregation. Remember, we are human, too, and we make mistakes.
9. Please bear in mind that we are not here to entertain you nor to be CEO of a country club. We want very much to feed our souls with spiritual food, so please pray that we be able to do that effectively.
10. If you would like to have a former pastor conduct a wedding or funeral, or assist in one, please ask the local minister to call them with the invitation. Guest ministers should be welcomed by the local minister.
11. Please don’t expect us to be mind readers. If you have a personal need, or have a loved one/friend in the hospital, please call the church office.
12. I always feel a little awkward regarding a funeral or a wedding when the party involved asks, “How much do I owe you?” Funerals, weddings and baptisms are pastoral privileges, so I have never had a set fee. It seems to me that an honorarium is appropriate as a gift, not an obligation.
The challenge ministers and laity face in today’s world—where it seems everything nailed down is coming loose—is absolutely tremendous. We must make the church even stronger than ever if we are going to influence society in ways that really count. Jesus left the disciples a challenge to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. He told His disciples that they were the salt, leaven and the light of the world (Matthew 5:3). In other words, we are to penetrate the society and bring flavor and enlightenment. Think about it: Our mission is to be a little salt, a small candle and a lump of yeast, because salt flavors, light illuminates and leaven permeates.
May God bless us with the ability to be all three. Amen.