Five things pastors dread hearing — and how some respond

A recent article in Relevant Magazine caught my eye and brought me up short, as I’d been guilty of the same things over the years. Titled “5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Pastor … and what you should say instead,” the article by Aaron Loy contained wonderful advice about the things we innocently say to pastors and what it reveals about us.

The five things were “good sermon,” “we’re church-shopping,” “you know what you should do?”, “we just don’t feel connected” and “I’m not being fed.” In response to the article, I asked a few Anchorage pastors how they respond — or would respond — to these statements. Their answers clearly indicate they deal with them on a regular basis.

Good sermon

Unfortunately, the sermon and musical service for many evangelical churches have become the focus of one’s attendance. Early church members met in houses to share the “good news” of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. But dialogue is rarely afforded in today’s Christian churches. It has been replaced with top-down sermons and music.

As worshipers leave, after waiting in the never-ending queue, it may seem appropriate to say “good sermon” to the pastor. But that can convey a lack of engagement by the hearer.

Dan Bollerud at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church says, “I usually respond with thanks, but in my heart I don’t view it as a compliment; rather, as a platitude. The best comments I have received have been terms like ‘ouch!’ or ‘hmm, I’ve got to think about that for a while.’”

When Great Land Christian Church’s Ray Nadon hears it, he says he often responds with questions: “What did you like about it? What was good about it? How will you take that into your life this week?” So does Clear Water Church’s Mike Merriner, asking, “What aspect of the sermon resonated with you most?”

Pastors, on the other hand, need to avoid being flip at this time. Years ago, one pastor responded to my “good sermon” with “Well, I like to throw a little hope in now and then!”

We’re church-shopping

This is often said by guests and current members alike. Brian Chronister from New Grace Christian Church says that when he hears it, “I inwardly sigh. It’s as if they are buying a house when in fact they are joining a family.”

Great Land Christian Church’s Nadon drills down, asking, “What is it you are looking for? Would you be interested in getting together and looking into the Scriptures?”

Several say there are many great churches in town, but it’s important to choose a good one and stick with it, noting they would be honored to be chosen as that church.

You know what you should do?

People who say this assume the pastor knows what they are talking about. Some pastors said they simply asked, “What?”

For responses to specific thoughts, Merriner’s struck me as thoughtful and considerate: “There are lots of legitimate ways to do church. This is the way we’ve decided to do it here right now, but I’m open to considering other options. I’ll think about what you said.”

We just don’t feel connected

While one may feel this way, it may also indicate they assume the pastor or the church reads minds.

Chronister says he responds by asking whether the person has joined a small group — something some of the other pastors mentioned, too.

“Remember, connection is a two-way street,” Bollerud says. “In what ways have you tried to connect that you don’t feel worked for you? Perhaps we can get together and explore some ways to help you get better acquainted.”

I’m not being fed

Frequent church changers often bring this up to me in conversation. I’m not surprised by the ways in which pastors tend to respond.

“I’m doing all that I can do but only God can feed you. Did you not come openly expecting Him to feed you? If not, give that a try,” was Chronister’s response. Nadon says he responds with, “Wow, it sounds like you are really hurting. Would you like to talk about it?”

When Bollerud hears it, he responds, “This church is not a force-feeding institution; it requires interaction. What questions do you have that you feel are not being addressed? Perhaps we could get together and explore some ways you can become more involved.”

And Merriner answers, “That bothers me. I try to give people biblical truth to chew on during the week. It is important you are fed spiritually. Are you reading the Bible on your own? There is no substitute for self-feeding. Maybe you need the challenge of teaching others. That always forces me into the Word. Do you think something like that might help?”

Final thoughts

As churchgoers, it’s important to recognize our words may betray our individual lack of commitment to our religious buy-in. Next time you attend church, choose those words directed to your pastor carefully or take their suggestions or questions seriously.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits.

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