I like to think that most people love and respect their pastor, and yet it seems that in spite of this admiration many find speaking to the preacher a daunting prospect. Members of the clergy can seem wholly ‘other’ and engaging them in conversation sometimes feels like an expedition into strange lands. Let me assist you in this endeavor by offering ten boundary markers to help you speak to your preacher without perspiration or regret.
1. Do talk to him.
Pastors, even introverted ones like myself, enjoy good conversation. Cross the room, say “Hi”, and ask him about the merits of juicing. Okay, there’s probably a better opening line, but my point is that he is most likely as interested in you, as you are of him. He’s probably more accessible than you think.
2. Don’t try to talk to him through his wife.
Venture here at your peril! Those who seek to relay their messages via the pastor’s wife will find their message lost and their relationships strained. A happy pastor is an effective pastor. A happy pastor with an unhappy wife does not exist. Cherish his family and he will devote himself to loving you.
3. Do remind him of your name.
There are a few preachers who have an uncanny ability to remember names. The rest of us despise them! Personally, I suffer from selective amnesia and I have a doctor’s note to prove it. That’s a lie. Like many others, I’m just horrible at remembering names. Take pity on us; remind us of your name. We’ll learn it…eventually.
4. Don’t assume that your failures will unnerve him.
Here’s a trade secret—pastors presume that you have some ugly baggage. If he’s at all seasoned he’s likely to have heard your story numerous times before. That doesn’t mean that he’s going to be callous, but he’s not going to recoil in shock either. Tell him your failures and you will likely find him compassionate.
5. Do burden him with your problems.
Look, all human interactions are an imposition on somebody. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. So when life is unmanageable and you approach your pastor for help, don’t apologize for being a burden. He’s happy to help. Of course, if you’re looking for help to move a piano, he may not be so happy. Just saying.
6. Don’t critique his message minutes after its delivery.
Criticizing a sermon right after it’s been delivered is like telling a new mother in the recovery room that her child is ugly. It’s not kind, don’t do it. Give the man some time before you correct his misstep. Chances are he’s already identified the mistake and five others you missed.
7. Do speak well of other pastors.
Telling your pastor about the merits of another preacher is not a breach of loyalty. There is unholy competition in the ministry but it’s less prevalent than most people think. Now, if you tell your preacher that you would like him better if he were more like another, be prepared, he may return the favor.
8. Don’t bring him a concern just as he’s readying to preach.
Yikes! The man is about to step into the pulpit (or behind the iPad stand) and he’s informed of some grave concern. Now he’s trying to explain propitiation while his mind is convulsing. By the time he is done, the message is murky, the body is bewildered, and the preacher is discombobulated. Get hold of him first thing on Monday and everyone wins.
9. Do tell him you’re praying for him.
You have had a great encounter with the preacher and now it needs to end but you don’t really know how to exit. The conversation feels like landed fish—someone needs to end it. Conclude your words with the assurance that you are praying for him. That pledge is like jet fuel for preachers.
10. Don’t limit conversation to weighty matters.
I love to talk theology. I also like to talk about the perfect cup of coffee, the glories of charcuterie (look it up), and the many ways cricket is superior to baseball. Looking at my list, I wonder why anyone talks to me at all! Let your conversation with the preacher veer into the inconsequential, he’ll enjoy it and you might too.
I hope that helps. Love you.