Talking to Your Pastor

I received a query the other day regarding how to handle a situation where one pastor does (or doesn’t do) something that another pastor does.  In this case, it was the issue of making pastoral calls/visits to members or potential members.  This is something that  many pastors have found to be an important part of their ministry in terms of forging personal bonds with parishioners and making people feel welcomed, loved, and  valued.  Other pastors have found it to be a massive investment of time with little tangible return.  Some pastors feel ill-equipped for this particular aspect of ministry, and prefer their elders or others more inclined or equipped to handle visitations.

It could be any issue, though.  Pastors are people and as such differ in their approach to pastoral ministry.  While there are certain aspects of the job that are usually non-negotiable (especially for sole pastors of a congregation), there’s a considerable amount of flexibility to account for personal style and taste.  So it’s no guarantee that one pastor will do everything that another pastor has done, or be as good at it.  They may do other things instead.  You just never know.  
That being said, parishioners are people too, and they will have different tastes and preferences.  They may like a pastor to make personal visits or may consider it to be a waste of time.  They may want their pastor doing other things.  It depends.  Ask a dozen members of a single congregation questions about what their pastor ought to be doing and you may get a dozen different responses.  In other words, there’s no pleasing everyone equally!
All that being said, the issue remains – if I think that something is important but the pastor isn’t doing it, what can I do about it?  I addressed these principles somewhat in an old post, but it bears some further discussion I think.
1.  Evaluate what you’re displeased about and why.  It may seem that everything would be solved if the pastor paid a visit, or made a phone call, or implemented a new program.  But that may not be the case, either.  Maybe you’re hurting from something a previous pastor did/didn’t do, and are projecting those feelings onto this pastor.  Take the time to pray about and work through the source of your dissatisfaction.  I don’t encourage people to network on this issue – what you’re frustrated with is a matter for your own personal discernment.  Discovering that others are frustrated too doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right, it just means that others are frustrated.  Once you figure out your own motivations and issues, you’ll know better whether it matters that others are frustrated as well.
2.  Once you feel you’ve got a pretty good handle on your emotions and their causes, start evaluating what would need to change for you to feel better/differently.  If the pastor came by for a visit, would that resolve your concerns?  What if the pastor implemented a formal policy for calling on all members?  Would a single visit be enough or do you expect ongoing visits?  Are your expectations reasonable?  Before you visit with your pastor, you ought to know not only what you’re unhappy/frustrated about, but what you think the solution would be.  Is there more than one solution?  Would a call from an Elder be equally satisfactory, or does it need to be the pastor, and why?  PRAY.  Be brave enough to ask the Holy Spirit to show you the source of your frustration and to inspire solutions to it.  
3.  Once you’ve done all of this work, now you’re ready to make an appointment with the pastor.  Yes, make an appointment.  Trying to catch the pastor before service, after worship or Bible Study, or on the fly during the week isn’t adequate.  Schedule a time where both you and the pastor can focus properly and be prepared for the discussion.  If you try to catch him on the fly, he’s going to feel surprised and hassled (possibly) which might lead you to feel brushed off or ignored (possibly) which is only going to worsen your feelings.  
4.  Be prompt (a couple of minutes early) for your appointment and don’t overstay.  Both of you should be clear up front how long you are available and if you aren’t done discussing when that time comes, make another appointment to continue the discussion.  
5.  Begin the meeting with prayer.  Ask for the Holy Spirit to guide and protect everyone present, so that you can hear each other and the Holy Spirit clearly.  Pray for speaking in love and towards a resolution that will be God-pleasing and for the upbuilding of the entire body of Christ that is that congregation.  
6.  Be honest.  It helps to have your thoughts outlined so you don’t get confused and frustrated, sidetracked, or forget something.  Be direct and loving.  It doesn’t help anyone if you decide you shouldn’t address something that later leaves Satan room to work irritation and bitterness in your heart over.
7.  See yourself as part of the solution.  A mature Christian understands that they are a part of a congregation both because of what it provides to them in their Christian walk, but also because they have gifts and talents and abilities that the local congregation needs as well.  As such, work hard to see yourself as part of the solution to the situation, rather than putting it all on the pastor (or anyone else) and expecting them to figure out how to solve it.  Do you think a more personal touch would be a benefit to the ministry?  What about helping to organize a prayer chain (or joining one), or helping out with calling visitors and others new to the ministry?  While there are certainly some things that the pastor is going to have to be the one to do, don’t assume that the solution to your frustration is solely on their shoulders.
8.  Be as clear as possible about follow-up/follow-through.  It’s easy for meetings to get lost in the shuffle, and for a pastor (or anyone else) to forget about things that you discussed – including solutions.  If your meeting goes well enough that there are some clear commitments or solutions that are proposed and accepted, write those down.  Help to determine time lines (if that’s appropriate).  Is a follow-up meeting necessary or desired?  How will everyone know that this issue is being addressed and how?  Does communication need to happen with the congregation at large?  Can you write a blurb for the bulletin or newsletter to help communicate it?  
Ok.  I’m out of ideas.  But that’s a good start.  Don’t threaten your pastor (if you don’t start/stop doing this, I/we are leaving the congregation).  Threats are generally a good indication that you’re going to end up leaving regardless, and nobody works well under the threat of compulsion or penalty.  If you’re concerned enough about something to talk with the pastor, it’s because you’re committed to the congregation and the pastor and genuinely are committed to working towards a solution – even if the solution isn’t the one you’d prefer!   What may seem like a perfect solution to you may be untenable for a variety of reasons that you aren’t aware of.  Be open to that possibility.  
Other thoughts/suggestions/critiques?  

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