Stuff people say to pastors

Christopher Keating is a PCUSA pastor who wrote this piece for a St. Louis newspaper.  He writes about the most common things people tell him as a pastor.  Take a look at the list and see if this rings true in your ministry:

  • I don’t know how to pray. In my experience, this is hinted at more than it is clearly stated. A family is going through a difficult time, or a protracted illness. The person feels detached from their spiritual moorings, isolated, exhausted, lonely. Their experience of God has gone stale, and yet, they still long for God’s presence.
  • I’m angry at God. It is surprising to me how many folks need permission to be angry at God. Scripture is filled with examples of people who felt as though God gave them the raw deal. Again, I often remind folks that lament is a type of prayer. Anger is healthy, but too often we let emotions boil over into destructive rage.
  • I’m dying. Nothing in life prepares us for our own death. My wife, who is a hospice chaplain, remarks that we go to classes to prepare for childbirth, but often do not spend a moment preparing for the other certainty in life.
  • I’m broke. Years ago, we had dinner with church members who owned a car dealership. The dealership was tanking, yet somehow the husband had not found the courage to share this bit of news with his wife. For whatever reason, he chose to disclose this fact over dinner with the pastor.
  • I’m gay. In the 90s, this conversation was sometimes accompanied with “and I have HIV/AIDs.” Back then, I remember the pain of a church member who disclosed that her son had AIDs. I asked if we could put him on the prayer concern list. She shook her head, and began to cry, “None of our friends would accept him.”
  • I’m having an affair. Frankly, this is the most troubling. Someone comes in confidence, not wanting to engage their spouse in conversations. Pastors run the risk of being put in a triangled relationship. In most cases, I’m glad to listen but quickly point out marriage counselors are better equipped for these situations.
  • I’ve been thinking about coming back to church. Life can be hard, and sometimes people take sabbaticals from participating in church. In my experience, some people who might be willing to start coming back are embarrassed, or worried that someone will call attention to them. They imagine well-intentioned greeters loudly exclaiming, “Well, look whose here!”

I’m wondering… for those of you who have been in the ministry 10+ years… are these the questions people are asking now the most?

And how does this differ from the questions people were asking most 10 or 20 years ago?

What’s your insight?

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  • Geoff Surratt December 4, 2012 Reply

    #1 question I heard 10 years ago, “Where’s the bathroom?”
    #2 question, “Are you Greg?”

  • Chad W December 5, 2012 Reply

    I have been in ministry 20 years now and have had a few of these brought up over that time. “I don’t know how to pray” has come in different forms. Sometimes related to personal prayer and other times related to public prayer. “I’m gay” hasn’t come from within the Body but has been from people seeking a church body in which to belong. They weren’t seeking Scriptural understanding but someone to accept homosexuality (or LGBT) as a God-accepted way of life. “I’ve been thinking about going back to church” has been a response to seeing me in an unexpected place and so they use those words to deflect any guilt they feel. (I get a chuckle from this ’cause I’m not their judge. It’s just funny how hard they work to convince me they know they value of being connected they just haven’t followed through on it.) Most conversations I’ve had about death have come with this question, “Why isn’t God taking me? I’m ready to go. I just don’t understand why God won’t let me die.” I found it interesting that the question about why God lets bad things happen wasn’t included in his list. That’s one Christians and non-Christians alike have asked about.

  • RLH December 5, 2012 Reply

    The two most recent questions I have faced in ministry are:

    #1 I am scared to engage people in a Gospel conversation because I may not know what to say. (ok more of a statement than a question)

    I even offered a personal discipleship course on sharing your faith in your words, and only one taker from several that indicated they were interested.

    #2 Why is THAT church growing while we aren’t?

    Our focus is on them not us. That, more than anything, is why we aren’t growing.

    Just some additions.

  • Scott Carson December 5, 2012 Reply

    Why don’t we sing more hymns?

    Why don’t we sing more contemporary music?

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