Pastor, We Need to Talk – The Top 10 Things Your Church Will Tell You

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Whether through emails, texts, phone calls or conversations, here's what your church will ask you.

Pastors are like information sponges. If they aren’t studying, they are receiving a regular deluge of information from church members.

I asked 22 pastors to share with me the most common items they hear from their church members. In the past, this information came in the form of letters, in-person conversations and telephone calls. The digital age has made emails, texts and social media more common.

Eleven of the pastors were above the age of 40, so an equal number were under 40 years old.

Here are their top 10 responses in order of frequency. Each response is followed by a quote from a representative pastor in the interview.

1. Requests for hospital visits and other visits to those who are ill. 

“If I said ‘yes’ to every one of these requests I got, it would be a 60-hour-a-week job. I have to disappoint and even anger some folks, because I can’t get to everyone.”

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2. Requests to attend events and meetings at the church. 

“I really wish I could be omnipresent. It seems like I’m supposed to be at every wedding, every church meeting and every Sunday school class function. I do my best, but I sometimes disappoint some folks.”

3. Criticisms. 

“The criticisms that bother me the most are those that begin with ‘I love you pastor but …’ The words that follow are usually anything but loving.”

4. Updates on someone’s health. 

“I have to say I appreciate those in my church that keep me updated about how someone is doing. Now, some of them go overboard with the details, but it does help me set priorities to visit and call.”

Thom Rainer Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.

More from Thom Rainer or visit Thom at http://www.thomrainer.com

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  • Brian

    Marriages in trouble.
    Although I care for every couple in our church I cannot personally counsel every marriage that are in trouble or even have a serious crisis. I would certainly love to play a part in helping if that is needed but too many expect us to be miracle workers when a problem is years old. Trained marriage counsellors can probably do a better job that I would be able to do anyway.

    • mkdb

      Brian, just a little Biblical training for pastors, elders, and lay people would go a long way in equipping them in handling the vast majority of counseling scenarios that come up in the body. Even more Biblical training (specifically in ways to apply Scripture to our problems individually and in relationships) might sufficiently equip them for even more. In addition, not only would they be equipped, not only would they be more effective, but they would be far more efficient (e.g. saving a lot of time, there would not be many prolonged counseling situations, etc).

      Also, “trained marriage counselors” are almost always “trained” in “counsel” that is either unbiblical, or anti-biblical. How comfortable should we be in entrusting our “flock”/loved ones to those who are applying ideology from those who have overtly rejected God and His Word?

  • ServantHeart2012

    The Music.
    It’s too loud, too soft, too fast, too slow, too traditional, too contemporary, too gospel, too this, too that, and too something else. You simply cannot please everyone musically every time. My standard response is; “I’m sorry. I do hope next Sunday’s selections are more appealing to you.”

    • JEG

      Why not let the congeration select the music??

      • Todd

        Which part of the congregation? Those in their 20’s? Those in their 70’s? Not being critical at all, I just don’t see it as being leadership. Certainly can listen to their desires but no matter what songs you select, there will ALWAYS be some people that would have rather had more (new, old, favorite) songs.

        • Dave

          As a worship leader I have found that people will always have an opinion on what songs we should be singing – we cant please everyone with our song choice so I just try to please God. After all – that is why we are in Church – not to keep people happy :)

          • Joe Rhoads

            Plus, a worship leader is, if it’s done in your church, is asked to select songs that will go with the sermon, or a theme that may be there to tie the whole service together. That’s much easier for a worship leader than for the congregation.

          • Pipel2667

            In my church, we mix new and old, fast and slow, we try to be minister to the adults (they pay the bills) and to the youth (they fill the church and do a lot of voluntery work) is a win-win compromise.

        • Eleanor

          Rather than focus on which part of the congregation you select the music for, I believe that it’s important to always have excellence. Ensure that the singers and players of the hymns and songs perform in a competent manner and that pianos and organs are in excellent working order. There is nothing worse than to have someone warbling off key or an out-of-tune piano.

      • notaboutus

        Then why bother even having a worship pastor at all?

        • Hersh, or is it Harsh

          I’m going to assume…. he doesn’t mean it that way but rather the pew polishers have an opportunity to suggest a favorite song once in a while. A church I attended years ago, during Sunday EVENING service it was opened up for requests and everyone joined in. Some night we did 15 songs some night we closed the joint down….. ;-O

    • Ben

      ServantHeart, I find when someone is this or that sit down with that person ask straight out what is the real reason you can’t be stratified. listen to his or her hurts, ask Jesus for the word of knowledge for the person watch what happens. by the way I like your name. Ben

      • ServantHeart2012

        Thanks Ben! I like your suggestion, and will certainly give it a try.

    • Peter Mahoney

      My standard response to the music suggestion/criticism… express gratitude for the 6 days we all have to listen and worship with the music that we prefer/choose. The music we employ in corporate gatherings is prayerfully selected to be apart of a grander message that includes the sermon, each prayer, and the other elements of the service.

      The job of the worship pastor is not make people happy, but to create an environment where people can please God.

  • BroWoody

    I am an over 40 pastor and I do get a good number of communications in the theological and biblical questions category. What a breath of fresh air to know that these people are truly seeking to know God better. I get plenty of the other types of communications as well. Why do some church members delight to let you know that someone (usually them) is upset about some detail of your ministry?

  • Preacher Ben

    Maybe we should listen a little closer! Pity the leader that doesn’t hear the cries of The Holy Spirit through the people he is called to shepherd. I once had a pastor that is now Executive Secretary of our state convention that taught me that God may be leading our church in a new direction. He (God) isn’t obligated to speak directly to the pastor. My pastor opined that God may be showing one person the “what to do” and another the “how to do it” and the only relation they have is through their pastor. I can get my head around that.

    • GeeFal

      Great thought Preacher Ben!

    • Rhemapower

      I also agree. Pastors have so many people telling them how to run their church, it is probably hard for them to keep from turning a deaf ear. As a teacher I get a lot of this also, although less now since I paid attention early on and made some changes in the way I teach. Just evaluate what you are hearing and discern. We all have blind spots. Some of my best innovations came from students!

    • Tod Thompson

      The more information I have the better my perception will be and I will make better decisions. With that said, one must separate the wheat from the chaff.

  • mkdb

    I was blessed to hear several questions of, “What do you think about this book?” (or this teacher, or this teaching, or _______).

    I always emphasize biblical discernment (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). I give some answers or ideas, but always put it back in their court to wrestle with the Scriptures themselves and to practice discernment for their growth (Heb 5:14).

    Yet I find that “discernment” is increasingly mocked, avoided, or discouraged by many pastors … because it takes a lot of work, it might cause conflict or discomfort, etc. How sad is that, especially in an increasingly dark world.

  • Jaime

    Can we feet a list of things churches don’t tell their pastors? Perhaps getting data from pastors about the types of situations that go on in a church that pastors don’t hear about, but see the results ofor haar about when the situation when it comes to a head.

  • Ralph Drees

    It’s interesting that people trended toward asking the younger pastors the deep theological questions. As a younger pastor, I feel like I know a lot about the text of the Bible… until I open it. Then I know absolutely nothing and am a blank slate. I would think that the people to ask are the older folks, who have been in the word their entire life. I’m not sure if I should be totally dismayed at that finding for another reason.. the church is sliding into the gutter and there are many many false teachers amongst the younger generation. I know this as a younger teacher, seeing the people I’ve gone to school with. It’d a dangerous world out there theologically.

  • Ryan

    Moses father-in-law advised Moses to find and appoint people to deal with people issues. He took his advice and God was not against it. Maybe pastors need to do the same… have people to call to do some hospital visits, ensure there is an elder or deacon at all meetings so he doesn’t have to be at all. This is important especially for large churches. Even Jesus had disciples to help and sent them out. I would think it’s important to apply the Moses/Jesus model.

  • Lilly

    Pastors are not one man bands ..dont be so lazy that you cant raise up people in the congregation..there are many gifted people…invest in them…raise up a healing ministry to go and pray for the sick ..it doesnt have to be a pastor..how prideful…encourage and raise up more pastors with shepherd hearts ..men and women sitting in your assembly. Find those who are teachers and preachers. so lazy make me sick to the stomach,,one man band pastors..who we have to listen to every week..as though no one else has anything to say to bring glory to God…we ought all to be preachers teachers by now,,not kept down by those that think they have to do it all, if you cant look after your flock APPOINT MORE MEN AND WOMEN>>>POOR PASTORS> STOP OPPRESSING YOUR CONGREGATION>>AND WOMEN ALSO CAN PREACH TEACH MINISTER HEALING AND DELIVERANCE>>YOU POOR THINGS> STOP BEING LAZY AND USE THEM

  • Bromly Egerton

    Thom, your articles are so good. This has got so much truth to it. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

  • Megan

    Wow, people think their pastors should be involved in their lives? Let me tell you what’s wrong with most churches. Pastors that won’t shepherd their flocks! If you can’t tell me the names of those people then you are not their pastor, even if they go to your church. If you get a full time salary then 60 hours a week ain’t bad. What do you think most of your flock works? Or you could try making tents in your spare time and see how that goes..

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/AF3JNGU3M5Q7DSJ2K6JYHQX7VY Spurs

    I was dissapointed in a marrage pastor just last year .
    I left my wife of 11 years. in Dec of 2011
    I tried to get back with my wife (from April 2012 to June 2012) at the time and this pastor NEVER followed up…on how I was doing….he said…well SHES HURT YOU CHEATED…you really have no ground to stand on…I always had to e-mail him….get sessions sceduled then cancelled and was supposed to work with me and her on restoring our marriage. I HAD TO ALWAYS CONTACT HIM…. he never tired to say or call to say hey brother i’m praying for you.
    I admitted my sin I have been a beliver since I was 8 years old….myself and my ex wife and my little girl went to that same church….I wanted to be involed in VBS….and give back my God given talent of my love of art and painting…for ideas…needless to say i felt i was silenlty outcasted…..this pastor didn’t think I was sorry enough for my sin. And seeing that i was a devil….i got no calls to voulnteer…it was a big blow to my faith. Don’t get me wrong God has blessed me with my talent… I had a painting published outside of the US. I wanted to give back to my Lord from my heart.

    Our problems started with her working and going to graduate school…I worked two jobs and took care of my daugther AND painted and sold my art…which she wanted me to give up and I said NO……I supported her in her goals and had her deatbeat pot smoking famliy abusive brother living there who I asked her MANY of times for him to leave our house she said no…cause she worried about him all the time because he was gonna face jail time. for his assult on his GF. ….but since my goals didnt involve higher education (art/ and working part-time at a mall)…i was looked down upon….to her my income was never enough….I wasn’t valued as a man or husband…so i met my current girlfriend that I reconnected with on Facebook…and hence my intrests were drawn elsewhere. The woman I am living with now has been a beliver….we dated briefly back in the Summer of 1986…until a big lie separted us we were teenagers when we went to the same church.
    I felt I left everything to God and turned to a servant of his to put me in the right path…needles to say he didn’t….which disspointed me…I know hes just a man…but it broke my faith more. In summary I live with my girlfriend…I’m not divorced….i miss my little girl…I do have my visitations…however my time is never enough. My estranged spouse who I no longer love…still goes to that church….and really never forgave me….even though she claims that she is a beliver…but feels her ties are still catholic….she claims I live in a dark world….but in honesty God has really taken care of me and alot of events happend to me and my girlfriend….but I’m happy. However it left a bad taste because if we have men of God who are supposed to be impartal and stand on what faith percives….then why dont they try to put the hard work into it and help belivers that need the help….I dont understand…because this Pastor cheated on his wife and got back with her…..he uses his experience to minister couples in breaking marriages….. is this a front or just a convience to minister to those who are just less as important….I just wished he could have done more….but he didn’t…

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/AF3JNGU3M5Q7DSJ2K6JYHQX7VY Spurs

      * I work Full time as well with the City…I forgot to add.

  • Pastor sam

    Love it very true

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