Do you ever feel that your pastor is blowing you off?
Maybe you just get the idea that he’d rather minister to someone else besides you.
If so, you’re not alone. That was a popular question I received when I ran a blog series recently called “Questions Women Ask.”
A reader I'll call "Anne" asked: "What should I do if I think my pastor doesn't like me?
Anne said, “I often have an overwhelming feeling whenever my pastor greets me that he's pasting on a smile. I can sometimes see him dig deep for it, too. I’ve seen him turn away in hopes there was someone else to speak to and then, finding no one else, dig deep for that fake smile and turn back to me. It hurts."
Another woman said, “My husband and I have had a difficult time reaching our pastor, personally. It’s a large staff but shouldn’t he be available to the people he ministers to? We feel like he’s blowing us off.”
The proverbial pastoral blow off. Nobody wants it. But is it as real as we imagine it is?
I asked my husband, Hugh -- a 20-year veteran pastor -- to share some insight on this feeling or accusation. His perspective helped me understand the heart of pastors just a little more and how to put aside our emotions and respond appropriately if we believe we’re being blown off.
First, my husband listed some questions to ask yourself:
Question 1: Have you had a less than positive interaction with your pastor in the past?
If so, it's possible he's being cautious around you. No one likes confrontation or the idea that they have disappointed someone. He may be a pastor, but he's still human. If this is the case, asking for an appointment to sit down with him and “clear the air” if need be could be helpful. However, don’t ask for an appointment hoping your pastor is going to say the words you are needing to hear to feel like you are on your pastor’s “A-list.” It’s possible the feelings you are having are coming from a misunderstanding between the two of you, or maybe even insecurities or wounds in your past that might have nothing to do with your pastor. It’s also possible that if there are unresolved issues, you two need to clear the air in an understanding and responsible way.
Question 2: Are you at a large church where your pastor is somewhat removed from the members of the congregation (due to a large staff, several other pastors who meet the direct needs of the people, and so on)?
Wanting a small-church feel from your large church pastor might not be realistic. He can’t possibly be everything to everyone in his congregation. On the other hand, if your pastor leads a small church, he may have quite a lot on his mind each time you approach him. That leads to the third question.
Question 3: Could it be a timing issue rather than a personal one?
If you are experiencing a less than enthusiastic reaction from your pastor when you arrive at church, it could be that you are approaching him or her at a difficult time. Many pastors have much on their minds on a Sunday morning. They are thinking about the sermon they are about to deliver, whether or not the tech will work for their visual aids, wondering if everyone is in their places so they can start on time, and perhaps even wondering if the person who contacted them during the week will still have a problem or issue or suggestion that morning that they are not able to deal with at the moment. While pastors should focus on their people as they are arriving, they may be under pressure to focus on a lot of other things, too. That's not necessarily their fault.
And if scheduling is the problem, your pastor may have many people he needs to get back to and therefore has delegated that task to someone else. It’s possible, too, that someone else has dropped the ball, giving you the feeling that you are being blown off.
My husband offered these suggestions or action points if you're thinking there might be a problem, but you're not sure what it is:
Action Point 1: Lower your Expectations and Extend Grace.
There is one senior pastor to how many people in your congregation? He will never be able to meet every expectation of every person every time. Today, it’s common for a church parishioner to expect his or her pastor to be a great visionary and CEO, but also a detail person who can get things done, and a people person who will hold the hands of others, pray for them, and be genuinely empathetic no matter what issues are pressing around him at the moment. But rarely does any man or woman have all the traits of Jesus, or possess the abilities of the perfect organizational leader, shepherd, counselor, and friend. Your pastor is often expected to be the jack of all trades and most likely he or she is not. Your pastor is simply a person called by God to shepherd a flock, but is probably expected to do a whole lot more that his board of elders or deacons or congregation expects of him, too.
Action Point 2: Seek to Encourage Your Pastor, Rather than Be Encouraged.
It is in our human nature to enter church with the expectation of how we will be greeted, treated, and spiritually fed. But when you enter the doors of your church with the aim of encouraging your pastor and others, rather than being encouraged yourself, it will bring joy to your heart and your pastor’s too. I guarantee it will go a long way in improving whatever is going on – or not going on – between the two of you.
Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” That “one another” whom we are to consider how to motivate and encourage, includes our pastors, too.
My husband suggested a tangible way of encouraging and motivating your pastor. The next time you come into church hand your pastor a folded, brief hand-written note of encouragement and, as you hand it to him, say, "This is some encouragement for you today." (That will take your pastor off of the defensive if he's used to being handed notes of complaints, suggestions, or something he isn't able to deal with at the moment).
In your note, write something to the effect of:
“Pastor, I just wanted you to know I'm praying for you this morning that the Lord will empower you to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit and refresh your heart as you refresh ours."
Can you think of a better way to touch your pastor’s heart? If you do that, chances are he will respond differently the next time he sees you. Why? Encouragement is in short supply these days – especially for a pastor.
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author of more than a dozen books including When Women Walk Alone, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts and When Couples Walk Together (co-authored with her husband, Hugh). For more on her ministry or free resources to strengthen your soul, marriage, parenting, or individual walk with God, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
Publication date: December 3, 2015