You can’t be “pastoral” with everyone: 5 questions to ask before we get pastoral

When you are a pastor,there are two primary elements of your ministry that you and the people in the church agree upon. You study the Bible and you tell people about it. Whether you preach, teach, or write, most people understand these as basic elements to what you do.

Another element of pastoral ministry is counseling. Real counseling isn’t just listening and being a friendly ear to hear about people’s problems, though some who go to a pastor’s office think of it like that. It also involves sharing biblical guidance for this problems and situations.

A result of all of this talking about the Bible is the impulse for a pastor or Bible teacher to try to speak into everyone’s life as a pastoral influence. But we do not have permission to be such a voice in to every life we are connected with or bump into.

When people walk through the door for a service, they expect to hear the word of the pastor as the bridge for God’s word to enter their lives. Outside of that setting the rules are different.

Not every person in our lives want us to be their pastor all of the time, or even any of the time. They like us, appreciate us, even love us. Just because we are pastors does not mean we have to be their pastor.

This does not mean we can’t offer good advice, a listening ear, or an unconditional love. Everyone needs these things. A person who can offer these will be welcomed into a multitude of lives.

We should remember how relationships are about trust and safety. To be welcomed into a life because we have allowed Jesus to mold our lives to reflect Him is a wonderful place to start.

Some people may be looking for a friend to journey through life with. Others may be hoping for a relationship spoken of in the Book of Proverbs: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT).

Slow to speak still applies

Whether we are a soul along for friendship and support or a partner in faith, we should gauge each relationship and topic of discussion to help determine how pastoral we really need to be.

We should take a moment to evaluate what we have to say before tossing advice or theology at those around us. The words of James apply to us as well:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James‬ ‭1:19‬ ‭NIV‬‬).

To help us out, here are 5 questions to ask ourselves before we get pastoral with someone.

1. Are they ready for what I have to say?

No two people are in the exact same place in their walk with Jesus. My ability to readily accept a truth of Scripture is not universal. Though we may be ready to share, they may not be ready to listen.

Do you remember that strange word we learned in the theology? Progressive. Think about some of the ways it applies to Scripture and our lives. Progressive revelation: God’s unfolding story and message over the years. Progressive sanctification: Though we are clothed in Christ and appear holy in God’s sight, the fleshing out of that holiness grows over time.

Biblical truth is best delivered in stages. It is a series of meals digested over a lifetime, not an all-you-can-eat buffet line or a one-time vaccination.

If we haven’t built enough of a relationship with someone to have a handle on how this message will impact their walk with Christ, for better or worse,

2. Will I hurt more than I will help?

This is not the same as the first question, though it is related. Here we have to consider how the acting out of our pastoral message will impact the people and situation involved.

Remember, no one lives along on an island. If a person takes action based on what we have said with pastoral authority, we hold a measure of responsibility for the outcome. We should gauge how our words will not only inspire an individual to act biblically, but how such action will affect their relationships, work, church life, etc.

Jesus cautioned those who wanted to follow Him to count the cost of what they were committing to. We, too, should measure the cost of someone listening to our advice. It is cheap to offer the counsel, but executing it can incur incredible cost.

3. Am I putting the relationship in jeopardy?

No one in our lives is present by accident. This side of Heaven we are unable to see all of the moves God takes to bring lives together.

I believe God brings more people into our lives for a purpose beyond filling the space around us. We may not connected with every nearby soul to the same extent as others. But if we are considering speaking into someone’s life, we must have some sort of increased relationship with that person.

If God puts us together, and our relationships are valuable to Him, we should consider whether our pastoral words will harm the relationship. Are we willing to jeopardize the connection God, and we, have worked so hard to build?

4. Do I want to speak these words for them, or for myself?

“How am I supposed to keep quiet? Pastoring isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.” If you have read this far and had this objection run through your mind at least once, this last question is for you.

There are times we just want to the person who has the right answer. We want to be the fixer. We want to share what we know.  In this times we tell ourselves that we are just being true to ourselves.

We cannot just speak into someone’s life “because we have to”. When a “have to” moment comes, it should be clear from God we are being asked to speak for Him in a manner different from our daily walk and interaction with those around. Otherwise the “have to” moments lose their impact.

It is when we have the discipline to restrain our urges to be “right” or “the one who hears from God” that the unique moments when God speaks prophetically through us are recognized.

5. Do they already have a pastoral voice in their life?

I have to admit, this final point is a last minute addition. It should really be number one. However, it can be tied in with Number 4, so I have placed it last.

Our God believes in order and the chain of authority. A pastor is not just an individual who holds credentials and is hired by a church. God appoints every earthly authority, and the pastor is one of his most cherished appointments. Though a vote is often the official means to bring in a pastor, he/she is put in place by the hand of God.

(For an incredible picture of how special God considers the pastor He appoints in the church, read Revelation 1-3. The “stars” there are the angels/messengers/pastors of each of the churches Jesus writes a letter for.)

When a person commits to a church, part of that commitment is to the teaching, counsel, and leadership of the pastor. Regular church attendance means drawing from the same spiritual “well” of teaching, interpretation, guidance, and wisdom.

To be a friend to someone without being their pastor involves recognizing how we are not to be their primary voice of spiritual authority. They have a pastor for that. We can share life with and offer opinions to them. Yet we must defer to the pastor they have chosen to submit to.

When our friend who already has a pastor in their life comes to us with a question or concern, we must swallow our first instinct to say, “Well, here’s what I would say about that.” Instead we should advise them simply, “You should talk to your pastor about that.”

Friendship with other Christians and non-believers is a part of life, not just ministry. If we can pull ourselves out of our offices for any length of time, we will begin to develop relationships with those around us. We should enjoy those relationships without trying to be everyone’s pastor, though.

Think of how many doctors there are in your city. Do they walk into every store or restaurant or house and try to diagnose every body they get to spend time around? They may offer friendly advise, but they know relationship and respect are more important than the need to be the medical expert. When help is wanted, people know who to ask.

And that’s one thing we must protect with our relationships: the presence in a person’s life for the moments when we can help most. When we know how to be a friend, to just be there, they will know who to call on when they need help.

We will not have alienated them or soured them on the doctrine of the church. They will call on us, their friend, and with such solemn permission, we can be the voice God has put us there to be in the mids of their situation.