When you are a pastor, there are two primary elements of your ministry you and the people agree on. You study the Bible and you tell people about it. Whether you preach, teach, or write, most people understand these basic parts of 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 problems and situations.
As a result of all of this talking about the Bible, the impulse for a pastor or Bible teacher is to try and speak into everyone’s life as a pastoral influence. But we do not have permission to be such a voice into 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 cannot 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 4 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. Even Christians can balk at the smallest truth of Scripture they are unprepared for.
We are all on the same journey, but our journeys are different. We are all working towards maturity but we are all in various stages. The extent of our knowledge can vary widely. Our experiences with the church as mixed as there are people groups and cultures.
Just because a pastor, their church, or their denomination, readily accept the application of a passage of Scripture to their lives does not mean everyone they meet will.
The good news is, if we take the time to think about the hearer’s readiness, we can start a plan to help get them ready. Then the message has a better chance of being received.
2. Will I hurt more than I will help?
There are times when God wants to speak a direct, “prophetic” word into a situation. But more generally we are informers and positive voices for the lives around us.
If you tell a young couple living together in their first serious relationship one of them cannot be part of the worship team until they get married, that seems pretty fair if explained right. But if you tell the same thing to a middle-aged woman who has lived with her unbelieving boyfriend for twenty years, they have a few children, but he refuses to go through the act of marriage, now you are doing more harm than good.
Did the message of Scripture change? No. But it was not the message needed.
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?
Let’s be honest. There is a percentage of pastors, Bible teachers, or just plain Christians who want to be that guy/gal. They want to be the first person people come to with their problems. They want to be the one with all of the right answers.
There are some warning signs to whether our words are only for us. Are empathetic or demanding? Do we get defensive if they question us or do we entertain a conversation? Is there room for grace in the truth we are sharing?
As church and spiritual leaders, position is good for the expectations of Sunday morning or Bible study. We need to gauge how open our relationships are to a more personal sharing of Scripture or godly principles for their lives.
Our job is to help connect people to God’s Word and God’s desires for their lives. Doing so involves being good stewards of our relationships.
We might feel good about getting the words out, and we may be confident the words we are sharing are based on Scripture with genuine hope for a positive outcome. But even if we are pastors and Bible teachers we need to think before we speak. Honor the relationship and wait for the open door.