I’ve had the privilege of working with pastors from all kinds of tribes and ministry contexts. Though no two pastors are the same, we do share a lot of the same hopes for our churches. We share a lot of the same frustrations too. And while I obviously can’t speak for all pastors, I’ve spoken with enough to know I’m not alone in hoping I never hear these phrases again.
A quick caveat: Most of these points assume that the church you’re attending has a leadership that actually cares about you and your spiritual growth, which seems like a safe assumption. However, we can acknowledge that there are some churches and, yes, unfortunately, some pastors in the world who do not have their congregations’ best interests at heart. In such cases, the best thing to do is probably to not only not say these things, but just go ahead and find a new, healthy church.
And having done that, come back and remind yourself to be careful with these phrases.
1. “Good Sermon.”
Can I tell you something about pastors? We didn’t get into this business for the pats on the back. We got into it because we long to see God do in your life what we’ve seen Him do in our life and the lives of so many others.
That’s why we pastor. That’s why we preach.
When someone says “good sermon,” it immediately tells me my sermon may in fact have been not good. I missed it. I don’t want people thinking about me when it’s over. I want them thinking about the great God who put this all together and who pursues them now in Jesus.
You really want to pay us a compliment? Don’t tell us how good our sermon was. Tell us how you’re seeing God in the community of our church.
2. “We’re Church Shopping.”
This is probably an expression we should all stop using altogether, because it betrays a dangerous attitude. It fosters a mindset that shopping for a local expression of the Body of Christ is like looking for a new pair of jeans. I wonder, what criteria do we use when making that shopping list? Make, style, brand recognition, getting the most bang for your buck?
It’s not like you don’t have to try a few churches before you find one you feel especially called to, but it should be more like finding a new friend than a shopping trip. Churches shouldn’t have a fashionable product or a red-tag special to lure you in (although, sadly, some churches will resort to these tactics.) All churches really have to offer is a cause to lay down your life for.
The call of Jesus is still to come and die (Mark 8:34-35) and that isn’t very marketable.
So instead of telling us you’re “shopping,” tell us the kind of church you’d love to be a part of; one where you could see yourself serving others. Chances are, your pastor will try to help you find that church, wherever it might be.
3. “You Know What You Should Do… ”
There are a lot of causes to champion in the church—and many of them are really great causes and ideas. But your pastor can’t take every one of them on. Pastors have a nasty habit of taking on more than they can handle as it is, and it’s their families who pay the price.
This may very well account for why surveys continue to show most pastors and their spouses are neither happy nor healthy. Those of us who are striving to do it better are going to have to say “no” a lot.
Not only is this critical for the health of your pastor, it’s important for the health of your church. When pastors try to do all of the ministry themselves, or chase every good idea brought their way, everyone loses. It sure didn’t take long for the original 12 to realize this (Acts 6:1-7).
The truth is your pastor’s job isn’t to do all the work of the ministry. It is to equip you to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). So you see a need? A gap in our church? An area in which we’re dropping the ball? Wonderful. Respond to the Holy Spirit’s nudge and put those gifts God’s given you to work.
Instead of giving your pastor ideas for more work to do, ask whether it might be something you could personally step into, something you could help implement or help find a solution to. And if you don’t know, that’s okay. A simple “I’d love to help but I’m not sure how or where” goes a long way. More than likely, your pastor would love to help you find a spot where you can begin contributing.
4. “We Just Don’t Feel Connected.”
Most of us long to feel connected to those in our church, and almost everyone is familiar with the feeling of loneliness—even at church.
That said, some of us seem to think connection just sort of happens when you find the right church. Like community should be natural, or even easy. But a quick read through the New Testament reveals something quite different.
If Paul’s letters are any indication, the early church struggled with many of the same things we do: interpersonal conflict, theological differences, conflicting agendas, hard-to-love people and lots of sin in its various forms.
What bonded them together was not some utopian expression of church, but a deep commitment to God and to one another. They ate together, prayed together, gave sacrificially together, studied the apostles teachings together and applied those teachings together.
It was messy and it was hard, but they resolved to do it together. What would lead us to believe it should require any less of us? The truth is community is never convenient, natural, or easy, but it is always worth it.
So rather than telling your pastor that connection isn’t happening as quickly or as effortlessly as you’d hoped, ask whom you might invite into your home to initiate connection with. Your pastor probably has more than a few ideas.
5. “I’m Not Being Fed.”
“I’m not being fed” is often a spiritualized way of saying, “Your preaching isn’t doing it for me anymore.”
Now, it may be true that you’re not connecting with a pastor’s teaching or the vision a church is offering. That’s a real issue worth exploring. Not every church is going to be a perfect fit for your spiritual needs.
However, the statement “I’m not being fed” represents a passive attitude that makes discipleship difficult. It puts an expectation on the sermon that no number of sermons can possibly deliver while ignoring altogether the individual and communal responsibility for spiritual growth outside of what happens in a sermon.
For example. we have an 8-month-old son we have to feed constantly. From preparing the food to physically putting the spoon in his mouth, we have to do everything for him. But you know who we don’t have to spoon feed anymore? Our 7-year-old. She has grown to the point where she can now feed herself. And one day, she will be able to actually prepare the food and feed others. This is just a part of growing up.
Growing up in Christ is not all that different.
The goal for believers should never be to find a pastor under whom we can saddle up in a high chair for the rest of our lives. The goal should be to become disciples who can feed ourselves from the Source so that one day we can actually feed others and then teach them to do the same.
Let us not forget Jesus’ Great Commission was not just for pastors and missionaries, but for all who would come after Him. This means to be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker. And while your pastor certainly has a role in this, so do you. So if you’re not feeling “fed,” I’d encourage you to ask whether it may be time to pick up the spoon.
Aaron is a husband, dad, church planter, coffee addict, insatiable learner and chronic dreamer. He's the founding pastor of Mosaic Lincoln. You can find more of his writing on his blog or on Twitter.