Before You Phone Your Preacher

“Call the preacher, he’s the only one to reach her, and there ain’t no time to lose.” Country singer Martina McBride’s slightly irreverent tune strikes a chord with me. When life grows chaotic, ministry morphs into headaches, or dreams turn into nightmares, call the preacher.

I did and felt slighted by the initial response.

“Dr. George Robertson’s first available opening is next month, Gaye. If we need to get you in sooner, perhaps we can arrange a phone call?”

Preferring a face-to-face meeting, I waited my turn. When that day arrived, I made one mistake. I told my husband about the appointment over breakfast.

Jim dropped his fork and looked up with a devilish grin. “We okay? You’re not going to report me or something, are you?”

I reached over and squeezed his hand. “Course not. It’s my ladies’ Bible study. These women have huge needs, and I have few resources. I just felt the senior pastor ought to know what’s going on. I’ve been waiting weeks to see George.”

Jim went back to breakfast. “Uh huh. You know these hash browns are great, honey.”

I frowned. “Uh huh? What do you mean by that? Fess up. You don’t think meeting is a good idea, do you?”

Jim grabbed his napkin and wiped his mouth before he spoke. “I’m not going to talk you out of it, but think on this, sweetheart. What is it you expect the man to do for you?”

Such an obvious question. What were my motives? My real wants, once revealed, turned my stomach. I wanted:

  1. A pat on the back, even though I might manage to mention in conversation the perfunctory, “My ministry is all grace, of course.”
  2. Assurance that the pastor knew more than just my name, and I mattered.
  3. A means to lighten the load. I had more than I could handle.
  4. A real solution—a pastoral answer—to the big questions my ministry created.

As if his thought-provoking question wasn’t enough, Jim hit me with another. “Who’s going with you? If you leave his office disenchanted, you need to consider that you won’t go down alone. You could take a good friend with you into that disappointment. Great breakfast, honey. I have to go to work.”

Faithful are the wounds of a friend and husband. His response annoyed me. Still, the man had a point.

I thought of cancelling the appointment. Instead, I went to the prayer closet with my not-so-hidden motives for meeting. Confession: I am a self-absorbed woman who still needs a Savior. I carried those hideously unfair expectations to God and asked him for an exchange. The God of all creation knew me by name; in fact, he wrote it on his hands (Isaiah 49:16). He had answers, resources, and riches far beyond my ability to count.

I should have called him first.

New Plan

My second epiphany came as I thought of Diane, my friend and ministry partner. What would encourage her in that brief hour we’d share with the pastor? Diane’s lifelong passion is prayer. What if—instead of unloading a mountain of questions and need—Diane and I approached the time as an opportunity to pray specifically for these needs with our pastor? At the end of our meeting, we could leave those burdens at Jesus’ feet, not our pastor’s.

I had squandered many prayer times with 55 minutes of explanation and 5 minutes of prayer, and I didn’t want to make that mistake again. I went to my computer, filled two pages with prayer requests, and carried three copies of the finished product to the meeting.

When we arrived at the church office, George wasn’t there.

“He’s been delayed with several meetings running longer than expected,” his secretary explained.

Diane noticed the big picture right away. “I suppose everyone wants a little piece of his time, and there is only so much time to give. We’ll be glad to wait.”

A few minutes later, George arrived at the office. He opened the door wide and extended his hand. “Sorry to be late. Good to see you.”

As we entered his office, I noticed the next person came early for an appointment. What must it be like to sit and listen to person after person as they ask for recognition, assurance, and relief? I’d be exhausted at the end of the day.

George extended his hand to three chairs in front of his desk. “Tell me what I can do for you.” He sat down in a chair and leaned forward.

I gave George his copy of my prayer requests and spilled out the speech just as I’d rehearsed. “Well, George, I had planned to tell you all about the problems Diane and I are having with this ministry. That’s when it became obvious that they are too big for you. They’re too big for us too. So I typed up some requests. Diane and I will start to pray, maybe go back and forth a little, and when you catch up with us by reading and praying, then feel free to join us.”

He turned his attention to the paper. “Can I keep this? It will help me pray later as well.”

George smiled. He hadn’t expected this at all. I secretly thanked the Lord for my husband, the man of hard but great questions.

George closed the prayer time with these words: “Lord, I thank you for the privilege of praying in the middle of the afternoon for kingdom-building things with these two women.”

As we walked out, the next visitor jumped up and looked anxiously toward the door. It made me wonder, What would happen if we sheep went straight to the top with our needs—to God first—then to the senior pastor if need be? Our pastors might find their appointment books a little less daunting.

We often feel slighted or ignored if the senior pastor isn’t right there when we call him. We wonder if he truly cares about us, question whether he’s a people person, and whine about feeling unheard. Note the irony: We bypass the God of all creation on our quest to meet with someone higher up the church org chart.

Sometimes it’s best to carry our personal needs directly to God. But when you feel the need to call your pastor, when he asks, “What can I do for you?” say that you want to spend a few minutes praying with him, asking God to do something awesome in your church. He just might faint.

  • RationalN

    Something to consider with this: if pastors today actually followed a model of closer involvement with the individual membes of their churches, staying in a regular close communicating with all of the laity (and not just a cliquish subset of the congregation) then hypotheticals like this wouldn’t be all that noteworthy. Savvy?

    • Michael

      I totally agree. Pastors should have a set number of congregants and no matter how the Spirit is moving or truth being preached or people are reaching out to those around them, they should just shut the door and refuse entrance.

      • TimA

        Actually If the Spirit is moving, the teacher will have “fully trained” other men to “be like him” so that he would not have to be perpetually the focus of Bible lecturing the saints till the day they die. Luke 6:40 Once he breaks out of lecture mode (simpler preparation time and more reproductive to business men) and so other men can do what he does, he would have more time to actually model mutual, intimate relationships with the saints around him. No one needs to be refused entrance. No believer needs a hired Bible lecture every week of their lives. Hired experts are no guarantee that the word of God will be “rightly divided”.

        But of course we know that no hired man is going to “fully train” others to be “like him” because it’s his job and he has not been taught to do this and the saints are in full perpetual dependency mode. Jesus “law of teaching” is fully ignored. The saints love the expectation that they be “fed” by a hired man every week in one-way communication. The result is the hired man has little or no time to be involved on a mutual, intimate manner with the saints. The saints have no confidence in going directly to God or to each other for ministry support. “Their pastor” is the man with the answers from God so he is the one to call. Praise God Gaye got the true scoop from her man, her “head”. Praise God she heard God’s Spirit call her to enter “the most holy place” with her “chief shepherd”.
        Hebrews 10
        Therefore, brothers,[including sisters] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,
        20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
        22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,…

        • Michael

          Thanks for the opportunity to LOL, glad you’ve got it all figured out.

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  • Ben Lacey

    Thanks for this Gaye – incredibly perceptive and I certainly can relate to this myself. It’s amazing how hidden our motives can be sometimes can’t it?!

  • Biffy Lange

    Great article…something to really think about….

  • Delane

    What an awesome reminder to us all! A great blessing to me to be reminded of the one who has all the answers and all the resources we’re looking for!! Thank you for sharing this!

  • Peter Sanlon

    The Bible urges ministers to both train up church members for service, and to be relationally involved with those he shepherds. Since we are told to do both, I think we need to – well, do both :)
    That means not setting one against the other.
    Depending on cultural setting, we may need to emphasise one of the more neglected needs. In Africa, where ministry tends to be very authority structured, I think we need to encourage more training of church members for service. In the Western world, where rampant individualism has atomised society, maybe we need to encourage ministers to be more relationally involved with their congregations?

  • Gaye Clark

    Thanks guys, for your comments.
    First of all, I assure you, this was my very real experience, and not merely a hypothetical situation.
    Secondly, I certainly don’t mean to imply by this article that pastors should not have any relationship with their flock.
    Most of the pastors I have served under knew me by name, and even well enough to know of my gifts and encourage me in them.
    But the reality is, in churches over 1000 members, such as mine, it is humanly impossible for the pastor to “stay in a regular close communicating with all of the laity” without neglecting what I believe is his primary, and essential function, to preach the Word of God. And I also believe that if God’s Word is faithfully preached from the pulpit, than God Himself is among us, filling up voids, and granting us all we stand in need of for ministry.
    It was that aspect I had lost sight of.
    While I agree pastors should not isolate themselves into “cliques,” they do have the right, and frankly need, close personal friends with whom they can relate honestly, and who can encourage and challenge and hold them accountable when necessary. Those friends aren’t always church members, but sometimes they are.
    There is something in a human make up that gravitates to flesh and blood images of God, such as the pastor. My point was that God n his infinite understanding of our human frailty, granted us a flesh and blood Savior, and it is He, first and foremost we must flee to and on Him we all, pastors and laity alike. depend upon.

    • TimA

      Your article was excellent in what you said and how you said it. It was obvious to me this was a real situation. It is played out in similar fashion coast to coast in every name brand of church. However it unmasks some very sad realities in the clergy / laity system of church.

      “But the reality is, in churches over 1000 members, such as mine, it is humanly impossible for the pastor to “stay in a regular close communicating with all of the laity”

      I’m sure this “reality” feels good and looks very nice to you. You will never hear any basis from the pulpit that there is anything systemically or Biblically wrong (sinful, disobedient to the Lord) about this “reality” or that there is any alternative to it. I gave one scripture above how this system “nullifies” the commands of God. This system is so deeply imbedded in your soul that scripture I have may be meaningless to you – as in maybe “Jesus doesn’t really expect that to happen…”

      “… without neglecting what I believe is his primary, and essential function, to preach the Word of God. And I also believe that if God’s Word is faithfully preached from the pulpit, than God Himself is among us, filling up voids, and granting us all we stand in need of for ministry.”

      Most American believers will agree with you here but God’s Word does not. “Faithfully preaching the word from the pulpit” means one specially trained man lecturing the Bible for 30 – 45 minutes in strict one-way communication with zero interaction or zero participation from any other believer present, such that believers need one of these lectures every week of their lives until the day they die. This dynamic is no where present in the Word. “Preach the Word, in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort….” does not support this rigid, monolithic, expert driven, non-mutual dynamic. Preaching is for EVERY believer per the great commission. So is teaching. (Col. 3:16, etc. )

      In God’s marvelous grace, we have benefited much from this system of “preaching / teaching”. However much of what God is looking for, much waste, and much damage is being done to the household of faith. God’s grace does not mean we should not test and throw out that which is not what He has asked for. When we substitute our plans and preferences for God’s plans and purposes we now building a lot of wood, hay and stubble rather than gold, silver, and precious stones.

      It took me 20 years to unravel the tightly wrapped web of men’s traditions that distort the preaching of the Word of God. I suggest you and your husband begin to observe what God’s Word really says about preaching and shepherding as our chief shepherd and His apostles modeled it and taught it. Do not let current reality trump the truth.

      • Gaye Clark

        Thanks Tim,
        I’ve been chewing on your assessment of a Senior pastor’s preaching:

        “Faithfully preaching the word from the pulpit” means one specially trained man lecturing the Bible for 30 – 45 minutes in strict one-way communication with zero interaction or zero participation from any other believer present, such that believers need one of these lectures every week of their lives until the day they die.”

        While this discussion is beyond both the scope of my article, and the purposes for commentary here, I’d have to say that isn’t how I would define preaching of the Word, and it is not an accurate assessment for what happens in our church. Far from being in “full dependency mode,” the faithful teaching and preaching of God’s Word through the power of the Holy Spirit, that occurs both on Sunday morning and in a variety of other settings and circumstances releases members of my church to become fully engaged in the Gospel of Jesus Christ- even the weak blind sheep such as myself.
        I assure you there is no “system” deeply embedded in my soul but Christ and Him crucified. He is the only reality I desire to know.
        What happens in my church when many faithful men of the Word preach draws me closer to that reality, that Christ died for sinners. I leave empowered to communicate that message in my own sphere of influence. It ultimately is not the “experts” that I depend upon, but the Holy Spirit, who deems to use ordinary people-preachers included.
        I appreciate you have a markedly different perspective.

      • TimA

        Thanks for your reply. I have said enough here but I don’t think you are grasping why nullifies God’s commands for one man to dominate the main gathering of royal priests week after month after year after decade. The “release” of the members is highly marginalized and that marginalization is fully accepted by all.

  • Jennifer Baker

    Thank you for a wonderfully insightful reminder. Yes, how often we’ve all “squandered many prayer times with 55 minutes of explanation and 5 minutes of prayer.” What an encouragment you must have been that day to George. This was certainly an encouragement to me!

  • Rachel Daniel

    Thanks Gaye! I can be quick to seek the “flesh and blood images” – how silly!

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  • Jody

    Wow, thanks for this reminder and for being so transparent in this post. What struck me, among many things, was how your husband was able to get to the point in the middle of a great breakfast. A great example of submission I think. Not every wife would have listened the way you did to your wise husband.
    I am a pastor’s wife, so I see both sides to this story. Thank you for the reminder to go to the ‘top’ first.

  • Diana

    Thank you for speaking to this issue. The biblical counselor as well as the pastor would do well to ask the person seeking “an appointment” if they have already sought God and to ask, “What are you doing to resolve the problem for which you are seeking counsel?”

  • Andrew

    Very interesting article. The obvious point is that everybody’s time is limited, whether during a day, a week or a lifetime. How best to use that time, or that of a minister, who can be overun and overwhelmed easily. mainly because you are right, there are so many needs as soon as you start looking. Thanks for posting.