If you’re in the ministry, you know that being a pastor is a difficult job. You have to deal with the emotional and spiritual needs of your congregation, while also having to be professional and put on a face of confidence. You have to be able to lead in times of crisis and comfort people in their darkest hours.
But sometimes, it’s hard to maintain your composure when you’re dealing with a difficult situation. Sometimes you get so caught up in your own emotions that you don’t even realize what words are coming out of your mouth until it’s too late. Sometimes we say things we wish we could take back—or at least not say again!
Here are 13 things pastors should never say:
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13 things a pastor should never say to a congregation
“You are overreacting”
There are at least two things wrong with saying this to your congregation. First, it’s dismissive. You’ve just told them they’re overreacting, and therefore they should just relax and calm down. That’s not cool when you’re talking to someone who’s concerned about something in the church, whether or not their concerns are valid. You’re trying to dismiss their concerns as “overreaction.” Second, you’re attacking the person, not the issue. Instead of addressing the issue being discussed, you’re dismissing it outright by accusing them of overreacting. Even if (and it’s a big if) that is true, attacking someone for how they feel isn’t cool.
If you ever find yourself wanting to say this phrase to a congregant—don’t! It only serves to undermine the person who is expressing concerns and doesn’t actually address those concerns with any real credibility. It might be better for both parties involved if you can focus on the issue being discussed rather than attacking the way in which it is being expressed or dismissing it altogether by calling it an overreaction.
“If you don’t like it here, you can always leave”
While it’s true that if a person does not like a church or its leadership, it’s certainly their prerogative to find somewhere else. However, this is an un-Christlike response to critique or dissent. Remember: it is a church, not a club. The walls of the church should be kept permeable to outsiders, always welcoming new people in and open to new ideas that might improve the health of the community. A remark like “If you don’t like it here, you can always leave” displays arrogance when humility should be favored. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV), “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
Furthermore, this is unhelpful counsel for church members who have legitimate concerns about their place of worship and want to see positive change take effect. As a pastor, you are meant to be an ambassador for God’s love and forgiveness—not someone who dismisses congregants as soon as they voice disagreements with your style or methods of pastoral care! Your role as pastor encompasses both shepherding your flock and leading them through edifying life experiences.
“I have seen God do so-and-so for me…”
Seriously, perhaps one of the worst things you can do as a pastor is to stand up and tell your people that God has done something for you. The church isn’t your cheering squad. We’re not here to make you feel better about yourself and how great God has been to you. We’re not looking for someone who’s trying to collect all the marbles in order to win the game (and neither are you). We want our pastors to be humble—to share their own stories and examples only when it builds up and strengthens the faith of others.
So maybe instead of saying “God did this thing for me,” say, “I faced this situation, but I prayed about it, and then I was able to see God at work through it.” Or say, “I know what it feels like when life falls apart; I remember going through my own season of suffering…but God helped me see that he was there with me all along.”
“I’m not God’s employee.”
“I’m not God’s employee.”
This is a phrase that Greg, who was a pastor for more than four decades, said he actually heard from the mouth of a colleague.
It’s difficult to think of a more direct expression of the exact opposite of the role Jesus wants church leaders to play in their congregations’ lives. A pastor is not an employee of the church; he or she is there to serve its members, lovingly help them on their faith journey, and be an extension of Christ himself. Nobody who considers themselves an “employee” can do that.
“Your job is to submit to my leadership and that’s it.”
- “Your job is to submit to my leadership and that’s it.”
Church leaders who lead with this kind of language are, for lack of a better word, jerks. This is the kind of statement you’d say if you enjoy the power trip and have no intention of empowering or growing others. It’s important for church leaders to remember that they are not only there to be a leader but are also called to give leadership away. After all, everything Jesus did on earth was an example of how we should live. And He empowered His disciples so they could go out into the world and make a difference. The simple truth is: If a pastor won’t empower people, he’s denying his calling as a minister.
“This is my church and I will do whatever I want with it.”
A pastor’s primary role is that of a leader, teacher, counselor, and guide. They’re in a position to use the word of God to help shape their congregations’ lives. But a leader like this must also be accountable for the church’s finances, which can’t be done without transparency. The last thing anyone wants is for pastors to hide behind their churches and treat them as their own personal clubs to run however they see fit.
While I don’t believe there’s any harm in churches serving one another (a good example being my church serving other churches), I do think it’s important that we all strive for financial transparency so there are no ugly surprises when it comes time for the pastor to leave or pass on the mantle down the line. This goes with everything else about church leadership: mission statement, vision statement, goals and priorities—they’re all important pieces of information that should be documented so everyone knows where you stand and how you intend to get there together.
“[Insert wife’s name], what do you think about…?”
Don’t be tempted to turn your wife into your sidekick.
The pastor who asks his wife this question isn’t communicating that he values her opinion, or that he respects her intelligence. He is communicating that he is insecure in his leadership and needs another opinion to feel validated.
If you ask, “[Insert wife’s name], what do you think about…?”
First, remember this is not a team effort. This is a time for you to speak up and lead the congregation with confidence. Yes, your wife has great insight (I hope), but I promise there are people in the church willing to give you feedback without putting it on the shoulders of their spouse. If you feel like you need counsel from someone other than church staff members, pick one trusted person and save that conversation for later.
If you hear your pastor say: “What do YOU think about…?”
Remember that this kind of behavior robs us all from hearing from God through our shepherd! Feel free to let him know how much his style of leadership frustrates and discourages men in the congregation (and possibly even his own kids). He might not change immediately but if enough men tell him enough times, he will get it eventually!
“Nobody loved my last sermon except for … “
Here are some ways to avoid the detrimental effects of both negative and positive feedback on your preaching.
- When a person tells you they didn’t like your sermon, ask them why they felt that way. Some people won’t have an answer but will still be happy to know you care about their opinion, while others may give you great insight into what wasn’t working. If a person says something particularly hurtful, ask yourself if their critique is rooted in truth or jealousy before deciding whether to pay any attention to it.
- When someone praises your sermon, don’t get cocky. It’s important not to become overly attached to the positive comments people make about you; they can easily go to your head and end up negatively affecting your ministry as much as any criticism would.
- Be aware that there are many reasons why people might not tell you how they truly feel about your sermons, so don’t beat yourself up if no one seems interested in giving feedback during a discussion time after church or in private conversations with members of your congregation. Remember that people are busy with their own lives and commitments and may not have time for introspection right after hearing a sermon; however, many of them will be thinking about what was said later on in the day or even months into the future.
“… and I probably won’t be here in five years…”
It’s important to be honest with your congregation and let them know if you are considering leaving the church, but it’s never a good idea to say that you plan on leaving in the near future. You don’t want your congregation to feel like their pastor is going to just up and leave without notice, because that can cause them to lose trust in him. Let them know of any big changes in your life that might affect how long you are able to stay at the church. If you have plans for relocating or pursuing other opportunities, make sure these plans are clear so that there is no confusion when it comes time for you to make a final decision about staying at the church.
“If you think that … then you probably shouldn’t be on the team.”
- Don’t try to make people conform to your preferences. In general, pastors should be encouraging and positive, but this rule goes beyond simply not being negative or pessimistic. Pastors have preferences that may seem arbitrary from the outside but are deeply important to them in their position. For instance, a pastor might prefer that everyone on the worship team sing in a certain range or tone because it sounds better when they’re leading worship; they might want everyone on the communication team to use certain words and turn of phrase so that everything is cohesive. To a pastor, these preferences can feel like absolutes and even as ways of honoring God—but they aren’t. You are not the voice of God, and you can’t demand others honor your preferences when they were not given by Him. Instead of saying: “If you think [that way], then you probably shouldn’t be on the team,” consider instead: “I would love for us all to sing in [this] range because I think it will create a more rich sound during worship. Would you be willing to take a shot at singing there? It will give me more options as I’m leading from behind my keyboard if we have some variety!”
“… but enough about me. What do YOU think about me?”
You may think you are being gracious with this question, but in fact, you are just making yourself the center of attention. You can do better than that.
Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer. If people start answering honestly and say something that stings your ego, don’t lash out at them or try to shut them down (even if they are being a bit harsh). Just shrug it off, thank them for their honesty, and move on.
“Well, look who has the time to be picking apart their pastor’s sermon. You obviously didn’t have anything better to do today.”
The Bible even says in James 3:2 that a pastor should be “not many of you” because they will face stricter judgment.
And while it’s important to give pastors the benefit of the doubt, it’s also important for them to remember that they are human and can make mistakes. So if one of those mistakes is an unfortunate comment made to a congregant, pastors should be humble enough to move forward without offense.
A pastor should respect his congregants and their viewpoints
A pastor should respect his congregants and their viewpoints. His job as a pastor is to serve the congregation, not the other way around. He should be accountable to the congregation, who are technically his employers. The pastor should treat them with respect, as one would expect their employer would do. They should also be a good leader and set a good example for members of the congregation. They should be approachable, humble, and understanding.