Never assume when someone asks you a question that they actually want your answer.
When I first began my pastoral career I was flattered when people asked me questions. I happily answered, assuming my answers would be appreciated and maybe even followed.
One woman was struggling with her 20-year old son who still lived in her house. “He wants tattoos. I don’t know. I don’t like tattoos. I don’t want to let him get them. Should I demand he not get them?”
“Well, at a certain point you have to let your kid grow up,” I said. “You need to cut the cord at some point and let the kid make his decisions, good or bad, and learn to sink or swim with them.”
“Hm,” was her reply.
I later found out she asked one of the board members the same question. They said she had every right to determine what her 20-year old son did.
Guess who she listened to?
It t’weren’t me.
She was already going to die on the hill of tattoos with her son. She had already determined there was no way on God’s green earth her 20-year old precious boy was going to get a tattoo. My answer did not agree with her stance. So she asked around until she got someone who gave her permission to do what she wanted to do.
People are not asking their pastor questions for answers; they are looking for permission.
There are exceptions and you will learn over time who the three people are who truly value your opinion and have a desire to learn. You will also learn all the other ones who merely want you to ease their conscience.
The idea that a pastor’s permission equals God’s permission is asinine. My opinion about what you do in life is far from God’s, especially since most people are not giving you the full story when they ask their questions.
“My brother and I are fighting. His girlfriend is turning him against me. Do I have to buy him a Christmas present?”
This question, which I was asked, does not include a full story. There are allegations and implications all over the place. I have no idea what the true story behind the tension is. I have no idea what the girlfriend is doing or not. I have no idea what people should do with Christmas presents under normal situations let alone weird ones.
“I have no idea,” has become my standard responses in these situations. Be careful how you answer such questions. If they follow your answer everything becomes your fault. Look out for that one too. “Well you told me . . .” is a classic follow-up conversation.
Most people are not looking for spiritual insight; they are looking for backup, or a release from responsibility. They want support because their heart already condemns them on their choice; they know what they want to do is probably wrong. Romans 14 says if you doubt, then it’s a sin, so don’t do it. Instead, people doubt, so they ask their pastor or a board member or someone who will back them up. Conscience is eased. They do what they want. If it blows up; it’s your stupid fault for telling them what to do.
I was shocked the first couple times this happened to me, but I am shocked no more.
So, should a pastor answer people’s questions or not?
I have no idea.
And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And Jesus said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?