I regularly get emails and messages from pastors who say they have no one to talk to.
This is sad.
I don’t know these pastors personally and they only know me from what I’ve said on the internet. They know I’ve struggled, and they are struggling, and I’m probably safe to talk to.
I am safe to talk to, by the way, and I don’t mind.
But I think it’s too bad that so many pastors have no one to talk to.
From my experience, here’s why pastors can’t talk to anyone:
1) Pastors can’t divulge everything they know about people.
Much of the stuff that depresses a pastor has to do with other people. Being a gossip and airing out the dirty laundry doesn’t help and can cause lots of problems.
2) Pastors who struggle get lectures.
People want a perfect pastor. They want a pastor who is above struggles. If a pastor lets on that they are struggling; they are probably immature and shouldn’t be listened to. People want confidence and assurance, not some dude with problems.
3) Pastors have weird jobs that people don’t understand.
Most pastors who talk about their job struggles will eventually hear, “Yeah, well, we all have problems at work. Let me tell you all mine.” Without being too sanctimonious, I’ve had many jobs in my life, none of them come close to the perils of pastoral ministry. I know non-pastors don’t believe that and I can’t say anything to convince you, but yeah, it’s a tough gig. There is eternal weight to it that is soul crushing, and that’s beside any degree of physical or mental stress.
4) Pastors could be faking it.
I know pastors and I’m just being honest when I say this: Pastors at church are often different from pastors not at church. If a pastor lets the façade slip, who knows what problems will ensue. So when the act can’t be carried on anymore, who to talk to? If word gets out I’m not who I’m acting to be, it’ll all be over.
5) Pastors are supposed to answer people’s questions and solve people’s problems.
What if the church finds out I have no idea what I’m doing? I can’t be The Answer Man if all I have are questions. Sometimes reality has a way of calling your bluff. This is a tough spot.
There are many reasons, but these are some of the ones that make pastors feel like they can’t talk to people.
So, how can you be someone your pastor can talk to? I can give some pointers, not sure too many people are equipped to actually do it though!
1) Be an actual friend to your pastor. Get to know them. Spend time with them. You may not be able to be friends with your pastor, sometimes people don’t click like that. Don’t force it. Just offer some kind gestures and spend some time listening. No one listens to pastors and pretty much all pastors do is listen to people talk about their problems. For the love of all things holy, please be quiet for a minute and listen and see if your pastor is a human with human abilities to talk and feel and discuss things.
2) Hold off the judgment. Listen for a while before chalking up your pastor’s opinions as immature, or unqualified for ministry, or “obviously God hasn’t called you to ministry.” Unhelpful. Often there are back stories to a pastor’s opinions and thoughts that he’s not sure he can divulge. Many of the pastor’s problems and opinions are based on disastrous things he’s seen in other people’s lives. He can’t explain everything. Give em some slack. Work with em.
3) Skip the flippant answers, lectures, and clichés. Sincerely listen and then offer thoughtful responses.
4) Be involved in church. Any pastor worth their salt is massively concerned about the church and the people in it and around it. If you’re not in it and don’t know the people, you’re not going to understand anything your pastor is talking about. A pastor can’t give sufficient background all the time; it really helps if you know what’s going on to understand the issues the pastor is struggling with.
5) Keep your mouth shut and treat conversations as private. Don’t blab around what the pastor told you, because that will be the last time the pastor tells you anything even remotely personal.
6) Don’t use what the pastor says against them. I confided in a guy once who immediately used what I told him against me and caused problems. This makes it very difficult to confide in anyone again.
7) Don’t take the pastor’s reservations about talking personally. Most pastors have been hurt by numerous people who violated confidentiality. It is hard not to get jaded in ministry, or get a little leery about people, slightly paranoid. It’s not you; it’s the constant stabbing in the back by others. Be patient, kind, gentle, and please listen.
These are some things that might help both pastors and potential friends or counselors. Pastors can have friends in their church. It is possible, but it is also rare. Pastors need to slowly reveal things, test the waters if the person is reliable to truly open up to. If a pastor divulges too much too soon, people can get hurt.
None of these things are easy but any good friendship and trustworthy relationship requires time. Don’t rush. Pastors: don’t get so cynical you stop trying to find someone to confide in. Parishioners: don’t get judgy, pretend grace is a thing you’re supposed to show too.
We’re all sinners. Sometimes the pastor is the main one at fault. There are creepy pastors out there. Sometimes the parishioners are at fault, they can be creepy too. In the end forgiveness, grace, and love are the keys behind it all. Show those things and perhaps pastors and a few parishioners can actually communicate in a way where all are edified.