Pastors have to talk a lot. It’s part of the job. Inevitably, we will say something that doesn’t make sense. We’ll use a fake word like irregardless or a peculiar phrase like, I could care less. But, for the most part, our people will forgive us. Pastors aren’t the only ones who have to talk for a living. Most of the folks in our congregations, even the grammar Nazis, know that and are quick to give us a pass on our butchering of the language.
There are some words and phrases used by pastors that are much more devastating than any grammatical mistake. Rather than revealing our less than stellar grasp of the language, these words and phrases expose something much more sinister and in their wake they leave hurt feelings, confused faith, split churches and broken ministries.
I have a friend who used to work at a golf course. He would routinely have the following conversation.
“Okay sir, that will be $150.”
“Oh. I’m a pastor. Can I get the pastoral discount?”
“We don’t offer a discount to doctors. Why should we give you one?”
It’s a miracle that my friend, after having hundreds of those conversations, is not now an atheist.
Too many pastors use their position as a platform to help them to use others while benefiting themselves. I’ve seen and heard ministry leaders talk to managers of restaurants like they’re trying to negotiate a deal to bring the Olympics to town. These are the pastors who treat their congregation and the surrounding community as their own cheap or free labor force rather than people in need of the gospel.
A pastor who truly cares about his community will gladly pay full price because he wants to see a local business do well. He won’t haggle with his own sheep in order to save a few bucks. Instead, he’ll treat his buying opportunity as a chance to be a blessing rather than a search for his own personal blessing.
Pastor, stop haggling. If someone insists on giving you a deal, that’s fine. Otherwise, remember that your constant deal-making and push for a pastoral discount is telling the world a story about Jesus. It’s a false story but it is one that they just might believe.
One of the pastor’s most important body parts is his backbone. If you only know how to use the word yes, you stand a very good chance of making a shipwreck out of your ministry, your family, and your personal life. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 0 for 3 on Paul’s list of pastoral responsibilities.
Elections are coming up in my town. It amazes me to see how many people have a sign for both competing candidates in their front yard. This makes no sense.
Pastor’s with no backbone are the same way. Because they can only say yes, they end up leading contradictory lives. Take marriage for example. We like to talk against gay marriage. We should. It’s clearly wrong. But it’s contradictory to oppose gay marriage while at the same time marrying any couple with two heartbeats.
“Paysture, me and Donnie fell in love last week at the VFW and weeze wond’run if you might marry us tomorrow. It’s gotta be quick ’cause this week is the only time we can get his last seven wives together to be my bridesmaids.”
“This isn’t a gay marriage is it?”
“Naw sir. Naw sir it’s not.”
“And you plan on paying me?”
“Yessir. Weeze gonna give you $50 and one of them pays-toral discounts down at the Quick Stop.”
“Sign me up!”
Many people wishing to get married are merely looking for a rubber stamp. Sadly, a lot of pastors are okay with playing that part. As long as the pay is good. So they say yes to a marriage that should have never happened in the first place.
Pastor, God didn’t design your position to be a rubber stamp. He has called you to faithfully teach and live out what’s in the Bible. That’s hard to do when you always say yes.
“Did you hear…”
A woman from another church in another town asked to speak with me. She was clearly distraught. Things were going on in her family that most of us only hear about in movies. She wanted my help. Caught off guard, I asked her if she had already spoken to her pastor about this. Her answer frightened me more than the family turmoil that she had just described.
“I can’t tell him. He’ll tell everybody around town about this.”
Gossip will kill any church. But the death is even quicker and more devastating when that gossip is coming from the leadership of that church. The great writer Lewis Grizzard tells a story that ends with the famous line, “I don’t believe I would’ve told that.”
Pastors should remember that line. But once the gossip has already been spilled, the destruction is not far behind. It’s unbearable for people to listen to or follow someone who they do not trust. So they’ll stop listening and find someplace else to go.
Good luck with those pastoral discounts when your whole congregation has left.
The words we use can build others up or they can tear others down. But for a pastor, the impact of words is even stronger (James 3:1-12).
We are going to misspeak. It’s inevitable. But may it be that our communication blunders are the result of a mind that struggles with grammar rather than a heart that houses pride.