“Pastor, can I talk with you?” That question approaches me like an iceberg—I can only see the tip, but I know there’s a lot more beneath the surface. By the time people make their way into my study, their problem has already reached a critical stage. Like doctors, pastors would love people to come in for preventive care rather than wait until they’re in need of intensive care.
Here’s a short list of needful truths most pastors would like to see you work into your life.
What kind of preventive care would pastors suggest for souls on the journey with Jesus? What 10 critical things might your pastor want you to know? My top 10 are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, I’d like to offer a short list of needful truths I think most pastors would like to see you work into your life, so that you may “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18):
1. Pastors care about your soul. People come into my study because their souls are in turmoil. A young woman is pregnant and her parents will not be happy with the news. An elder finds out his son was arrested and wonders what others will think about it. A vibrant and gifted student has thoughts of ending her life and doesn’t believe God would care. A member complains about the worship or my preaching. Pastors are available to listen to the cries of hurting souls looking for a place to unload and talk about things of God. (If we do not care about your soul, we’d better find another line of work.) If you need a therapist, there are capable Christian doctors and counselors to help you. But if the problem lies in your soul, pastors are your best line of preventive care. Your soul needs a person to hear your confessions, to help you see Jesus at work in your life, and to pray with you. We care about you!
2. You are loved! After I announce the final song in our morning worship and begin to stroll down the middle aisle of the sanctuary, my eye catches Amy as she stands outside the pew. Her face has lit up because she’s ready to go. She watches me as I pass to take my place at the door to shake hands with people. Once the song has been sung, Amy rushes toward me. She knows what’s coming, and I know it too. She wants a hug from her pastor. Amy has not missed a hug in 17 years. Then a little boy named A.J. takes a running start and plows into me like a linebacker. He doesn’t hug, he sacks me with love. People come into my study carrying the heavy burdens of judgment, shame, and being depersonalized by the world, family, and life. I know a hug doesn’t solve everything and that pastors need to be careful, but an appropriate, healing touch goes a long way. You are enveloped and loved by Jesus Christ! You are loved by your pastors!
3. God is bigger than you. “Pastor, just give me the answer, and I’ll take care of the rest.” That’s a common request from many people who step into the pastor’s study. Spouses want a quick fix for a marriage that took 20 years to destroy. Leaders complain that if more members were as committed as they were, things would magically whip into shape. Or they tell pastors, “If your sermons were better, people would obey Jesus faithfully.” These are all attempts to correct life with easy answers and a side order of can-do attitude. But as pastors, we want to save you some time and trouble by telling you one important thing: God is bigger than you! God is not interested in making your life easier—he’s interested in making you holy. Jesus resists your every attempt to conform him to your life project. The Spirit refuses to stay in your box. As pastors, we want to let you in on a little secret: God has been running the world successfully since, let’s say, forever! God wants to take control of your whole life, not play a supporting role. How are you learning to fit into the mission of the Father, Son, and Spirit?
4. Let Scripture set the text of your life. During many pastoral conversations, when people watch me open up the Bible, tension enters the room. I see their faces tighten. I hear the leather squeak as they squirm in their seats. Their arms quickly fold across their chests. They murmur under their breath, “Oh no, not the Bible,” or ask, “Pastor, is there another book you can recommend?” I reply, “Yeah, but this is the best one I know.” As pastors, we know that everything in the Bible has been lived. The Bible knows the human condition and experience well—God caught it all in one book! The Bible has everything from rocky marriages to wayward children to premature deaths to good sex. And it points you to a good God. When the text of the Bible sets and directs your life, you will find an amazing Jesus at the center of it. Come with an open mind, heart, and soul, and the Lord of the Word will speak life into your life.
5. We all have blind spots. “It’s Al Walker! Do you want to talk to him, pastor?” Mr. Walker considers himself the Black Elvis in my neighborhood. He slicks his dark hair back with enough grease to fry chicken. His eyes are wide and intimidating, scaring most of my staff. He insists on speaking to me. Why? He wants to sell me one of his homemade gospel or blues CDs. After an hour, I buy one of his blues recordings. I listen to it, and it’s the worst music I’ve ever heard. Mr. Walker has a blind spot about his music. He thinks he’s good, but he’s really bad! We all have blind spots in our lives that we cannot see, and we need trustworthy people to lovingly point them out. Your pastor wants you to know that your blind spots can help you see your need for Christian community and companionship. That’s why we’re here!
6. Time is on your side. I visit a young woman admitted to a local psychiatric hospital. She’s struggling with anorexia and is in an abusive relationship. She knows her life is a mess and was convinced it would never get any better. She hopes to conquer her disease and take control of her life. She desires to make Jesus the captain of her soul. She sets a target date of one year to become free from her sickness. But what if she falls short, blocked by the limits of human effort? What is the one thing she has going for her? Time. Her journey isn’t about setting dates (which can sometimes be helpful) but about allowing Jesus, community, and prayer to perform their patient, good work in her life. Jesus did not expect Peter, James, and the other disciples to become tip-top copies of him in one year. Rather, it took years after he left this world for them to figure out what Jesus was after: commitment to his way, truth, and life. Time works in your favor. Your pastor wants you to know that Jesus will take his sweet time to make you into the person God has called you to be.
7. You need worship! “Pastor, is worship really that important?” I remember a man who sat in the back of the church with his family. He was a hard-working husband and father. He owned his own business. He showed up for church every now and then to make his wife and children happy. He was interested in Jesus but not in worship. He could not work up much lather for worship because he did not see its importance for his soul. Working, providing, and enjoying his weekends were sacred ground for him. About three years ago I saw him in a local store, buying a pack of cigarettes. His face looked worried, his head bent down by life. He purchased his smokes, walked out, and drove away. As I watched him, I whispered in my head, “Please find a place to worship God and give him your heavy burdens.” He needed God and he needed worship! We were created to worship God. When we gobble up more time for ourselves, we shrink our souls. We all need regular worship because God wants to address our weary spirits. Jesus wants to speak his amazing grace into our lives! The Holy Spirit wants to encourage us into a gospel world of rest, renewal, and reconciliation. Your pastor wants you to know that regular worship is as important to you as water is to your body.
8. You can pray for God’s kingdom to come in you. I’ve noticed that people do not change much when their lives are cruising briskly along. Then something unexpected crashes into them, and life must be re-evaluated. Old things must be unlearned and new things learned in the light of new priorities—God’s priorities. In my study I find people thinking long and hard about the lessons God wants to teach them. Where does the Lord begin? Right here: pray for God’s kingdom to come in you! The place to begin is with our hearts and minds by asking God to change us. As a kid I sang the old gospel song, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” God’s kingdom comes when we are on our knees. Why? Because sin is a tough tenant to evict from our lives! We must ask for outside help. Ask Jesus to come into your life and reconstruct it so you can stand strong when the winds and rains of life pound you.
9. You need to tell others what God has done for you! If Jesus is the best thing that’s ever happened to us, why do we keep such good news to ourselves? We believe we are not saved through our works or efforts, but through a gracious Jesus who saved us while we were still sinners. That sounds like the best news in the universe! We are walking and talking miracles. Your pastor preaches and teaches the good news that we are miracles of grace alone in Christ Jesus. How can you keep such good news to yourself? Go and tell your story of grace, mercy, and blessing to your neighbors and friends!
10. Don’t settle for a safe life. One woman in my church was a vivacious and compassionate person in her early years. She loved the Lord, faithfully serving Christ’s church and community. Then something happened in her life and she began to pull away from people. She stopped coming to church. She withdrew from friends and ministry. She closed the door on life. She lived alone in her apartment for almost 30 years, rarely gracing the outside of her door. When she died, I found out she’d bet her life on security so as not to risk getting hurt again. Hers was one of the hardest funerals I’ve officiated at as a pastor. Jesus calls us into a world filled with risks and dangers. God does not promise us a hurt-free life. We, as God’s servants, cannot build utopias to avoid the world. We are called to enter, redeem, and celebrate that this is our Father’s world! When you settle for safety, you never get it. Why not take a risk and teach a child to read, or assist a neighbor with home repairs? Let’s make God smile by serving others! Jesus wants to use you to extend his kingdom a little bit today. As a pastor, I just thought you should know.
About the Author
Reginald Smith is the Director of Diversity for the Christian Reformed Church. He attends Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.