It happened again this weekend.
The moment I finished my message after one of our services I was approached by a woman who immediately started talking to me. She had taken issue with much of what I taught and wanted to correct me for my faulty teaching.
There is nothing wrong with this woman’s motives. Pastors are quite capable of saying things from the pulpit that are far from accurate. We’re not perfect, and sometimes our imperfections show up in our preaching.
Pastors need godly people–men, women, deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, friends and well-meaning church members–to hold us accountable and make sure we accurately handle the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15).
But like everything else in ministry, how you get something done is as important as getting it done. In other words, the means are as important as the ends.
So before you approach your pastor with a well-intended correction, here are some things you can know are true about him:
- He’s given the message his best effort. Most pastors take very seriously the assignments of preaching and teaching. They know full well that they are accountable to God for what they teach. Assume your pastor worked hard on his message and delivered it as well and accurately as he could.
- He’s exhausted. Leading a church service is exhausting work. Beyond the emotional and physical toll of the act of preaching, your pastor is “on” from the moment he drives on the property till the moment he leaves it. He’s greeting guests, rallying volunteers, trouble-shooting problems, praying with the needy, listening to suggestions, leading people to Jesus and doing any number of other things that are required of him on a Sunday. So if you approach him after a message, he may not be in the best condition to hear you.
- He’s vulnerable. Preaching is humbling work. It can leave you feeling beaten down and broken. The emotions I battle most when preaching are fear and shame, and I’ve been preaching since 1980. I still deal with them. You can assume that the moment your pastor steps out of the pulpit or off the stage is the moment he is most vulnerable and open to Satanic attack. So even your best intentions in addressing your pastor may be twisted by the enemy to damage rather than help him.
Some of my most difficult conversations with church members have come right after services. I would say that they actually accosted me or came accusing rather than coming to help and encourage. And when you mix in the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual fatigue that I was feeling after the message, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Each of those conversations ended up damaging the relationship I had with the people who approached me. What’s sad is that the damage could have easily been avoided.
So, having said all that, here are some suggestions for approaching your pastor with a correction, suggestion or even a rebuke.
- Pray before you go. Ask God to season your words with salt and to help you to speak the truth in love. Pray for wisdom as you speak.
- Seek to edify and build up your pastor (Eph 4:29). If your goal isn’t to strengthen and help him, even if you need to say difficult things, then you have no business approaching him.
- Check your motives. Do you want your pastor to be able to hear you and receive what you say? Or do you just need to get something off your chest? If you really want your pastor to hear your heart and motives, then I can guarantee you that Sunday after a sermon is the least effective time to approach him.
- Wait 48 hours. There are a lot of “Monday Issues” that we try to resolve on Sunday. Monday Issues can wait until Monday. Tuesday is even better. You don’t need to correct your pastor’s theology on Sunday. It can wait. It’s not going anywhere. Wait until Tuesday. The time will help you better prepare your words and clarify what you want to correct in your pastor.
- Ask permission to “go there”. When you approach your pastor, give him a heads-up that you need to create a little chaos. I really appreciate it when people do this. It gives me the opportunity to humble myself and pray for a teachable spirit. When someone approaches me and says, “Can we talk about something you said in your message,” I’m typically eager to hear them.
I have learned some great lessons and become a better person and pastor by the corrections, suggestions and even rebukes offered in love. I really appreciate them. I can also say that some of the worst hurts I’ve experienced in ministry have come through the medium of poorly delivered correction.
Remember, how you deliver your message is everything.
I wish I could tell you my conversation with the woman on Sunday ended well, but it didn’t. I really didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me and she clearly left knowing I hadn’t heard her. There were too many people around, too much noise, too many other people waiting to talk to me, and I had too little to offer her.
And that’s a normal setting in a church after a message. Please keep that in mind.