Let me begin by saying, pastors can’t “fix” anybody. Only God heals broken people.
A while back, I met an individual and, within 20 seconds, they unloaded a barrage of information about their spouse that stunned me. Their graphic language, their sharing of personal details and their willingness to discuss intimate information about their spouse with a total stranger was a bit shocking. I’ve been in ministry for close to 30 years so this experience is nothing new. But this conversation told me a lot about this individual. My concerns were later confirmed. Before the event was over, this person spoke to me 2 additional times, both times, sharing the same details. I talked to them a total of about 6 minutes but I heard information that only the closest intimate friend should know. I finally had to stop them mid conversation.
What’s my point?
I was not able to help this person. I prayed for them (and still do). I advised them to seek professional help. I encouraged them to connect with their local church pastor. Later, in a brief conversation with this person’s pastor, I learned that they were perpetually in need and that this situation was long-term. Apparently, this couple has shown themselves unwilling to make the adjustments necessary in order to solve their issues.
Pastors, let me share this with you:
No one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help.
We all know people who are perpetually needy. I am not talking about those who are in chronic pain or with a life situation not of their doing that is creating continual suffering. I am speaking about those whose lifestyles prove that they do not want to recover. Some even get a thrill from the attention they receive from their issues.
Here is a little advice for pastors who are expected to help those who may be very difficult to help:
- Humble down: You are not the Messiah. You do not have all of the answers. It is not a defeat to admit you don’t have the answers – in fact, it is sometimes a victory.
- Know your limits: A renown scholar once said, “A good man’s gotta know his limitations.” (Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Magnum Force). If the issues are beyond your scope of authority or expertise, admit that. No one is an expert in every area.
- Recognize the users: Some only want to monopolize your time. Others wish to play on your sympathies. While we must not become hard-hearted in regard to the needs of others, we must learn to spot those who are not looking for solutions.
- Refer, refer, refer. Doctors do it all the time. When they see a patient that needs the care of a specialist, they refer to that specialist. Pastors may find it beneficial to follow suit.
- Grieve for them but don’t take up their grief: A good pastor will hurt when his/her sheep are hurting. We must carry the spiritual burden of loving people that are in misery. However, it is a mistake to assume the load of their pain. We are strong but not superhuman. We must learn to be sensitive and compassionate without damaging our spiritual and emotional health. Don’t be afraid to draw the line of distinction.
- Give them hope: God never gives up on people; we shouldn’t either. Let them know that you are not their solution but that God has their answer. While we are not to try to be a savior to needy people, we are to point them to their Savior.
- Remember to whom they belong. You are the pastor and you are the under shepherd, but they belong to Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. When and if people are pulling too much out of you, give them to Jesus.
Once again, no one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help. If you try too hard, it may have a negative impact on the people you are trying to help, on yourself and upon your ministry. If you try too hard to fix others, it may break you. I don’t want to see that happen.
I’m praying for you pastor!