Pastors are like information sponges. If they aren't studying, they are receiving a regular deluge of information from church members. I asked twenty-two pastors to share with me the most common items they hear from their church members. In the past, this information came in the form of letters, in-person conversations, and telephone calls. The digital age has made emails, texts, and social media more common.
Eleven of the pastors were above the age of forty, so an equal number were under forty years old. Here are their top ten responses in order of frequency. Each response is followed by a quote from a representative pastor in the interview.
1.Requests for hospital visits and other visits to those who are ill. "If I said 'yes' to every one of these requests that I got, it would be a 60-hour a week job. I have to disappoint and even anger some folks, because I can't get to everyone."
2.Requests to attend events and meetings at the church. "I really wish I could be omnipresent. It seems like I'm supposed to be at every wedding, every church meeting, and every Sunday school class function. I do my best, but I sometimes disappoint some folks.
3.Criticisms. "The criticisms that bother me the most are those that begin with 'I love you pastor but . . .' The words that follow are usually anything but loving."
4.Updates on someone's health. "I have to say that I appreciate those in my church that keep me updated about how someone is doing. Now, some of them go overboard with the details, but it does help me set priorities to visit and call."
5.Books a pastor should read. "I have learned that when a church member recommends a book to me, it's usually a book about something he thinks I should be teaching or preaching."
6.Encouragement. "Thank God for the Barnabases in my church. It seems like God uses them at key and critical times when they communicate with me. I hope I never take them for granted."
7.Ideas on how to do things better in the church. "Some of these messages are from well-intending members. Others are from members who thinly disguise their criticism as a suggestion."
8.Sermon suggestions. "I have a few members in my church who would be happy if all of my sermons were from the Book of Revelation. I'm glad this Mayan thing passed. I was getting inundated with those requests."
9.Theological and biblical questions. "I love it when people have genuine questions about what the Bible teaches. That indicates that God is giving them a real hunger for His Word."
10.Jokes/Forwarded Spam. "There are a few members in the church who feel like they have to forward me every joke or political issue they get in their email. Usually I'm one of 30 or 40 recipients, so I don't feel obligated to respond."
Interestingly, if we had just taken the responses from the under-forty group of pastors, "theological and biblical questions" would have ranked fourth instead of ninth. The younger pastors seem to be encouraging and receiving biblical conversations.
If you are a pastor or staff member, what would you add to this list? If you are a layperson, do any of these items of communication to pastors surprise you?