I love being a pastor. But, having been around a lot of pastors at our various confabs around the world, I've noticed something unhealthy. Some of my brethren are afraid to ask their people tough questions.
Actually, let me include myself in that. Sometimes I am afraid to ask my people tough questions.
But, ask we must. Why? Because Jesus has called us to tend his flock and to add to it. Our lives are, according to David Hansen's book The Art of Pastoring, to be lived out parables of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we're going to do that well, then we'll need to know the answers to some tough-to-ask questions.
- Are you actually following Jesus? Lots of people who do church things are not Church people. Notice the capitals there—they may be in your church but they're not part of The Church. There are those in all our congregations who act churchishly. They go to gatherings, give a little money, and appreciate that the youth group keeps their teen out of trouble. But, they're not Church people—part of the bought, bled-for, bride of Christ. They're not following Jesus. A pastor should never, ever be afraid of asking anyone in his church if they are actually following Jesus like a disciple should. "Is Christ your treasure? Is he Lord and Master of your life? Are you really trusting him as Savior?" We must ask these questions, often.
- Who do you hate / What are you angry about right now?
You need to know what anger, fear, and hatred is living in your people right now. If we're going to shepherd the flock of God among us, then we must know what's hurting them. This is especially true if you pastor a church that isn't exactly like you. I pastor a rapidly growing, very diverse church. So I must ask this one, often.This question has helped me be a better pastor for everyone. For example, when some issue of racial injustice blazes across America, that will probably create some righteous (and maybe some unrighteous) anger in the hearts of the African-Americans in my church. I love them, but I might not automatically feel what they feel. I'm white, and have never been the victim of racism. I don't know what it feels like. I have to ask them, and not pretend I already know—because I don't. Or, if some issue of political scandal is raging in Washington, it will make half my church happy and the other half sad or angry (Party politics and all). I need to know that, if I'm to shepherd them well. So, I have to ask.Now, this question has brought up some hard conversations. Hard for some to say, and hard for me to hear. But Jesus didn't call us to skip the hard stuff. He called us to preach the whole counsel of God. Knowing what angers and hurts our people is critical to gospel application.
Also, this question helps the people in your pews who aren't just like you know you love them, and care to understand their experiences. I really do care, but I can't actively pastor the people I care for if I don't ask this one.
- If you were me, what would you do differently? This is a dangerous question, because everyone has opinions on what we pastors do. And, just like I don't know what it's like to be a banker, mother, teacher, etc., no one but me knows what it's like to pastor my people. So before you ask, you have to decide you won't be defensive.This question helps your people understand that you love them, and what to do your best for them. Also, as a leadership tip, this question prevents blow-ups. I can say that up to this point we haven't had any major explosions in our church, but we've had a few near misses! Asking this question helped sniff them out before the bomb went off.And hey, Pastor, you just don't know everything you should be doing. Practice some of that Christian community you're always talking about and let someone speak some truth to you.
Ask these tough questions, brothers. They'll make you better and help you love your people more like Christ.