Interesting piece at Christianity Today, Karl Vater’s blog, called “Why Most Pastors Aren’t Answering Your Phone Calls.”
Vaters notes that ministers have a reputation for not being very good at answering or returning phone calls or communications from parishioners, missionaries, and others. He then says, “It’s not because we’re lazy, disorganized or uncaring – not most of the time.” Vaters does acknowledge that this might be part of the problem (see point #9 below), but then he lists eight other reasons he thinks pastors don’t respond as well as many parishioners think they should.
Here is a list of the reasons he gives. You can read the article for his explanation of each point.
- There are too many calls to answer.
- Good leaders are proactive.
- Most pastors don’t have a phone on their desk anymore — or a desk.
- We have personal lives.
- Many pastors work full time outside the church.
- There are better options, especially for a first contact.
- Some things can wait.
- It’s not you, it’s us (except when it’s you).
- Some pastors are lazy and rude.
Karl Vaters concludes by encouraging pastors to do better, and to make sure legitimate calls get answered, but not to beat themselves up out of an undue need to please others.
I saw this post shared on Facebook, and here are a few of the responses that came:
- I hope I am wrong but I find pastors have become less pastoral with each passing year. Call me “old” but I want to know pastors care about people more than I see in this list of reasons/excuses.
- We have a rule that pastors are to respond within 24 hours unless it’s their day off.
- Pastors work hard, I hope, but it is a very flexible “job.” It amazes me when I hear a pastor say “I don’t have time.” After being a pastor for 30 years I know a bit about it.
- Most of the excuses in the CT article are self-important, lame or downright lazy. Ministers are professionals. We are not paid for by the hour, but for the service we offer, and that is without limit of time. …I simply cannot understand a minister who loves his people wanting to keep them at arm’s length. Their life is my life.
- I love engaging with people anytime, anywhere. But in this age of “instant” everything, sometimes it may be good for anyone/everyone to take some time to reflect before reacting with an “urgent” phone call–oftentimes out of unrestrained anger.
I don’t think this is one of those black & white, unambiguous issues. I have made my position clear on many occasions. Anyone who carries the name “pastor” is charged with the spiritual care of people. No one who neglects personal ministry to others in favor of “running a church” or preparing messages or giving “leadership” is worthy of the name pastor. However, there is and must be a balance in relating to parishioners and people in the community that respects not only them but also the minister.
Generally, I have found that people understand this. In fact, in my experience many people are too hesitant about contacting the pastor or the church community when they have a need. They don’t want to be a burden, they’re shy about receiving attention, they’re embarrassed to admit they need help. I’ve had much more frustration in pastoral ministry with those who didn’t contact me when I would have liked notification.
Sure, some people present “emergencies” that aren’t. And there are “needy” individuals and families that are draining. On the other hand, I did neglect my family at times when I didn’t need to. I did get caught up in situations where I wanted to be the hero and took too much personal responsibility for things I should have shared or stayed out of altogether.
And mea culpa, I did not always handle well the personal responsibility that comes with the set-your-own, flexible schedule that comes with being a minister, especially in smaller churches. Sometimes, my parishioners called me on it, and they were right.
In the end, there are only two rules for all this: wisdom and love. Both are only gained by experience — that is, by doing your best, getting good counsel, and falling flat on your face and seeking forgiveness, as you walk the path to personal and vocational maturity.
And always remember. It’s about people.