I’ll start by admitting I’ve made all three of these mistakes. And, to this day I can still make them if I’m not constantly mindful of the purpose for pastoral ministry.
Let me add: You may not feel like you are called to perform this kind of ministry. After all, you’re just the musician. But trust me, if you serve in a church you should and will be involved in this kind of ministry. It comes with the responsibility. Wherever ministry and people meet, pastoral work will be needed.
So here they are:
- Being too present. Yes, there are many times in pastoral ministry when your presence is needed and wanted. But, sensitivity about when you should not be there is equally important. Develop a sense about when your absence would be appreciated.
Once, I had a close friend that had suffered a stroke and was dealing with the aftermath of intense rehabilitation. He had lost the ability to speak and the family was having a very difficult time calming him down to rest. I reached out to one of the daughters and asked, “Is this a good time for me to visit?” She quickly responded, “No, please don’t come now. We have just gotten him to settle down after three hard days.” I learned later that just minutes after our conversation, a well-meaning pastor came unexpectedly. His visit disrupted the much-needed respite the family and patient badly needed. It took hours before they had recaptured the calm.
Consider a phone call if there is a question about timing. Or, send a card or email message ahead of time that gives some notice of your planned visit.
Remember, you are not a doctor.
- Offering too much advice. It doesn’t matter how equipped you may be to quickly assess a situation and develop a strategy for the family or individual, remember it is not your role to become involved in the discussion unless you are specifically asked to offer your insight. Even then, be very careful what council you would give to anyone facing a difficult situation.
As a spiritual leader, your advice can carry great weight with a family. But, understand your limitations. Unless you have a comprehensive view of the family dynamic, which is unlikely, you will not have enough information to give helpful council. Your opinion is just that – your opinion. Be quick to say, “I’m not sure what I would do, but here’s what God’s Word says…”
Remember, you are not a counselor or lawyer.
- Sharing too much information with others. As you serve you will hear and become aware of information about an individual’s health or circumstance. Then, tragically you may start sharing those details through social media or in prayer circles all in the name of making people aware. But, this is wrong. And if we’re really honest, sometimes we do this for selfish reasons – like proving we are on the job or inserting ourselves into the situation unnecessarily.
The details are not yours to tell – they are the family’s or individual’s personal information. When you do need to share, consider quoting the family instead of making your own dramatic announcement. Sometimes a family will ask you to share information. Be intentional about asking them to write down exactly what they want you to say. There’s nothing wrong with calling for prayer and you can do that without announcing details.
Remember, you are not a journalist or the family spokesperson.
Pastoral ministry is one of the great joys of serving in a church. Be sure when you serve this way, you are doing just that – serving. Putting the needs of the people ahead of your own reasons for serving is absolutely necessary for effective pastoral ministry.