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Realistic Pastoral Interaction

1) Don’t cast your pearls before swine

One’s dealings, then, with stray, casual, nominal souls, on any other basis than that of a fairly steady and solid diet of the Word of God, are bound to be on a comparatively superficial level: one gives bits of human advice here and there, trying to see life as lived on their level, and no more than challenging them to consider life on a deeper level. Do you see what I mean? You give them the Christian witness, if they will tolerate it at all, but where they don’t want it, you do the best you can for them on their own level and leave it there. The Christian minister needs a mental filing cabinet of many drawers, and he is constantly placing, replacing and rearranging people in it. While in one sense he offers only one standard of life, in another sense he can only help people on the level upon which they want help. After all, you will not convert people against their wills, and you will not make people feed their souls on the Word of God against their wills.

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 452

Jesus allowed people, when He had challenged them, to choose their level. That is why He let the rich young ruler go. You must discern what people are after, and not waste a lifetime running after those who are vain and empty, selling them a Christ they don’t want. Give them the help they ask for, if you can legitimately do so, and probably give them a spiritual dig with it, a challenge – and let them go. For you will find that the ministry of the Word of God by the Spirit not only solves many difficulties, but raises many more, and most of your time will be spent in helping those who have been faced with new problems through the Word. Many things you cannot say in public, and some things you say generally will need clarification or specific application in private afterwards to people’s personal condition or situation (Loc. 459).

2) Temper your optimism

Some meddling ministers want to sort out everybody. God is not so optimistic. There are some who will die mixed-up personalities, and they may be true believers. (In some ways perhaps I am that, and have no hope of ever sorting myself out. Indeed, my salvation is to live with my oddities and partly put up with them, not to say help other people to put up with them, and partly rise above them to show that grace is better employed wrestling resignedly, realistically, cheerfully with our problems than demanding from God heavenly solutions on earth.) Don’t try to do the impossible. Know your limitations, and know what God is seeking to do in the world and what part in it He wants you to play (Loc. 488).

3) Don’t be afraid to defer

It is most important to try to discover with difficult spiritual and psychological cases whether their problems are beyond you or not, and if they are, to leave them to others better equipped and qualified. I have spent many grueling hours through the years with those who have nearly broken me, of whom it has been said at last by better authorities than I, that they were not very hopeful cases. Not that they would be useless in society, but that their problems were too deeply ingrained, too innate for full solution on earth, at least with our present knowledge. I am far more ready now to give up with difficult people than I used to be, and hand them over to those better fitted to deal with them. And some of these are now doing good service within certain limits, although their friends may not know that they are full of problems inside, and so will be happy enough to live and work with them. But they are not what ambitious evangelical ardour had hoped they would become. With fuller understanding, and taking a leaf out of Christ’s own Book, we become more realistic about people (Loc. 502).

4) Don’t be afraid of small-talk; presence matters

In visiting, the extremes are that one may try to do too much in a visit, or too little. I think that one of the greatest mistakes Christians, and particularly Christian ministers make, is to underestimate the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in their lives. When you visit a home, God enters it, or should. This doesn’t mean that you instantly begin to pontificate or preach. When Jesus met the woman of Samaria, He asked for a drink from her, and so the conversation unfolded, and a revival followed! Christ can be known in the homeliest things, can proceed with His work and can be drawn out to do it from the homeliest beginnings. Indeed, He does not need to draw attention to Himself at all. Some people gain the strength they need from their minister by his calling to see how they are, making a few homely remarks, and going his way without any attempt at what some would call pastoral ministration. Some of you will not agree with this, but that does not disturb me (Loc. 589).


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