Expressions I Hope I Never Hear Again

You are about to encounter some of this pastor’s and I suspect every pastor’s pet peeves. These are comments from church members that irk us, get our goat, try the limits of our patience, drive us up the wall–and a whole bunch of other metaphors for provoking us.

Ready? We’ll get right to it….

1) “I’m not being spiritually fed.”

2) “I have a right” or “I deserve….”

3) “Lord knows I’m not one to gossip but….”

4) “I’ve been paying my tithes for years and I think I’m entitled….”

5) “Sorry. I just don’t have a gift for that.”

6) “Why don’t they do something about that?”

7) “The pastor is a dictator.”

8) “Before we do that, let’s have a word of prayer.”

9) “There’s no use trying to talk to the preacher. He won’t listen to you.”

Some years back, Pastor (also Evangelist, Author, and a lot of other things) Jack Taylor wrote a book he titled “Which Being Interpreted Means.” His thinking was that, just as Scripture sometimes will give a Hebrew or Aramaic word and then tell the reader what it means, we should do that with a lot of expressions we use around the church. It was all tongue-in-cheek and a lot of fun.

Since Brother Jack had me illustrate this creative little book, I spent a lot of time with each point, so I remember a number of them.

A friend greets you with, “Hey, I’ve been praying for you.” That, being interpreted, usually means, “I haven’t prayed for you at all, but on seeing you just now I sent up a quick ‘Lord, bless this brother/sister!'”

Someone at church says, “The Lord just isn’t leading me to do that.” Which being interpreted means, “There is no way under God’s heaven I was planning to do that and nothing you say will ever change my mind!”

(I still see Jack’s book available from online book sources in case you’re interested in getting a copy.)

So, let’s apply the little “Which being interpreted means” rule to the above expressions which I hope to never hear in church again.


1) “We’re not being spiritually fed.”

Which being interpreted means: “I’m a spiritual infant dependent on someone else feeding me. And I bore easily. I need the pastor to entertain me while spoonfeeding me the riches of God’s Word.”

I’ve told on these pages of the time I was sitting with a group of pastors when we were discussing this very complaint which every preacher has heard. We agreed that in most cases it was a sign the person was unhappy about something else. I said, “They say that in every church. I’ll bet someone in Charles Stanley’s church is saying that right now.” One of the pastors said, “Oh, I met them!” Everyone laughed.

His family was traveling through Georgia, my friend said, and stopped in the Atlanta area at a restaurant. When they got into a conversation with the family at the next table, my friend asked where they went to church. The woman said, “We used to go to First Baptist Atlanta but we just weren’t being spiritually fed.”

My pastor friend could not contain himself. He said, “Good night, lady! What does it take to feed you?”

A chairman of deacons once told me he was hearing criticism that I was not preaching the Word, not spiritually feeding the flock. I said, “I just finished preaching through Matthew. So help me understand what they are saying.” He didn’t have a clue, and I didn’t either.

This complaint is almost always an indication the member is unhappy over something else.

2) “I have a right” or “I deserve….”

Which being interpreted means: “I’m selfish. I think God owes me. The preacher and staff exist to meet my needs and carry out my wishes.”

We will not get universal support for all the points in this article, but will come closer to it with this one than all the others. Start a conversation in any Bible-believing God-fearing church on the planet with “I have a right” or “I deserve” and eyes will start to roll. Anyone who understands the first thing about sin, righteousness, and judgment (the triad of John 16:8) knows our salvation is all about grace.

An old fellow stood in a church business meeting, unhappy with the way things were going. “All I want is what’s coming to me,” he said. A longtime friend in the pew behind him tugged on his coattail. “Sit down, Henry,” she said, “If you got what was coming to you, you’d be in hell.”

And so would we all.

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).

3) “Lord knows I’m not one to gossip but….”

Which being interpreted means: “But I am one to spread the latest news about people in trouble. Everyone needs to know so they can pray.”

The quickest way to determine if a certain bit of news would be classed as gossip is to ask ourselves: if the subject of this knew I was telling it, would he/she be pleased? or would they feel we were spreading gossip?

The line of demarkation between what God’s people need to share with one another and what everyone should keep to themselves is not always obvious. That’s one more reason why we give thanks for the indwelling Holy Spirit. There being no way one rulebook could cover every exigency, God sent His Spirit to live within us and guide us in such matters.

Recently while working online, I ran across a statement from someone concerning a well-known colleague whose great testimony of conversion now appears to be inflated and even fictional. I asked a friend in the ministry what he knew of this. He sent a link to a series of articles (blog-type stuff) on the charges, counter-charges, and investigations. He had heard it and had not mentioned it. I had not known any of this.

The articles referred to another minister from a generation back who had had a thriving ministry addressing the subject of satanism but who had dropped off the screen. The reference indicated that he too was found to be a fake. I was stunned.

People in the Lord’s work need to know these things in order not to be taken in by those pretending to be something they aren’t. But there’s a fine line here. What if it turns out that the brother currently dealing with these charges and innuendos is exonerated?

In early days, gossip was spread over the backyard fence. Later, the telephone took over. These days, it’s the computer and blogs.

Let us be careful, Christian. We will give account of every idle blog.

4) “I’ve been paying my tithes for years and I think I’m entitled….”

Which being interpreted means: “If you don’t think I matter, I’ll leave and take my money with me and then you’ll see who is really important around here!”

Or, possibly: “I’ve given some over the years, but don’t go back and check my contributions. However, I’d like you to believe I’m a big giver so you will attach more weight to my words.”

There is a good reason why pastors do not know (and don’t want to know) how much money various members contribute. They want to deal with everyone the same.

Now, for most folks, that’s fine. That’s how it ought to be, we reason. But once in a while a pastor will encounter someone who a) wants him to know that he is a big contributor and b) expects to wield more influence in the church as a result.

There are any number of responses a preacher can make to such a member. Here is one: “Brother Johnson, you are a big contributor to the church. Do you mind if we ask the treasurer to tell us exactly how much you have given in the last year? We might as well see what we’re talking about here. Is that all right with you?”

If I know one thing, it’s this: it is not all right with him. His giving will not stand the test of exposure. The reason he thinks he’s giving a big amount is because it’s more than he wants to give, and might be more than he’s given in past years. But laid alongside some tithing teenager whose income comes from mowing lawns, he would be revealed as the skinflint he is.

Or, here’s another little exercise which you could pull in response to this heavyweight wannabe. You’ll want to work this out with your bookkeeper or treasurer in advance. When the bigshot says that, you pick up the phone and call the financial person and say, “Look up the contributions of Deacon Johnson over the past year.” Now, he/she is not going to look up anything. They will simply pause for a half-minute, then you the pastor say, “Um hummm. Okay. Thank you,” pretend to write something down,and hang up the phone.

That’s all. You’ve called his bluff.

Should I say right here I’m not recommending either of these approaches, but simply saying these are possible ways to deal with someone who thinks that giving money entitles them to more than their fare share of influence.

I once said to a church leader who was trying to throw his weight around in the church office: “You do have influence in this office. You have the same amount your mother and your wife have as members. But as an elected leader, you have none. Your influence is in the area you’ve been chosen to lead in.”

To his everlasting credit and to the glory of the Lord, he humbled himself and became a team player.

5) “Sorry. I just don’t have a gift for that.”

Which being interpreted means: “I don’t want to do it.”

What you and I wonder is why people don’t just come right out and say, “Thank you for asking me to do that, pastor. But I’d rather not. I just don’t want to do it.” A statement from an honest person.

Instead, we spiritualize our refusal. Another way we do that is by the statement, “The Lord isn’t leading me to do that.”

Blaming it on the Lord, huh? (I’m smiling.)

Now, it is true that people have gifts for certain ministries and no one has a gift for everything. Nobody can do it all, although I’ve seen a few specially gifted individuals who came close. But this is simply a call to speak plainly and not to blame God for our refusal to do certain things.

As a pastor who made it a practice to ask people to do work and take responsibility for ministries, whenever someone turned me down with words like “Pastor, I just don’t have the time to take on another job,” I walked away admiring them.

6) “Why don’t they do something about that?”

Which being interpreted means: “I don’t plan to do my job but I think someone else ought to.”

I like to remind people that from the day you join this church you become “they.” It’s your church (so to speak) and you are responsible for seeing that things get done. If you see a piece of trash on the lawn, it’s your job to carry it to the nearest container–and not complain about “why don’t they keep this place clean?”

Every congregation is made up of three kinds of people: browsers, customers, and shareholders.

Browsers say, “Nothing for us, thanks. We’re just checking things out.”

Customers say, “We come here because of the (fill in the blank)”–preaching, music, children’s program, youth ministry, etc. If the preacher leaves or the church ends that ministry, they’re gone. (I actually had a member tell me once he was in our church solely for the orchestra in which he was playing a horn. “If you end the orchestra, I’m gone.”)

Shareholders are the ones you build a church with. These are the members who take ownership (again, it’s a figure of speech, not literal ownership) of the church, it’s grounds, it’s buildings, its staff, and its ministries.

Shareholders are the people who show up when you announce a work day for a given Saturday. Browsers don’t come because this is not their church. Customers don’t come any more than you would attend a work day held for the employees of Wal-Mart; you’re a customer, not an “associate.”

7) “The pastor is a dictator.”

Which being interpreted means: “I don’t care for him and anything he’s in favor of, I’m opposed to.”

Now, let’s admit up front that some pastors are indeed dictators. I once heard the famous (‘infamous’ to some) Jack Hyles of Hammond, Indiana, say, “They accuse me of being a dictator. I tell them I’m not only a dictator–I’m the only Tater!”

But most pastors are not even close to being like this. What they are is servant leaders. They have been assigned by the Holy Spirit to function as overseers of the church and shepherds of the Lord’s flock. (That’s Acts 20:28)

Leaders lead. And the flock coming behind does not always like the directions they take. It’s been that way from the beginning. Doesn’t make it right, and it sure makes pastoring more difficult. But it goes with the territory.

Some years back my church was doing a nearly $1 million renovation on our ancient sanctuary. I had sat down with a team of church leaders to look at this from every angle. We had brought in an engineer to tell us if the building was structurally sound or needed to be demolished. We had conducted studies and interviewed contractors and heard advisors from the state convention office. The congregation voted to approve every aspect of the renovation and the work was proceeding.

That’s when I got wind of the rumor.

“This is all about the preacher. He’s ramrodding this through against the wishes of the leaders.”

I was stunned. Nothing was further from the truth. If anything, I was more of a spectator, I felt, than the actual leader of the project. We had strong lay leadership and they were doing their job.

One wonders where these things get started and how they develop legs. The old line goes, “A lie can circle the earth while truth is still putting on its shoes.”

8) “Before we do that, let’s have a word of prayer.”

(Wait a minute. The pastor is more likely than anyone to say this! And I admit it. But it’s a peeve of mine, and this is my blog. ((smile)) But I still have a strong dislike for it.)

Which being interpreted means: “Let’s tip our hat to God before proceeding to do what we intended to do in the first place.”

I have a dislike for the phrase “a word of prayer.” Now, if I’m in your worship service, pastor, and you say that, I’ll not groan or get up and walk out. It’s not that strong an aversion. It’s just a peeve.

We are turning to address the God of the universe, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is something we should never do as an afterthought or with so many careless words. We should do this thoughtfully, reverently, carefully.

I like the opening of Ecclesiastes chapter 5. “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”

Consider this a call for pastors and worship leaders and out-front laymen to be more thoughtful in calling the congregation to pray, even if it’s just for the benediction or the blessing over the table.

9) “There’s no use trying to talk to the preacher. He won’t listen to you.”

Which being interpreted means: “He doesn’t agree with me, so I’ve decided to slander him.”

It usually means the pastor will listen to what you think, then tell you what he thinks—and you can’t take it.

Poor preachers. They get blamed for everything members find wrong with the church. Not only that, when a church member gets out of fellowship with the Lord, he/she becomes critical of everyone around them, especially the leaders of the church. I know, because I’ve been there, done that.

God in Heaven knows how it feels.

The 50th Psalm states this in a way I can’t recall seeing anywhere else in Scripture.

“You hate instruction, and cast my words behind you.

“When you see a thief, you join with him; you throw in your lot with adulterers;

“You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit.

“You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son.

“These things you have done and I kept silent;

“And you thought i was just like you.

“Now I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face.

“Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces with none to rescue.” (Ps. 50:17-22)

The Lord is saying, “I tried to be lenient, to be accommodating, to give you space to see the error of your ways and repent. But instead, you interpreted my patience as approval. You thought I was a wimp. So now it’s all over for you. From now on, we’re going forward and if you don’t get with the program, you’re in a lot of trouble.”

I actually said that to a congregation one time. Well, it was my version of that. And three things happened.

Visitors to our church walked out shaking their heads, wondering what kind of idiot this church had for a pastor.

Longtime faithful members came out of the woodwork to thank me for finally drawing a line and taking a stand.

Rebels within the congregation who had been used to having their way accused me of being a dictator.

It would be funny if we were not talking about such serious issues here.

Nothing a pastor will ever do in his leadership will liberate him more and arm him for dealing with detractors more than reminding himself that this is the Lord’s church. He died for it, I didn’t. I am serving because of His call upon my life. As they treated Him, I may expect to be treated. Let’s get on with the program. I’m ready, Lord.

11 thoughts on “Expressions I Hope I Never Hear Again

  1. I never liked to hear “let me pray about it.” I’ve found most often it means, “I’m going to say no, but I don’t want to just blow you off. If I say I’m going to pray about it, maybe you won’t ask me again.” I know there are some times where people actually DO pray about it and respond, but that was rare.

  2. How “We need to see a move of God so revival can breakout.” If we’re waitin on God to move so we can have revival, we probably need to look at the move He’s already made. If the death, burial, and ressurection of His Son isn’t enough to draw people into revival then we’ve got a problem.

  3. But I do have to disagree with the “not being fed” comment. I’ve been to Bible College and Seminary and I’m not looking for anyone to spoon feed me or entertain me. But I don’t want to come to church and hear a sermon that does not challenge me in any way. I don’t want to hear a sermon where the Bible is used as a quote-book (let me just quote a verse and then say whatever I want to say about a topic). I sit in a lot of services where I sense the preacher is just “mailing it in” or took little or no time to study. many preachers cop out on the topic and say, “You need to feed yourselves during the week.” True we need to, but why bother having any preaching during the service then?

  4. A couple came to see me several years ago. They told me they weren’t being fed anymore–that my sermons had become watered down. They went on to explain that whereas I once used numerous passages of Scripture to bolster and illustrate my preaching text, I had begun using less and less–actually quoting the Bible less in my sermons over the last year. This perplexed me because I had intentionally been trying to use more Scripture (Scripture intepreting Scripture), so I decided to take a look. I pulled out the last 12 months of sermons. What I found was that I had actually increased the number of biblical references/quotes significantly. I did the numbers and e-mailed my findings to the couple. I then said, “I’m sorry, but something else is going on here. Can we get together and talk about it?” I never heard from them or saw them in church again. The fact is, if you want to leave a church, any excuse will do.

  5. One I’m not fond of: “The young people are the future of our church.”

    It’s partly true, but they’re also the present of our church, and the line is usually used to justify babying teens and young adults who should be expected to do at least something themselves.

    Doug

  6. Oooh oooh can I add one?

    Person one: Outlines lofty ambitious scheme that person 1 just brainstormed and person 2 will be expected to implement.

    Person two: Well, I like the concept. But that’s an order of magnitude larger than anything we’ve done before. It doesn’t seem feasible. I can put together but I’m not at all confident we can currently manage what you just described.

    Person one: Well we’ll just have to trust in God to provide!

    Person two:

  7. Chonda Pierce has a good one about people who say: “I’ll pray about that.” Interpretation: “You know you’re getting on my last nerve!”

  8. Just checked out http://www.alibris.com (my favorite online used book source) and they have the Jack Taylor book for as low as 99 cents, althought they quickly get more expensive. You can buy it new for 30 bucks! (For that, I’ll reprint it and sign them for you!ha)

  9. How do you handle the phrase, “A lot of people have been coming to me…” or sometimes it’s, “A lot of people have been telling me…” (implying a large group)? When interpreted usually means a group of two: the person and their spouse/best friend.

  10. Responding to Lewis’ question, every pastor has sure heard that, I assure you. The best response is: name them. When a chairman of deacons sat in my office and told me the congregation was unhappy with me and a movement was going to be begun to get me out of that pastorate, he used those words. When he and his buddies tried exactly that in a deacons meeting, he saw how wrong he was. Toward the end of that four-hour meeting, he confessed to the group, “I thought the dissatisfaction with the pastor was stronger that this. I see now I was wrong.”

    Lewis is exactly right. Usually, the speaker is voicing his and his wife’s beefs. And the proper response is: “Who and how many?”