Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pastors Aren’t Toilet Paper

The elders who direct the affairs of the church are well worthy of double honor, especially those whose works is preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 5:17

Pastors and toilet paper serve an important function in our lives; both help clean up the messes we make. Unfortunately, like toilet paper, pastors are often discarded after use. Here is the problem; pastors aren’t toilet paper.

It’s normal for ministers to counsel people outside the confines of their congregations. When dealing with sensitive issues, this offers an additional level of privacy. Pastors recognize the temporary nature of these arrangements. They pour themselves into helping the individuals knowing full well the relationship will end sometime soon. That’s expected. What happens oftentimes is this. People in the church under the pastor’s care develop serious problems. The pastor spends enormous amounts of time and energy helping these congregants navigate the difficult storms of life. Hours are spent listening, counseling, praying with and for these folks and then…poof, they disappear. Emotionally drained, the pastor is left alone without as much as the courtesy of a phone call or personal visit to say, “I’m leaving.” Many times they learn about the person’s departure second and third hand.

I’m not suggesting that ministers use pastoral counseling as a means of recruiting and maintaining church members. The shepherd’s responsibility is to care for the flock. Sheep don’t go out looking for a new shepherd; they won’t follow an unfamiliar voice. People aren’t always that smart.

There are times when leaving a fellowship is the right decision. My pastor shared with me that at times God gives him a heads up that a change is coming. This doesn’t make a person’s departure any easier, but having the assurance that it’s God’s will for both parties lessens the pain. When people disappear without a trace, it hurts. Pastors have feelings too. Knowing people will use them and walk away comes with the territory, but it doesn’t make it something they can just shrug off.

Paul wrote Timothy that those who serve in responsible positions in the church, specifically those who preach and teach, deserve double honor. Pastors fit in that category. Part of showing honor is extending courtesy and respect. Pastors don’t want people to leave, but its part of life. If you feel it is time for you to go, don’t vanish into thin air. Tell your pastor, in person, that you’re going. They may not agree with your decision and even try to talk you out of it. That’s just part of being in a relationship. Ultimately the choice is yours alone to make. Letting he/she know will help make your leaving a little bit easier and will keep the lines of communication between you both open. Sometime in the future you may need them again. Unlike discard toilet paper that is gone forever, you’ll have a “clean sheet”, so to speak, to start fresh.


  1. Mary, that is SO well said. I experienced being discarded like toilet paper many times as a pastor. Some people do just "disappear". Others tell the pastor but in the wrong time and wrong way. This was twenty years ago, but a woman called me out of the blue on a Saturday night to tell me that she and her family were leaving the church. I told her that informing me on a Saturday night over the phone was "tacky". She later contacted me to say she'd looked up "tacky" in the dictionary and that it meant "low class behavior". She was insulted. I just let it be, but frankly leaving a church and not speaking to the pastor at all about it, OR leaving a "hit and run" note on his desk, OR a surprise phone call at 9 p.m. on a Saturday is, well, TACKY!

  2. Thank you Mary for touching on a much ignored issue that we as Ministers must often face. I think we sometimes also get a just a small taste of what the Lord endures with some of His children. He only hears from them when they need something or are in trouble of some sort. It is so encouraging and refreshing when members of the flock call or stop by, just to express appreciation for the Pastor or Minister's service and support.

  3. Mary:
    I am guilty of 'disappearing' from a church a couple of times in my past. I felt that no one cared whether I was there or not. The second time, the pastor spent a whole Sunday sermon telling the congregation that he had been called to another church in the east part of the US. I had issues with him. I let others in the congregation know of my decision. There again, I felt that he really didn't care about us. One thing that happened after I found a new church was my husband found the Lord. People at the new church were praying for me and the circumstance that I had to live with. At the previous church, the people knew of the issue I faced but some of them found it something to laugh at.