If you’re a missionary, evangelist, or someone else who spends time trying to get in touch with pastors on the phone, I feel for you.
Pastors are notoriously bad at answering or returning phone calls.
I admit, I’m one of them.
It’s not because we’re lazy, disorganized or uncaring – not most of the time.
Here are 9 reasons it’s often hard to get a pastor on the phone:
1. There are too many calls to answer
I screen all my calls.
And I don’t return half of them. Because most of them are sales calls.
Unless your name comes up on my caller ID, I will not answer – and there’s very little chance that I’ll call you back.
“But you’re a pastor! Aren’t you supposed to be available to everyone?”
I’m supposed to be available to my family, my friends, my church members and ministry colleagues.
And I can’t be as available to them as I need to be if I’m answering or returning every phone call I get.
2. Good leaders are proactive
Answering a phone call is reactive. It’s talking on your schedule, not mine.
Waiting to return a call on my schedule is not a power move (although some play that game). It’s one aspect of proper time management.
Good leaders are more proactive than reactive. Proactive pastors initiate more conversations than they respond to.
It’s not that we never react. Emergencies happen and life must be responded to. But answering all or most phone calls keeps the pastor in a much more reactive mode than they should be in.
3. Most pastors don't have a phone on their desk anymore – or a desk
I don’t sit at my desk waiting for calls. Very few pastors do.
And, even if I did, there’s no phone on it. Old-school phone systems that go through a church secretary are fast becoming a thing of the past. They’re inefficient, expensive, clumsy and often unnecessary.
We have cell phones now. Which is great, because they can go with us anywhere. But it’s not so great, because they go with us everywhere!
4. We have personal lives
Sometimes we look at the name on an incoming call and just say “no”.
Because we have personal lives that must be guarded.
But what about the times people call pastors in the middle of the work day and still don’t get an answer? It’s often because a pastor’s personal life doesn’t always correspond to most people’s off-hours.
We work weekends. And many evenings. For many pastors, our time off is on a weekday. While other pastors wonder, Time off? What is that? And how do I get some?
5. Many pastors work full time outside the church
If the pastor you’re trying to get in touch with is bivocational, give them a lot of slack. Many pastors work a full 40-hour work week outside the ministry, then try to give the church as much of their time and attention as they can.
And please don’t think that just because your church is small, the pastor should be available for every member at a moment’s notice. The smaller the church, the busier the pastor probably is.
6. There are better options – especially for a first contact
Everyone has their preferred method of communication. I prefer texts, direct messages and emails to phone calls. Especially for an initial contact. It helps me prioritize my communication and make the best of my limited time.
If you’re making an initial contact with a pastor, try something other than a phone call.
7. Some things can wait
One of the hard, early lessons I learned as a pastor was that not every emergency is an emergency. Even when it seems like disaster will strike if I don’t respond right away, many problems either diminish or disappear on their own.
My immediate response is seldom as necessary as you or I think it is.
8. It’s not you, it’s us (except when it’s you)
As you can see from the previous points, unless it’s a sales call, pastors aren’t ignoring the phone on purpose. But sometimes we are.
Let’s face it, some people are a drain on resources. Especially our time and energy. It doesn’t mean we don’t love and care for them. But we have to draw boundaries.
This is not a typical reason for a slow response from a pastor. But it can be a valid one.
9. Some pastors are lazy and rude
Having said all this, a lot of pastors need to get better at interpersonal communication. It’s a big part of our job description, after all. And our holy calling.
When people with legitimate needs call us, they have a right to an answer.
Years ago, a missionary told me, “I know it’s hard to return a call to a missionary when you have to tell them ‘no’ to their request. But I’d rather hear a ‘no’ answer than no answer.”
Hearing bad news is better than being – or feeling – ignored.
A Note to Pastors: Do Your Best, Then Set Your Phone Down
Pastors, we need to stop beating ourselves up trying to please everyone. But there’s never an excuse to be rude or lazy.
Many of us need to get better at this. Myself included.
All legitimate calls deserve a response. Either from us, or a surrogate. People need to know they're not being ignored.
Then when we've done what we can, we need to lay down the phone - and the guilt. Stop checking our email. Know that we did what we could. And leave the rest in God’s hands.
Copyright © 2016 by the author and Christianity Today.
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