The 10 Things I Get Asked Most as a Minister (And How I Answer Them)
Einstein said that “curiosity has its own reason for existing.” As if wonder has its own self-propelling magnetism.
Curiosity and questioning are daily menu items for a minister—especially as we lead those looking to lead godly lives.
So I thought I’d put together a few of the questions I get asked most.
Everyone has different questions (and here I’ll exclude ones like ‘How do I fix this paper jam in the copier).’
I won’t mention specific trials, but I want to share a few thoughts on the 10 things I get asked most (and how I answer).
Question #1 — How do you keep everyone happy?
This is a bit of a misunderstanding people have. My job isn’t to keep everyone happy and I’m up front about telling people that.
For one, it’s impossible to keep everyone happy.
Second, the Christian life isn’t primarily concerned with happiness.
And third, my job is to lead a congregation behind Jesus. In fact, I have difficult conversations almost every week with people because my job is decidedly not to make people happy, but to help us along as authentic followers of Jesus.
Question #2 — How do you “know”?
People often want clearer direction in their lives. Maybe it’s knowing God’s plan for them, or even that God is there. Maybe it’s whether a course of action is the right one to heal a hurting relationship. The list unfolds with great length.
We experience fog and would rather an open-sky sunrise.
So I encourage people to engage in practices that have given focus from time immemorial: prayer, Bible reading, worship, conversation with others, fasting, acts of service… There are more. But when we cultivate certain practices that draw us into God’s will, we gain greater clarity in our lives. Not always, but often. “Come close to God and he will come close to you,” as Jesus’ brother said in James 4:8.
And through your discernment, if the answers you are getting honour God and help you to love him and your neighbours more, you’re probably on the right track to “knowing.”
Question #3 — How do you stay positive in the midst of challenging circumstances?
Anything that is worth anything is work. A good marriage is work. Daily purpose is work. Finding time to rest is, ironically, work.
So is staying positive in the midst of challenging circumstances. But I do it. I work to make time for exercise, devotions, family, and celebrating victories. This all keeps me focused on how good God is and how joyful life can be. And that radiates.
Your love goes the distance for others because God’s love goes the distance for you.
My outlook on the world, and treatment of others, is not conditional on how bright things seem or how nice or deserving others are. But on my own experience of God’s continual goodness.
Question #4 — How do you maintain balance?
This is a priority for me and so people ask about it. Honestly, people ask me about this! Not only just out of curiosity because I’m involved in a variety of things, but because people want it in their own lives.
So, for balance? I am militant about it.
First, I trust that God is actually the Commander-In-Chief. Not me. Other perspectives flow out of that.
I don’t overwork (most weeks) because overworking is either perfectionism, a lack of confidence that others can be a part of ministry, or escapism from your own home life.
Plus, smart phones and other technologies are more prevalent than ever before and can suck you into unhealthy spaces when you’re supposed to be renewing yourself.
And this is good to keep in mind: Busyness (or un-balance) can also be laziness. (I know, doesn’t seem to make sense, but here’s why.)
Busyness can be laziness because you’re letting others set your priorities and schedules. Sure it can be hard with kids and jobs and sick family members. But if your life is so clogged that you can barely breathe, you need to do some heavy lifting to rearrange the deck before you get crushed by a falling piano.
To get up early to run, you need to go to bed early. To pray more and read, you need to watch less TV.
Small things lead to big things.
I set strict boundaries about not checking email after certain times. And I communicate to the church that, except for emergencies, I need alone time with my family. I’ve come up with a phrase: To be at your best, rest.
How much do you want it?
Question #5 — What’s changed so that so many people don’t believe anymore?
This is on a lot of people’s minds. There has been massive cultural change, especially in Canada after World War Two.
We’ve moved away from a wide acceptance of “Victorian-Era Values” (which were closely aligned with Christian values for a long time). And whereas “no religion” was a few percent according to census data in the 1950’s it’s now closer to 25% which is the 2nd largest “religious” category in Canada.
“Secularity” means that Christianity is now one option among many in how people give their lives meaning. This is the air we breathe, and our culture is setting new norms about what is “right” and “wrong.” (A question for us all to ask ourselves is, Who is setting the new moral compass of our culture and why?)
Some have argued, like Phyllis Tickle, that what is happening is a massive global shift which will actually reposition and strengthen the faith.
It’s complicated! But one thing needs mentioning: I personally feel that in Canada we have watered down Christianity so much that we need to do some work to live our faith more authentically. To reclaim and recapture. To again embrace being very different.
I prefer to focus on why people DO believe. That’s where the beauty and genius are found.
Question #6 — How can I help my kids believe?
We’re emerging from an era of faith-based-delivered programs. If we want our kids to learn piano, we deliver them to a piano teacher. So if we want our kids to learn about God, we send them to a God teacher or church. Right? Wrong. (Thanks for the example Diana Loach!)
Although faith-based programs such as youth groups, Sunday Schools, camps, small groups etc. can be a big help in a child’s faith development, the #1 factor is what’s happening in the home.
When families are praying, reading the Bible, serving together, talking about how their faith changes them, makes them different, and are living out that life, that is what makes the biggest impact.
There is so much more I could say on that one, but let’s leave that thought to digest for a while.
Question #7 — What do you dislike most about what you do?
People are curious!
And to be honest, the biggest thing for me is petty conflict. I just find it frustrating when you’re doing your best working for the kingdom and seemingly petty things get in the way.
But even the things that are frustrating are often moments for personal growth. How can I be loving in the midst of the daily? How can I learn patience and grow? Quite often what is “petty” hides a larger animal.
Question #8 — Why do bad things happen?
We live in a broken world and bad things happen all the time. Cancer, abuse, natural disasters. I wish they didn’t, but they do.
People want to know why (or if) God allows suffering. Or whether there is a greater plan behind the suffering? (I blog about this whole issue in more depth here.)
I wish I had a super satisfying answer to this. But I don’t.
What I do affirm is a great truth in Romans 8: 28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” I was reminded of that by someone who had lost an adult child. Although bad things happen (and we usually don’t know why), good can still result. And God is often most closely felt in the midst of incredible pain.
I don’t think God rejoices when bad things happen. I think his heart breaks. But I think he smiles when we contribute to a better world even in the midst of pain.
One of Jesus’ names is “Emmanuel” which means, “God is with us.” Always. That’s no coincidence.
Question #9 — What does God want me to do about…
I find it really encouraging when people want to know God’s direction for something in their life. And since the pastor is thought to have the “inside track,” why not as him or her!
This is related to question 2, but it’s more about specific circumstances. Perhaps the most general response I give is to prayerfully deepen your study of Jesus’ teachings. Sometimes they’re hard to understand or take. But they’re also liberating. As a general rule, here’s how I think about it: What God’s Son says goes.
If we can be directed by Jesus, we’ll do well in his orchestra.
Question #10 — How can I help?
I love this one!
It’s so amazing when people want to step forward and help. Some have gifts for praying, or administration, or being caregivers, or leading, or teaching. All of them are so cherished.
But quite often, the best help people can give is to go out and live out their faith. You don’t need to serve only in a church-sanctioned event or program. The world is large! Communities abound! People need you! Sometimes in surprising ways.
You’re the one who knows where and who they are. Sometimes your help is exercised is through the church—most times, it is not.
Not only is Jesus the door, but he flings it wide open.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
Maybe the reason is that you are still becoming who you are supposed to be.