Thursday, September 14, 2017

What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

When I put the phone away, my wife, seeing a puzzled look on my face asked, “What was that about?” I began to tell the nature of the conversation and before I was finished she replied, “You get asked the strangest questions.” She has no idea.

Sometimes pastors receive some really odd questions. The occasional strange question though is greatly overshadowed by the questions that greatly weigh on your congregation. Pastors are often one of the first sources people turn to know how to respond in a God honoring way to the cares and crisis of life. Many times a situation is presented and someone wants to know what to do, and you, who are supposed to be the one who walks with God, have absolutely no idea what to say.

There are some steps you can take that will help you to know what to say when you don’t know what to say.


Listen and while you are listening silently ask the Lord for help. Just as Nehemiah quickly prayed when he was called up to the presence of the king so you need to silently pray while attentively listening. “Lord, help me to know what to say!” is never a bad prayer in a crisis.

Know your limits.

Even if you are expected to be an expert in all fields, the reality is you are not. You need to know your limits. There is nothing shameful or unloving about directing a couple to a qualified Christian marriage counselor when the issues in their marriage are beyond your level of training. Don’t let your pride keep them from receiving the help they need.

Repeat what they said.

Nothing is wrong with your hearing but often your listening is a little vague. You should repeat what they said for several reasons. First, you need to be clear that you heard what they said. When you say, “I heard you say …” or “what I am hearing you say is …” and then repeat or summarize what they have said, not only are you assuring the person talking to you that you are listening, but you are also doing the hard work of clarifying what was said and what was meant by what was said.

A second benefit of repeating what they said is often when they hear the same words they used coming out of another person’s mouth they can come to their own conclusion. When they said it, it sounded like a great idea. Hearing it from their pastor’s mouth can make it sound like the worst idea in the world. Repeat back what you heard.

Respond graciously.

Paul in Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious.” Being gracious is a manner of how we speak. The tones that you use and even the body posture you assume goes a long way in extending pastoral care in that crisis moment. Your role is to help them to think biblically about the issue they are wrestling with. The tone you use goes a long way to accomplish this goal.

Respond in a palatable manner.

Paul continues in the same text to say, “Let your speech always be…seasoned with salt.”

In my home popcorn is a staple. Popcorn has to have the right balance of butter and salt. Not enough salt and it falls flat. Too much salt and you have to throw it out. Salt influences what it touches making it palatable.

Our conversations must use every word as seasoning. Influencing the topic for good rather than escalating things with a flippant response. As a pastor, you may not get to choose the issues that require your shepherding care but you do get to choose how you respond.

Pastor, sometimes you will get asked strange questions. That’s ok; you have some strange questions of your own. Resist the un-communicated expectation and pressure to know something about everything. You don’t. Nor should you. You may not get to filter every question that comes your way but you always get to choose how you respond. For the Kingdom’s sake, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Col. 4:6).

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