“I need you to do a funeral for my cat.”
Yes, that is a request made to a pastor by a church member. And here’s the stranger reality. I have heard from dozens of pastors who have had this very request.
I assume the cats in question were dead.
Though I have heard hundreds of strange and unreasonable requests made to pastors, five of them are common. In fact, most pastors will encounter all five of these requests in the course of their ministries.
- Ask certain people to leave the church. The common theme is the request to get people who are not like us to leave the church. A church member asked one pastor to have a separate church service in the trailer park for “those people coming to our church.” Yes, really.
- Accept a gift with unreasonable expectations. The most recent was the offer of a $10,000 gift if the church signed a document agreeing to keep fresh flowers on his grave in perpetuity. I assume he meant the request to be posthumous.
- Do a pet funeral. A recent example was the request to do the funeral of a turtle. Can we really know if the turtle is dead? I guess our olfactory senses will confirm its death.
- Travel out of town to minister to a distant relative. I lead a pastors forum called Church Answers and get a lot of great input and questions. One pastor in the forum asked me about a request a church member made for him to visit a cousin in the hospital. But the surgery was minor and outpatient. The one-way distance was 225 miles. And the cousin was active in a church in her hometown. The church member left the church because the pastor declined.
- Leave the church. Many pastors are asked to leave the church for the most outlandish reasons. I remember the first time a church member asked me to leave the church. She said, “God told her” I was supposed to leave because I was bringing too many unbelievers and new Christians to the church. And then she said the cringe-worthy words, “They are just not like us.”
Keep in mind, these five unreasonable requests are common. These are not the outliers. In fact, they are so common that I am now suggesting seminaries add a course for every one of them (tongue in cheek, of course).
You just have to love pastors. Their lives are often stressful, but never boring.
Posted on April 24, 2017
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
Recently I was told that if I didn’t do something and tell “those parents to get those children out of here, I will never come back to your church.” I didn’t and he hasn’t.
Good for you.
I’ll hop on the pet bandwagon (hit me with a 15-yard piling on penalty). Pet funerals are one of the simplest pastoral events we can do for a Parishioner. Care of pets at the end of their life is important to the caretaker and “all creatures great and small.” There is a lot of truth to the old saw, “if you want to know the character of a person watch how they treat babies and animals.” As a country parson there are few pets I wouldn’t bury.
I ran into a “Prayer at the death of a Pet”, early on in my ministry. From: Prayers for the Domestic Church by Edward Hays, p. 195. When I hear of someone loosing a pet, I send them a copy of this prayer for them to use if they so desire.
No one has actually asked me to do it for them… yet! 🙂
I disagree with the comments questioning the value of pet funerals. Behind each pet’s death is a grieving person. If it is a child, it is his or her first real grief. For a pastor to say that he or she considers that grief to be insignificant is a terrible message to send. As a dog owner married to a woman who drives hundreds of miles a month to pony express dogs from the South to the North where there is a shortage of dogs, I believe that you get perfect love from two sources spelled with the same letters: God and Dog. Everyone else is a bit unreliable in terms of real love.
Yes, sometimes it is a child’s first taste of grief. Some of us here have seen a lack of pastoral care even when a grandparent died. The pastoral care was first given to the widow(er) and/or the children of the deceased. Anyone further removed than that was ignored. Sometimes that little bit of pastoral care is the difference in someone getting to see Christianity in a good light or not.
You’re joking right? Are you actually comparing the instinctive pack mentality “love” of a dog with the sacrificing love of the Father that gave us eternal life?
I’m been a dog owner all my life but my dog did not die on the cross for me and Jesus did not die on the cross for my dog. Let’s get a little perspective.
As a dog owner, I get what he’s saying. A dog gives nothing back but unconditional love–no matter how hard the day or how difficult the circumstances, the dog is always there. In no way does it equate to God’s love, but is a crude comparison. Ithink the OP wasn’t driving at what you inferred at all.
Venerating animals in this way definitely smacks of paganism.
Being a pastor, I’m not at all surprised by any of these five, and I know we could come up with many more. I admit, however, that I paused at #3. I did a quick search and learned that there were 500,000 pet funerals in the USA in 2013. WOW. I never realized there were companies that specialized in this.
On the flip side, however, if someone or a family who lost a dear pet requested my presence to be with them to offer words of comfort, scripture, and prayers for them, I would not hesitate to do it. I would do it for the family. I guess it depends on the definition of “funeral.”
Good points, Joe.
Yes, it depends on the definition of funeral. As you define… sounds like a good thing…. however, it minimizes the grief of human loss and suffering if it is more.
I agree. My veterinarian is also an elder in our church and often prays with the families of dead pets. Not what I call a “funeral” but it helps the families at a stressful time.
“500,000 pet funerals in 2013.”
Maybe I should give up my church and do pet funerals full time!
Both my wife and I have been asked (unsuccessfully) to speak to “cat lady” about her hygiene, since no one in her small group would do it. Unbelievable.
Joe, I was asked to speak with a lady about her hygiene as well. I told her that that was the deacons job. ha.
I agreed with almost all of this article, except for the pet funeral. I’m a small church pastor, so maybe that has something to do with it. But I have done a funeral for a dog and I think it helped the family (who don’t attend church but whom I have befriended) see God and receive the ministry of the church in a difficult moment. It wasn’t a church funeral, but we stood out in the yard with the family by the dog’s grave. People shared memories of the dog, and we prayed and read Scripture. Simple but in my view real ministry. I would be honored to do a pet funeral again, and I see it as a request for pastoral care that should be honored, unlike these other crazy demands like asking people to leave the church.
I think it was a kind gesture for you to do the “pet” funeral. However, funerals take time to prepare, and in the case of a larger congregation, it could be overwhelming to expect a pastor to do funerals for pets. As long as the congregation knew that you were trying to be there for a prospect and did not develop the expectation that you would do funerals for all pets, then I guess I would have been right there with you on that decision.
FYI. Depending upon where you live, it is probably illegal to bury a pet in the back yard.
I was asked to leave me last church by a majority vote because I filled in for another pastor in a Sunday night service while he was on vacation. They thought I was interviewing for another job and apparently they have an unofficial policy that if a pastor interviews somewhere else they fire him.
Hate to say it, but,atbe, you should give them what they want. Doesn’t sound too healthy around there.
It wasn’t. A while back, Thom gave a list of ten signs of a dying church and it had 9 of them and only didn’t have the tenth because I knew better than to try and change the music style as the lead Deacon was also the volunteer music leader. One business meeting they literally yelled at me for 45 minutes because I had to have the propane tank at the parsonage filled twice in what had been the coldest winter in Oklahoma in about 10 years. Glad I’m not at the church anymore. I am still looking for another ministry position but am glad to have found a healthy church to attend in the mean time for my family and I to heal.
1&5 heard of the Great Commission?
2 God’s money or yours?
3 wow just wow.
Thankful for all you pastors put up with. Maybe have a pit bull deacon or lay elder to answer some of these ridiculous requests?
I love pit bull deacons!
Wow. I must be living in a bubble. I’ve pastored the same church for over 18 years and never had any of these requests. How funny…but then again, it’s not.
Your long tenure probably has helped you avoid many of these requests.
Thom, I recently received a copy of “Who Moved My Pulpit” through an unusual set of circumstances. I have read it five times. Two weeks ago I purchased “I Am a Church Member” and “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” I’ve read both several times. Someday I hope to have the opportunity to tell you how they have affected me and my congregation. “Thank you” doesn’t seem adequate. Blessings to you, brother, “exceeding abundantly above all that you ask or think.”
Thank you, Timothy. Your words are kind and encouraging.
#3 Pet funerals cause human life and death to be minimized. Is this cultural? Does the culture (and our) minimization of life occur because of things like abortion cause this mentality?
The pet is often a more beloved family member than some people are. I don’t think it is because of abortion. I think it has more to do with people not liking their own children for various reasons. When was the last time that you pastors and church leaders said anything to the group of parents about loving your children regardless? Everyone presumes that children are loved by it is not always the case.
I share your opposition to abortion, but God made pets and all animals, too. Scripture is full of celebration of the Creator and Sustainer of animal life. “Every animal in the forest is mine… I know all the birds of the air” (Psalm 50:11-12). “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalm 104:24). Can’t we appreciate children and God’s animal creation?
If a family wants to have a “funeral” for a pet, that’s their business, but why bring the pastor into it?
I’ve done several pet funerals over the years, so I’m with you. I knew a lady who prevented her search committee from calling a pastor, whom she admitted was otherwise ideal, because as they discussed the salary package he relaxed, crossed his legs, and she saw that his sock had fallen down. “I saw hair on his leg and I knew right then he could not be my pastor.” She vetoed him. She was probably doing him a favor.
Saved by a hair!
I’m a cyclist and shave my legs, wonder what she would have thought about me?
If seeing leg hair was bad, my own cyclist background suggests that shaved legs on a guy would be MUCH MUCH worse.
We have a very small group on Wednesday nights and use the choir room for prayer meeting rather than the sanctuary. I have been known to wear cargo shorts and sandals; nothing was said about my legs (that I’m aware of).