Three Sentences Pastors Hate to Hear

By Thom S. Rainer

The most common place pastors hear one of these three sentences is right before they preach or right after they preach. Of course, the prayerful focus on their message is detoured and distracted immediately.

Frankly, I don’t see how most pastors make it to their sermons when they have been blasted by one of these bombs right before they preach. While three sentences are certainly not an exhaustive list, these are the three I hear most often. To this day, I cringe when pastors tell me they have been hit yet again with one of these three sentences:

  1. “People are saying . . .” This one is the coward’s special. Rather than speak for themselves, the critic hides behind the deceitful anonymity of other people. If you challenge the verbal sniper with the identity of the “people,” he or she typically responds smugly that they cannot say. They are not at liberty to reveal the identities of the dissidents. Anonymous criticism is not valid criticism. It should be dismissed along with the messenger.
  2. “I love you, but . . .” The only thing the critic wants the pastor to hear is the verbiage after “but.” The only thing the pastor hears is the verbiage after “but.” The critic tries to couch his or her concerns from a posture of love and concern. Baloney! This sentence is similar to the secular phrase from one person dating to the other: “I want to be friends.” There is no love in the statement to the pastor. There is no desire for friendship in the statement to the person in the dating relationship.
  3. “I’m just not getting fed here.” This infamous sentence has multiple possible translations. “You aren’t preaching the way I want you to preach.” “Your sermons are too long.” “You don’t preach from the book of Revelation enough.” “The podcast pastor is so much better.” “The church down the road is cooler.” Sometimes, the sentence is just a cover because the church member has a consumer mentality, and he or she has not received her preferences or has not gotten preferential treatment.

Most church members are good church members. Most church members really love their pastors. The few exceptions, though, are incredibly painful exceptions for pastors. Please prayerfully protect pastors from these verbal bombs, particularly right before they preach.

You will be demonstrating true love for your pastor when you do.

Posted on October 28, 2019

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.
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  • Once, right before a worship service, the bean-counter, property committee elder came to me and told me that a toilet was overflowing in the basement. For most of my time in leadership at that church, he wanted me to be part-time. It was his way of pointing out support for his on-going conviction that there were too many other expenses besides pastoral support. Good times.

  • Shane Moffitt says on

    Very accurate
    I’ve heard all 3
    The closer we got to the church split — the more frequent the comments

  • I remember walking out of my office and telling our Adm. Asst. that I was going to kill the next person that told me they loved me after a string of families said that and left. One, two weeks after she organized pastor appreciation!

    Are we allowed to interrupt and say: “You really don’t, but go ahead …”?

  • Walt Greenleaf says on

    When I was a young Pastor 30 years ago, I took it very personal when a congragent would tell me that “they weren’t being fed.” As I matured, I came to realize there was nothing I could have done or said that would feed them because they weren’t feeding themselves throughout the week. Instead of coming to glorify God, they were merely wanting to be spoon fed in hopes that it would last until the following Sunday.

    • Along that same line are the ones who claim, “My needs aren’t being met.” Jesus said He came not to be served, but to serve. Many of today’s church members want the exact opposite. They want the church to serve them, but they’re not so interested in serving the church.

  • David A Booth says on

    The correct response to #1 is: “And what do you say when you hear people saying that?”

  • lovelypeace says on

    I admit, I use the ‘I love you, but’. I do it because our pastor really is a great pastor. He had a real heart for our lord. He’s just a poor manager and that has caused a lot of problems in our church.

    We pulled our kid from the religious education program and told him specifically why and shared our frustrations. A lot of parents and families simply leave without an explanation.

    I get that pastors may not want to hear it, but in some churches too many people just leave and don’t try to work things out and make the situation better. And the pastor is so busy dealing with other fires that it just becomes one more to add to the pile. We have several toxic staff members and our pastor simply refuses to fire them. He’s taking the passive ‘they’ll be retiring soon’ approach – which means that these few people will continue to burn relationships in the church and continue to lead people away from Jesus.

    So we continue to deal in the best way that we know how. However, it breaks my heart that my kid will not be confirmed in the same church he’s grown up in. This church is our home church and we are a part of a lot of groups there, but our relationship is rocky because i love my pastor, but I have issues with the team he’s choosing to surround himself with. And the pastor has to know how his staff is treating people when they try to conduct business at the church. And he can’t know unless people tell him.

    As a lay member I can’t fire toxic staff people . I can pray about it and for the people involved, but there’s nothing else I can do.

    • Guy in the Pew says on

      I can empathize with your situation. I don’t know what kind of authority your pastor has but sadly many pastors are not vested with the authority to fire staff. In a church I formerly attended the pastor tried to fire a youth guy who was not only toxic but also corrupt. The youth guy had manipulated the deacons into believing the church couldn’t live without him. The pastor was forced to leave and the youth guy stayed, that is until half the church began boycotting.

  • Larry Wilson says on

    The problem is…
    Churches are full of people… hopefully.
    People are difficult… we are people…. we can be difficult.
    I have experienced everything Thom stated at one time or another over 20 years.

    I try to control my own weather.
    Otherwise these things can be so distracting.
    anyone—can say anything—at anytime.

    I try to approach everything with grace and as an opportunity.

    Grace usually disarms those who are looking for conflict.
    I also press the “problem” to be part of the solution.

    my 2cents, maybe a nickle

  • I have responded to these statements with:
    1. “Really? Thank you for telling me! Please go gather every one of those people and and figure out a time that we can all sit down and talk about it. I’ll rearrange my schedule so we can make the meeting work.” Every time I’ve done that there has never been any follow up.
    2. “Thank you, but what are you willing to do to help correct this situation?”
    3. In one situation I responded with “Have you tried turning off your phone and taking notes during the sermon, and then looking back over your notes during the week?”

    We can drag sheep to the Bread of Life, but we can’t make them eat.

  • Pasrors should not have a “Sermon ” , every week . they should go to God and ask directly, ‘what is the word that best suits my congregaton ” , or what can best alleviate the sufferings or situations in my church ” . Once that is done , and God gives the answer , then the Pastor should go ahead and deliver the word. Under these circumstances, then it does not matter what anyone says. All people [including Pastors should be treated fairly and in a Godly manner] but the people can or may say anything . Not all people in church are true believers or interested in the truth, the Bible tells us that . The true servant of God is not deterred by any schism .

    • Guy in the Pew says on

      Respectfully, I disagree with this approach. It sounds as if your saying that pastors can receive direct revelation from God. I know that’s probably not what you meant, but just “asking God for a message” usually leads to the same basic message delivered every week, hence some of the negative comments on this site. God gave us His Word for a reason: to be studied and communicated in it’s fullness. Prayer should absolutely be a major part of preparation, but so should detailed and systematic study of Scripture. God will speak through His Word if we take the time to study, proclaim, and apply it.

      This is also a better rebuttal against critics because you can simply point to what is written on the page of Scripture. They may not like it but they will find it hard to argue.

    • Sermons take hard work, and should be prepared weeks on advance. Your suggestion is a total cop out.

  • Gordon Weir says on

    I have certainly experienced #1.

    My response? “How many and who are they? If you can’t or won’t tell me, then this conversation ends here.”

    My suspicion is that it’s usually the questioner and his wife and/or co-conspirator/rabble-rouser. It usually sends them away with their tail between their legs.

  • Brian, please troll elsewhere.

    • Brian Attar says on

      Not trolling at all. Am I doing something wrong expressing my opinion?

      • Guy in the Pew says on

        Yes you are.

      • Mike Miller says on

        Brian, you are demonstrating the necessity of this kind of article. Your comments are harsh, critical, and demeaning. You think pastors should listen to criticism and rebuke. I agree. I think you should as well. When pastors and laypersons are pointing out sinful behavior in your life, you need to take heed. I’m praying for your pastor.

  • Gregory Lynn Ross says on

    I am a pew person, not a pastor. I don’t like “Christianese” as in “…being fed here…” I just say it up front – to myself – “the music stinks, I’ve heard the same stuff in Sunday school classes and from the pulpit for the last 60 years. Those with intellect will have to suffer through – as most churches do not challenge the intellect. Can’t you guys get creative and give a sermon on DNA, astronomy, radiometric dating, theistic theology, critical thinking, source criticism, etc? If you have evangelistic bones, you can weave this into your sermon. God is the God of all creation. Why do Christians need to stay in the cave stupid, not relating to a fresh college grad? Lazy minds – flows downhill, Ramp it up!

    • Maybe the “fresh young college grads” think too highly of themselves?

      • I have heard both sides of what Gregory and Ken are arguing. (I have a PhD in the hard sciences and want a high level homily too.) There are big city pastors who do try to weave high level topics into their homilies. Ken will say that the educated think too highly of themselves but there is a reason that the highly educated are leaving Christianity and not returning. Raising the level of Christian knowledge of the people is an admirable goal.

      • Define “raising the level of Christian knowledge”.

    • Guy in the Pew says on

      I agree many sermons are just recycled fluff and I have no problem addressing the assertions of secular, man-made science, but it sounds to me like you want to hear Man’s word, not God’s Word. God’s Word truly preached will challenge you far more than any evolutionistic, materialistic, “collegese” nonsense.

      I would say that most recent college grads may be well versed in radiometric dating (which is based on circular reasoning and assumption btw) but they know nothing about the Bible. All the hard science in the world cannot answer questions about eternity.

      • Agreed. Furthermore, many lessons in life can only be learned through plain old-fashioned experience. Most “recent college graduates” lack that (I’m a college and seminary graduate myself). That’s not their fault, of course, but they could show a little more respect for people who’ve been around longer than they have. Some of the wisest people I’ve ever known never attended college.

      • Gregory Lynn Ross says on

        Hi Ken – I was in a conservative church for many years. I came to realize – by way of embarrassment – that only teaching the bible – certainly doesn’t provide a complete body of knowledge. To sum up – I’ll just point to the phrase – “this is the word of God – every jot and tittle. Infallible, inerrant…” and “King James only…” I never heard about 200,000 textual variants, no extant autographs, the many interpretations by scholars within conservative theology regarding the end times, the book of Revelation, author(s) of Genesis, JEDP, and on and on. Mature Christians have hear the message over and over – we study and meditate on it at home. When in the presence of a Phd/Masters of Div – I expect to learn something new – otherwise I’m wasting my time. I refuse to be misled, manipulated, and embarrassed by lack of knowledge. Thank God for the internet/Wiki, and YouTube. Continuing to go over the same material week after week is insulting to the mind. Using other peoples materials, books, the Upper Room, DVD’s is such a cop out. Design your message/Sunday School material yourself – novel ideal! Get at a roundtable and actually have a discussion. Learn from others – stop being a lecturer. 70 year olds don’t need this unless they have a lazy mind. Ramp it up folks – get out to the cave. Read Anti-Intellectualism in American Life – Hofstadter and Scandal of the Evangelical Mind – Mark Knoll. Yes sir, I’m very upset for wasting many years of my life in Sunday School, thinking I was being educated. A well structured 2-3 year set of classes will get folks up and running – you want them to be teachers – not students for ever and ever.

      • 1. “200,000 variants” – That number is greatly exaggerated, and most of the variants are so insignificant that they don’t even show up in English translations.

        2. “No extant autographs” – The same can be said about Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Sophocles, and any other ancient writer. Should we toss them aside, too?

        3. The JEDP theory has absolutely no hard evidence to support it, and most of its original premises were disproved long ago.

        4. “Mark Knoll” – Do you by any chance mean Mark Noll?