You're Not My Pastor

July 1st, 2012
Parishioners can't be your pastors.

It's 2001 and I'm in my first class at the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, Professor Tim Wengert’s amazing Lutheran Confessions course. 

At the time, Professor Wengert’s first wife was dying and he opened the class by explaining to us that, though he very much appreciated our concerns and prayers, he did not need or want all us pastor wannabes to try to comfort, console or minister to him.

He already had a pastor.

Those ten minutes were as good an explanation of pastoral boundaries as I have ever heard.

See, Dr. Wengert is a pastor and professor, and no matter the circumstance, it was not appropriate for him to try to get his spiritual and emotional needs met from his students, no matter how much he may have been hurting, and no matter how well-intentioned we were. He had somebody for that.  His pastor.

This is precisely where I would draw the line in pastoral boundaries—not the rote "don't be friends with parishioners" but "don't try to get your emotional needs met by them" because when you do bad stuff happens.  

This is the same line I would draw with pastors in social media. Don’t try to get your emotional needs met on Facebook. Don’t try to make your friends, followers, and readers into your little pastors, because:

  1. You will never get your emotional needs met in social media.  Period.
  2. Its using your parishioners and you won’t get it anyway.
  3. If you are looking for that, you’ve really got some work to do.
  4. You better get yourself to a real friend, pastor, spiritual director, or therapist. Now.

I like what Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote in her comment on Adam Copeland’s article Facebook Rules for Pastors: “My main thing is that I try to never put up any status update that seems to be emotionally fishing... My parishioners should not feel like they have to take care of me emotionally. I have real, live friends for that.”

Now, to be clear—for me, this is not necessarily the same as asking for prayers, admitting to having a bad day, sharing a life event, or declaring that your sermon sucks. I believe those things are okay, and, in fact, make us human, approachable, and real—and people often respond with great wisdom, compassion and humor.

But before you post you have to ask yourself, “Why am I posting this?  What am I looking for?  Sympathy?  Attention?  Intimacy?  To fill a deeper need?” 

If it’s any of those things, please step away from the keyboard.

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