Why refer someone to a pastor?
E.S. wrote in with a question regarding referring people to their pastors:
Lita referred a questioner to their pastor to get guidance. In that particular person’s case they may have received good guidance. It saddens me to say it may not be good advice in many churches. Unfortunately, where we live we have been looking for a church than teaches biblical Christianity, starting with Genesis through the death and resurrection of Christ. I know we receive a lot of entertainment, but also some doubtful teaching and man’s word. The evangelical church seems to be dying, as you have pointed out in several articles. I have talked with our pastor, he seemed to suggest we find another church, since we didn’t appear happy, we still attend and don’t make trouble. But it saddens me. I am thankfully for CMI and other sites like it. Unfortunately, Lita C. may want to give more complete answers, as many churches are not doing their basic job. I know it goes beyond the scope of your ministry. God bless.
Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:
Thanks for writing in.
Unfortunately, some churches may have pastors who are ill-equipped to answer the hard questions. I prefer not to assume that is the case, however. I have had a lot of people come back and report that their pastors were very helpful. In more than one case, further discussion with a pastor led them to the conclusion that they had never truly believed the Gospel, and that they needed to repent and believe in Christ.
There are a couple reasons I refer people back to their pastors if there is a chance they have a problem that needs more counsel than I can give in a short email message. First, the church is the institution Christ Himself set up for His people to gather to worship and encourage each other, building each other up in the faith. A person’s pastor knows them better than I do, and is more equipped to give personalized, ongoing counsel.
Second, there is a tendency to turn to a stranger on the Internet rather than someone face to face where a relationship of effective discipleship can develop. Often, the ‘stranger on the Internet’ is perceived to be an authority, but it’s irresponsible to encourage that sort of instinct. Tomorrow they could be consulting an ‘authority’ on an atheist website.
Finally, while I conceded that some pastors may be ill-equipped, I don’t think that is the norm. I have never once had someone come back and say, “My pastor couldn’t help me.” But I have had dozens come back and say, “Thank you for telling me to talk to my pastor, he was enormously helpful!”
To give an analogy, sometimes people write in with questions that are medical in nature, and we have to refer them to their doctor. I assume their doctor is competent, even though there is the occasional incompetent doctor. And if their doctor were incompetent, the correct course would be to find a better doctor, not for me to start giving medical consultations. In the same way, if someone did have an incompetent pastor, the answer would be to find a better church, not for me to start counseling them.
Of course, this is something which requires wisdom on a case-by-case basis; we answer many people every day. Not only is our small staff unable to counsel everyone, you are correct that one-on-one in-depth discipleship “goes beyond the scope of your ministry”. Referring them to their pastors means they get the continuing help they need, and it enables us to stay focused on our mandate to equip believers with a defense of their faith regarding the creation/evolution debate.