Stop Saying Yes

Pastors, stop accepting requests for meetings that don’t detail the reason for the meeting.

This practice saves you from “ambush meetings” all pastors experience. “Ambush meetings” begin as a request to meet. The pastor happily accepts, no questions asked. The meeting time comes, and after some niceties, the person hits the pastor with an issue they are having with the church or him. At that moment, the pastor can feel the mood change and realizes this was the purpose of the meeting all along. Every pastor knows this feeling of being blindsided.

In my early years of pastoring, I ran into this buzz saw a few times. I eagerly accepted meetings without question. “Sure! What days or times work for you?” I’d ask. But after a few meetings where I felt betrayed and tricked, I changed my approach.

Determining the need

I remain eager to meet with people. As a pastor, I love connecting with people and want to be as available as possible. But now I respond to meeting requests with something like, “I’d be happy to meet with you!” If they didn’t tell me why they want to meet, I follow with, “What would you like to meet about? This helps me to be prepared for our time together.” There is nothing wrong with asking this question. Their response determines your next step.

They could say, “Oh, I’d just like to sit down and grab coffee to get to know you better.” “Great,” I’d say, “let’s get it on the schedule. What are the best days and times for you?”

There could be many answers where this response applies. They could want to learn more about the church’s vision and direction. But if they respond with something like, “I’m having faith struggles,” or “I have theological questions for you,” or “I’ve got concerns about the church.” Any answer of that type will lead me to reply with, “Okay, got it. Can you tell me about that topic that you want to dive into when we meet?”

My responses aim to draw out any issues not addressed in the request to meet. Notice that something like “faith struggles” isn’t a negative meeting, but I still want to know what I’m walking into. Is it doubts about the Bible or feelings of guilt over past sin? Those are two different issues. Knowing in advance of the meeting helps you better minister to the person.

Preparing for meetings

Some people—most of who have never been pastors—don’t like this approach. They complain it is unpastoral, but I disagree. It is far better for me to walk into a meeting knowing the topic than it is to enter ignorant and unprepared. The person who doesn’t desire to share their intentions is possibly someone with bad motives. When I request more details, I’m protecting myself and serving them. This isn’t a tactic for avoiding confrontational meetings. It is a model for being prepared to discuss the topic at hand. I’m fine with accepting a meeting scheduled to address problems or complaints. I just want to know what it is in advance.

If the person responds to your inquiry with more details, respond accordingly. For someone wanting to discuss predestination, I may ask them what their background on that topic is, what they believe, and what passages or resources they’ve studied. Why? Because I want to know if they are someone who watches YouTube theology videos all day or someone who just discovered that the word “predestination” is in their Bible.

Someone may have a problem with something at church. But when I ask for clarity about specifics, they say, “My student is having problems in the student ministry.” The follow-up response may be to see if we can connect them to the student pastor. I can join the meeting too, but notice that solutions come into view when there is clarity about the meeting’s purpose rather than blindly accepting the request. Different church sizes will determine how many meetings a senior pastor can say yes to. At some point, pastors need to delegate some face-to-face meeting requests to others. Not every problem is something a senior pastor needs to solve. But a system for handling meeting requests will help every pastor, regardless of church size.

Declining meetings

What happens if the person requesting the meeting refuses to reveal the purpose and nature? First, I may ask them if that is because there are legal implications or danger of physical harm to someone. Perhaps their secrecy is for a legitimate reason. In that instance, I may ask if I can call them to discuss it and then proceed forward. Second, if there is no reason for withholding the meeting content other than maintaining an element of surprise, then I tell them as kindly as I can, “I hate you will not tell me about your meeting request. But since you will not tell me the nature of it, then I don’t think it is wise we meet.”

I don’t enjoy that. But if someone doesn’t want to reveal their goal for the meeting, it’s a red flag. The only exception I would make is if someone else attended with me. This provides another witness to the discussion.

Being blindsided in these meetings has hurt many pastors. Getting hurt is a part of ministry. You never eliminate that. But following this framework helps you minimize unnecessary hurt, enter meetings prepared, and use your limited time wisely.

Erik Reed

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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