One of the strangest tendencies I’ve found in ministry is that people will meet you for the first time and tell whoppers—huge lies. I’m not sure why they do this, but they do. I suspect they don’t tell these lies out of malice but out of a desire to have people like them. Perhaps it’s a nervous reaction, or something of the sort. What types of lies do they tell? Let me provide three examples.
First, as a pastor of a mission work my congregation met in a rented public school facility. I always hoped and prayed for something more permanent, but real estate prices being what they are, I knew that it would likely take as much as a million dollars or more to buy five acres of land (the minimum amount of property for a church in my local municipality) and build a basic structure suitable for worship and Sunday School. From time to time visitors would come, enjoy worship, and talk to me after the service. Not once, but at least on several different occasions I had people tell me, “Oh? That’s all you need? I think I can help you get that.” The first time I heard this I became excited at the prospects of getting financial help for the church but had my hopes quickly extinguished when nothing ever materialized. The second and third times I heard this promise, I guarded my expectations with a healthy dose of skepticism and saved myself heartache when nothing later materialized. Why would you say something like this if you had no intention on following through with it?
Second, from time to time we would have first time visitors and I made a point of greeting them, as did a number of people in the church. We were always encouraged but especially excited when people indicated that they wanted to join. On several occasions I had some of these first time visitors tell me, “We’ve been searching for a new church home for a long time and we think this is it! We love your church and want to join.” I was surprised but nonetheless excited. Sure, it was a little precipitous, but why not. Once again my hopes were dashed upon the rocks of reality when these families never showed up again. I tried calling, writing, e-mailing, and the like. Nothing but chirping crickets and a big ball of tumbleweed blowing by. Why would you say something like this if you had no intention of joining the church to begin with?
Third, after church I would make an effort to talk with as many people as I could. In the course of these post-worship discussions I frequently heard the following: “Oh we’d love to have you over some time. Perhaps dinner? We’ll be in touch.” What happened afterwards? Nothing. I sat by my phone like a geek with a pocket protector waiting for someone to call me to go out. Why would you say something like this if you had no intention of making good on your invitation?
In each of these scenarios it seems like the old movie theater rule is best: silence is golden. There is no need to impress people with the amount of money you might be able to give to the church. There is no need to tell people that you will join the church, especially if it’s your first Sunday. And there is no need to tell people you will invite them over if you’re not truly serious about it. Quietly investigate whether you can help the church and then write the check! Don’t tell the pastor you want to join unless you’re truly ready to pull the trigger. And don’t tell people you’ll invite them over unless you’re ready to pull out your calendar and set a date right then and there. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. Or, in biblical terms, “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no” (James 5:12).
As a pastor, be aware that people will do these things to you, but also be mindful that you don’t do them to others. As a church member, don’t do these things either!