Are some people more special than others? As the pastor, to whom do you owe your time? These are important questions because you will have people pulling on your calendar and schedule and you’ll have to decide to whom, among the many people you encounter, you should give your time. Let me illustrate this point. At any given time you will have people in your church who need consistent and regular counseling. You might set up a weekly time to get together with a person in your church who is struggling with a besetting sin. You might meet with him for prayer, Bible study, and counsel. But what should you do when you have a visitor to your church, a person who needs counseling and a large investment of your time? To whom do you give priority? To the member or to the visitor?
For me, this was always (and still is) an easy question to answer. I always gave priority to members of the church. You see, there are benefits of church membership. A church member has made a commitment to join the congregation, serve the other members of the body, and even contribute in various ways to the life of the church. The visitor, on the other hand, has made no such commitment. I have found over the years that many visitors would do their best to take up a lot of my time, use a lot of church resources, and then leave after a while. Like someone using a free trial membership, once the time came to make a commitment they would flee and move on to the next church to do the same. Too many people treat the church like a gym—once the church no longer suits their needs, they dispose of it.
As the pastor, you have an obligation to place the needs of your sheep first. Visitors are important—you should look out for their needs—seek to show them the love of Christ. But you must set some boundaries. I would meet with visitors, try to help them with their problems, but then I always ended the conversation with something like this: “I’m more than willing to help you, but you have to understand that apart from becoming a church member, I’m rather limited in what I can do. I have to take care of my sheep. They have, after all, made a commitment and joined the church. Moreover, they have brought themselves under the accountability of the elders of the church. Apart from church discipline, counseling lacks the needed teeth of accountability. If you are willing to join the church, then I can offer more assistance and counseling, but apart from membership, there is only so much we can do.”
Far too many are willing to shack-up with a church—they want to attend, they want to listen to the sermons, they want to receive financial assistance, they want the option to stay home on some Sundays—they want all of the benefits but none of the commitment or responsibility. These types of people can take you away from the sheep in your congregation, those who deserve your pastoral care because they have made a commitment to Christ and the church. Recognize that there are benefits to church membership, and you as the pastor must guard against neglecting your sheep.