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A Pastor’s Reflections: Wait for it!

October 18, 2016

As a pastor you will be the recipient of thousands of questions throughout the course of your ministry. At first, the thought of this can be quite intimidating: “How can I possibly be ready to answer questions about any theological topic?” I always tell my students, if you think exam questions are hard, wait until you stand at the back of the church and field questions after the sermon or stand in front of your Sunday School class and answer their queries. But the simple fact is, the more questions you field, the better you’ll get. And, chances are, there are probably no more than 20-30 questions that constitute the core of the vast majority that you’ll field. After a few years you’ll begin to realize that you’ve heard the same question before. A student once asked a seasoned colleague of mine, “How are you able to formulate such clear and excellent answers to all of the questions that you’re asked?” He responded with a smile, “I’ve heard most of these questions multiple times over the years and thus get to practice and polish my answers on a regular basis!” This doesn’t mean, of course, that you’ll never hear new or challenging questions—not at all. Rather, a good percentage of the questions you hear will be the same.

Given this fact, you should exercise caution when answering questions that you’ve heard before. One of my bad habits that I’m constantly trying to eliminate is answering a question before a person finishes speaking. As I hear the question I begin to formulate my answer and want to speak, but I tell myself, “Wait for it! Wait for the person to finish the question.” I do this for several reasons. First, interrupting people is rude. Second, I might interrupt the person because I think I know his question but may cut him off just as he’s about to say something I’ve never heard before. Third, it’s important that, even if you’ve heard the question before, that you treat the person as if you’ve never heard it. If you’re trying to convey how uniquely important each person in your church is, you can do this by quietly listening to their question and then answering it. People will appreciate this personal attention and patience. So in the end, wait for it! Wait for the person to ask his question, and then do your best to answer it.