Ministry Is a Buffet

One of the things I learned very quickly when I became a pastor is that you can’t make anybody believe anything. People will do exactly what they want to do, think exactly what they want to think, and believe exactly what they actually think is true. As a pastor, you can’t force or convince people to accept anything that they don’t want to accept.

So what can you do? Pastoral authority doesn’t mean much these days, since all authority figures are under suspicion. Fancy robes and beautiful church settings can’t compare with media special effects. Promises of heaven and threats of hell aren’t taken seriously any more.

As a pastor, you do have a lot to offer. People are hungry for meaningful lives. Many sense that no matter how much fun they’re having, there should be something more. Some are stuck in terrible messes and need all the help they can get to find a way out. Some are struggling with pain and loss and need to know that they are not alone. Some would simply like to become better people, to lead better lives. As a pastor, you know that you have the resources to help, but how can you get those who need them to accept them?

The best that you can do, that any pastor can do, is offer. We can only prepare the meal, make it as tasty and appealing as possible, and put it on the buffet table. We can invite and encourage those we see, especially those who are so hungry, to come and help themselves. We can’t pile their plates with food, because they alone know what they are ready and able to eat. And we can’t force them to eat—it is their own choice.

A pastor’s job is to prepare the dishes, to make them as attractive as possible, and to invite people to come and share. We can’t force anyone to sit and eat. We can only prepare the meal and offer it, and let each one make his or her own choice of which elements to enjoy.