It took me two seconds to screenshot this Tweet from an active parish minister, save it and share it.
Before I get into how to manage this kind of request, let me say that it is never, ever advisable to reference a communication or conversation with an individual from your church or ministry practice on social media. If your parishioner could recognize themselves in a critical post, delete it. You are destroying trust and your post might even be construed as a violation of confidentiality.
If you want to use your socials as a passive-aggressive management mechanism, then by all means talk trash about your clients or parishioners! And good luck with that.
I say this myself as a social media pugilist who fights a lot of people on-line and with great gusto! The people I don’t discuss online are those in my spiritual care, unless it is to post general comments about the work of ministry on my own private Facebook page where only friends will see it. I save all “can you believe someone behaved like this” content for closed clergy support groups conducted on Zoom or Signal.
Don’t assume that anything is ever private; it took me two seconds to screenshot this post and to link to the thread that follows (which is a great conversation!).
We can all agree that no one loves to get vague requests; it is a best practice to ask for meetings and to be asked for meetings with a sense of what the topics will be. For my own ministry, I need to know how to prioritize: I immediately clear my schedule for people in serious crisis, whereas a casual exploratory conversation about programs or the church in general get scheduled like any other meeting. Board leaders and ministry team chairs get my attention right away for a brief check-in, during which we may schedule a longer talk for as soon as we both have time. I drop everything for the board president because the person in that role often has immediate business to deal with, and they have almost always been a person with a full time job handling a huge amount of responsibility on behalf of the church. I am there for them 24/7 and so far, no one has ever abused that ultra-availability. Your mileage may vary.
So again, this is a great conversation! I agree with the colleagues who advise a response of “Sure, I’m happy to meet but I need to know the general topic so I can plan.” That’s not an unreasonable request, but help your caller identify their category. Are they in crisis? Do they need spiritual support for a family/job/life issue? Are we talking about leadership? Are we talking about programming? Are we talking about staff issues? Is this a general complaint/venting?
All of these things are legitimate, ordinary reasons to want to talk to the minister. None of them should cause you, the pastor, undue anxiety: you have adeptly responded to all of these kinds of needs in the past, and you will in the future. We are all a bit fried right now, trauma-reactive, and we should be able to recognize that, get extra support for it, and even explain this in a non-anxious way to our people. Honesty, what a concept! Remember that how we respond to things that make us anxious are still a model for our communities.
“I’d love to meet. I do have a lot of scheduled meetings in the next several days, but I want to make time for you right away if this is a crisis. Please be honest, are you okay?”
“Happy to get together. It would help me know how much time to schedule if you give me a sense of what’s on your mind.”
“I’d love to talk to you, I know you’ve been frustrated with x lately, do you think we should include So-And-So in our conversation?”
I code my conversations in my calendar, and I really like doing that as it normalizes every kind of conversation we are likely to have: “Pastoral/Leadership/ProgramIdeas/ComplaintDept/RightRelations”
From my vantage point twenty-five years into parish ministry, I can confidently say that the vast majority of “Can we talk, I want to tell you something” requests are not about you at all, and are nothing to be anxious about.
Take care of yourselves and your anxiety, pigeons. Kiss of peace.