The Discipline of Hospitality: The Pit-Stop
Last time we looked at non-emergencies. This time around we will finally look at the type of situation that prompted this entire mini-series; namely “How to Handle the Pit-Stop.”
What is the “Pit-Stop?”
The “pit-stop” is a well-known occurrence to those who have been in ministry for years and years. Many of us reading this post, myself included, have been guilty of it. I likely owe my pastor back home in Tennessee a serious apology for it. (Grandmother, please make sure you forward said apology on to Bro. Milton. Thank you.)
The “pit-stop,” simply stated, is the random, unannounced, unscheduled visit at the pastor’s house by a member of the church. These visits may be legitimate “drive-ins” or they may be called. By called I mean someone simply says, “Hey pastor, I’m coming over, I need to talk to you” or more likely “I want you to meet me at such-and-such time at this-or-that place, I got a problem.”
Notice I said “member of the church” there. People who are not church members are normally not included in this, though they may well be guilty of such pit-stops. Normally, pit-stops by those who are not members of a pastor’s church tend to be those who have some kind of humanitarian need, such as the homeless or the hungry. However, due to the unique nature of my ministry and that of my friend (whose situation is what we are addressing here), we will include non-members in this discussion. These non-members may be affiliated with you by virtue of prior relationship, frequent visitation of/participation in your church, or by way of relationship with your church members. Or they may simply know that you are a pastor and as such presume on your hospitality whenever it strikes their fancy.
I am convinced that the “pit-stop” is the only legitimate time we may say “no.” The pastor’s house is not a place where we can pull in the driveway, get our spiritual 87 octane (and for free instead of the current $2.77 a gallon, to boot), and drive out happy. I’m about to hate myself for the way I’m about to characterize it (and this would be a great topic for a new mini-series), but that is what church on Sunday is for. If someone is just looking to top off their spiritual tanks, they can do it on Sunday, not at my apartment. I’d send them to Starbucks rather than church, but as I’ve posted before, that isn’t really the church. 😉
But at the same time, we must use wise judgment before dismissing every unsolicited knock on our door or demand on our time. Evangelism and discipleship do not always take place in the vacuum of the church. Sometimes we must allow it to take place in the context of a random encounter at our homes or elsewhere. Before you turn away a person who turns up at your home, please make an effort first to use the “hospitality triage” I referred to in the last post. Determine if it is an emergency, and if not determine if any priorities are violated if you take the time to be with that person.
With a “pit-stop,” I would like to introduce another factor in the triage. Take into account the maturity level of the person. Is this person an otherwise mature believer? Is the person a babe who has to be led by the hand? Is the person an aspiring minister? That last one speaks volumes to me; I don’t know if I would be in ministry at all if Bro. Milton back in Tennessee hadn’t been willing to put up with me during that time when I struggled with the call as a young teen. All thanks (or anathemas *wink*) are due to his Godly patience with a young kid who didn’t know any better.
It is all right to spend a few minutes finding out why the person is there. Talk with them. Encourage them. Pray with them. Take their reason for being there seriously. But do not let their random visit cut into any of your priorities. Admonish them to contact you first before coming to your home or requesting of your time. They would want you to respect their home and their time in the same way; you also have the right to have your home and time respected.
What is a reasonable amount of time for these “pit-stops?” Depending on why the person is there, and if you have the time to spare, I think it would be fair to allot the same time you would to a counseling appointment — no more than 1 hour. I’ve learned that’s how long I can comfortably stand next to my car (or on my dad’s front porch) talking to someone unsolicited before I start getting irritated. And we can’t afford to get too irritated with someone we are trying to help. If the pit-stop cannot be redirected to an appointment or to another time, take this time to focus on the person and do what you are able. The person may be going through a crisis and in need of the ministry of encouragement; by all means do not deny them that encouragement!
But what about those who are constantly stopping by? I feel there is a need here to take a hard line. If it becomes apparent that a person is constantly stopping by unannounced or constantly calling on your hospitality, you must enforce your boundaries. It is obvious that such a person may have become inappropriately attached to you. Such relationships are destructive, to both you and the other person, as well as your family and the church. Especially if that person is of the opposite sex! When you are constantly devoting your energies to this one person and their shopping list of needs, not only will you begin to neglect your family and the rest of the church, but your family and the rest of the church notice and can become jealous and resentful. I should not have to explain the chain reaction that can potentially follow. Suffice it to say “train wreck.”
A “pit-stopper” should not be allowed to monopolize your time in the church or out of the church. More importantly, your time in the home leading your family should never be usurped by a constant “pit-stopper.” You will need to set parameters for which that person will be allowed to have contact with you. You could decide that “appointment only” is the only time this person will be allowed contact. You could decide to make sure any meeting is in the presence of witnesses. You could even decide to stop contact altogether. “I have enjoyed our talks and I am glad to have helped you, but it is time for you to stand on your own. You have your own race to run; I cannot run it for you!” If there are others on your staff (if you have a staff) or in your church whom could help the person, do not be afraid to delegate. Call on your fellow-believers for help in providing what is needed. You are just the pastor, not a Super-Hired-Holy-Man-Who-Is-In-Many-Places-At-Once.
If the person continues to persist in treating you as a “pit-stop,” it may be time to practice church discipline according to Matthew 18. Gently confront the person. If they will not listen, get witnesses to the person’s behavior and confront them again. But don’t stop there. If the person still won’t listen, bring the issue in front of the church. If they will not listen even to the church, we are to treat this person as if they are an unbeliever in need of the Gospel. You may have to remove them from membership (if they are a member) or from fellowship (if they are not a member) until such time as repentance and reconciliation has taken place. I won’t kid you: this will hurt. It may even cause some strife as the person acts out bitterness. But if it means you are now able to faithfully execute your priorities as well as true hospitality, God will bless you and your church by working to bring good from the situation.
If the behavior continues even beyond church discipline, you may have a stalker on your hands. Sever all contact. Get wise counsel from other pastors you trust as to what recourse to take in this situation. It may be necessary to take legal avenues for your protection and that of your family. Above all, pray for this person and forgive them for their behavior.
Well, I think I have exhausted this topic. I want to invite any of you readers who have navigated this scenario to comment with what solutions to this situation you arrived at. I may be on the spot; I may also be completely wrong. I think I have thought this through and arrived at a reasonable outcome. Let us put our minds together for His glory! Thank you for reading this mini-series!