1. Please forgive me.
Better than “I’m sorry,” which can often be followed with an “if” or a “but,” these words indicate a humble heart. Bad pastors hide their faults behind the cloak of their authority, practice self-defense against all charges, and basically pretend. Good pastors know they’re sinners and admit it.
2. You’re right.
Good pastors know they’re not always (not usually?) the smartest, most “spiritual” person in the room. They are zealous to give credit and acknowledge achievement and intelligence, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it encourages and empowers others.
3. You’re wrong.
Bad pastors chicken out when it comes to calling people on sin or biblical ignorance. Good pastors brave potential conflict and hurt feelings and say “You’re wrong” in gentle but firm ways when necessary.
4. Jesus loves you.
Why did we stop saying this? I think because it became cliché. I’d love to see a recovery of the art of “Jesus loves you.” Strategically said at times of others’ admissions of failure, sin, or trouble, “Jesus loves you” is a fantastic way to speak the gospel into people’s lives.
5. I love you.
I think one reason we stopped saying, “Jesus loves you” to people is because we don’t really love them ourselves. Might as well save the hypocrisy, eh? But good pastors lay their lives down for the sheep. Telling people you love them is a reminder to them and to you that sacrificial love is your calling.
6. Me, too.
Next to “Grace is true” (see below), these might be the most important words in pastoral counseling. Bad pastors trade regularly in “Not me.” In the pulpit and in the office, bad pastors set themselves apart from their congregations with tales of adventure, spirituality, and personal holiness. In the pulpit and in the office, good pastors talk of sin and trials and utter ineptitude and say, “Me, too.” I have seen entire countenances change when I’ve said some variation of “Me, too.”
7. Any time.
Of course, you don’t mean it literally. But you kind of do. Good pastors are available.
8. Thank you.
Bad pastors think they’re owed. Good pastors know everything is a gift.
9. Grace is true.
I think deep down we all want to hear, “You’re approved” (see below), which is why we find “Grace is true” such a radical statement. You probably won’t use the words, of course. But good pastors take the opportunity to glorify God by “talking up” his amazing grace every chance they get. Just 30 minutes ago, my writing of this post got interrupted by a visitor who wanted to talk about works and grace. I relished the chance to confirm his suspicion that grace is true. Bad pastors may say grace is true, but the context of their teaching and the expectations in their leadership say, “Your works must be this high to ride this ride.” I know some of my friends hate it when “gospel” is used as a verb, but I just have to say it: Good pastors gospel their people. 🙂
10. You’re approved.
Everyone wants to believe they have what it takes, which is why it’s such a bummer to hear the first half of the gospel and learn we really don’t. Don’t leave your people hanging. Be a good news pastor. Bad pastors beat their people up with their failures. Bad pastors are always disappointed. Good pastors know grace is true and Jesus is Lord, so they are ready to challenge every self-despairing soul with the wonderful truth that in Christ we are approved by God. Good pastors tell people they do have what it takes when they have Jesus’ righteousness. Do you trust Jesus? You’re all set, then.