They want to tell you their troubles so you can dig into their psyches and help them feel or function better. Many seminaries and denominations seem to have bought into this model, to an extent, by imbuing pastoral training with a substantial chunk of therapeutic learning experiences.
For example, in my denomination, pastoral trainees are required to complete Clinical Pastoral Education, usually as hospital chaplains. They are not required to complete an internship in a business so as to learn how to be effective leaders or managers of the church.
Whereas some people expect you to be their therapist, others want you to be their teacher. They want you to instruct them in spiritual truths and to connect these truths to their daily lives.
As our culture drifts farther and farther from any notion of truth beyond subjective feelings, fewer people want their pastor to be their teacher. But, at the same time, a strong segment of the population has an even greater desire to be taught the truth from pastors.
This is true even and especially among the young. If you pay attention to some of the pastors who are most popular among Gen-Xes and Gen-Y/Millennials, you’ll find they tend to be teachers, often in quite an authoritative mode.
Whereas my generation (Boomers) wants theologically lite and practically heavy sermons, the next-gen folk, if they’re not sold out to postmodernism, want more theological substance.
Many people look upon pastors as professional friends. Your role is to be nice to people, to hang out with them, to laugh with them and to be there with them in difficult times.
One of the most unmanageable parts of pastoring Irvine Presbyterian Church was dealing with all the people who wanted me to come over for dinner or for their daughter’s birthday party. I liked doing this, but could never fulfill the hopes of the 1,000-plus people who called Irvine Pres home. I ended up disappointing a multitude because I wasn’t a good enough friend.
Once, an influential church leader came to tell me she was leaving the church because she was unhappy with me as her pastor. (Ouch!) When I asked what I had not done that she wished I had done, she answered simply: “You never sent me a birthday card. I need my pastor to know when my birthday is and to send me a card.”
In a nutshell, she wanted me to be her friend. I failed at that role.