Pastoral Etiquette

Etiquette: a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.

I am currently doing some pre-marriage counseling with a couple. This morning I received this e-mail from the gentleman (names have been changed):

Hi Pastor John,

I have a request to pass to you from my fiance Dorothy. Feel free to decline if you are not completely comfortable. But, there is a married couple we know who are interested in receiving counseling with you. I am sure it is because Dorothy speaks of your help with such glowing praise! So, please let me know how to proceed, and again, please don’t feel obligated.

Hope you have a great day.


This was my reply:

Hi Clive,

Good to hear from you. I am so glad you and Dorothy are still enjoying the pre-marriage sessions and finding them useful.

Regarding the couple, may I ask if they are Christians and are part of a local Church? I ask this question because as a pastor (rather than merely a counselor) I am very sensitive in making sure that anything I do is never perceived in any way as what some call “sheep stealing.” That is when an individual or couple who are part of a local church assembly are prized away from the care of that leadership by an over zealous pastor. I know many pastors dont feel this kind of sensitivity in our day, but I feel it is very much like someone under the care of a doctor is encouraged by another doctor to be treated by them. Such a thing is not only extremely poor etiquette on the part of the doctor, but it may very well be illegal. It should never occur.

While meeting with me for marriage advice would not be a legal issue, I still feel the same principle of etiquette would apply and am very sensitive about this. I realise that I am more sensitive than most pastors on this issue. If the couple are part of a local Church, I would only wish to meet with them when there is full agreement between the couple and their local Church elders and that the elders give the go-ahead. If the couple are not under the care of local Church leadership, that is a very different matter. For instance, I was happy to meet with you and Dorothy because we have known each other for years and secondly, I knew you were not specifically under the care of local Church leadership.

Am I making sense?

Pastor John