Did you ever find yourself making time for the same person over and over again? Are there people in your church that are known to be “needy” or “attention seeking”? As pastors, you encounter a variety of personalities and backgrounds in the people that attend your church every week. Each of them have different needs, strengths and weaknesses. However, there are times that people pass through the church that require a large amount of attention and time. Sometimes, these parishioners have tragedy after tragedy in their lives. Others, may be asking for money because there is always lack in their lives, regardless of the resources available to them. Believe it or not, some pastors are dealing with people who feel the need to discuss every complaint they have about people and the way things are done in the church. In churches across the nation, these people are written off as “attention seeking” or “needy”. More often than not, they are experiencing deeper issues such as anxiety, rejection or simply, victims of family dysfunction.
Because God has called us to work with those in need and to build disciples, pastors do not think twice before working with these people. Pastors take time to get to know their sheep, pray for them and guide them. The problem arises when pastors are constantly being interrupted with the same issues they addressed the week prior. When these “needy” parishioners begin to expect or demand the pastor's time, the relationship is approaching codependency.
It is essential that pastors recognize this behavior as soon as possible for the emotional health of both the pastor and the parishioner. This unhealthy dependence on the pastor can hurt both parties individually. Once a pastor is constantly pouring into this person without any improvement, the relationship will become draining. The pastor will soon begin to dread meeting with this parishioner causing the meetings to be unproductive. Encouraging this dependency, will not help the parishioner. It is simply putting a bandaid on their issues.
The best way to work with parishioners who require extra attention is to first, set boundaries. As pastors, it is likely that you already have some sort of boundaries established between yourself and the church members. If you do not already, make sure you establish and communicate clear boundaries. These boundaries should include the amount of time you will meet, how often and what is expected of both yourself and the parishioner. This way, it is clear on both ends, about what can be done to help and what is out of your reach.
The best attention you can give a person that requires extra is the love of Jesus and support. Now this does not mean all of the love and support needs to come from you! Lead these parishioners to seek resources from the community. Ask them if they have friends or family they can depend on. If the person you are working with appears to have chronic need or a history of unresolved problems, encourage him or her to seek professional help. As I mentioned before, many of the people requiring extra attention are struggling emotionally. Some people may be hesitant to take the step towards getting counseling and support from their pastor may be just what they need. What better help than to teach them to lean on God and the resources available to them?