How Do You Respond to Inappropriate Comments?

Lisa ordinationI think every pastor sometimes has to deal with terribly inappropriate comments. Sometimes people will blame the pastor for something stupid that a high profile Christian has said or done. God only knows how many times I’ve had to take the brunt of a joke because of Pat Robertson’s antics. Other times people will use the reception line after worship to take a jab about the sermon for the day when he or she knows that the pastor won’t be able to respond between shaking hands and kissing babies.

When the pastor is a woman, the intensity of these comments goes through the roof. Lots of pastors report being called “sweetie” and “honey.” I know one pastor that was inappropriately grabbed by an older man that had lost his filter. Others have been enjoined by their boss or their board to not put their work above their family, something that they would never say to a male pastor. Others still have talked about the way that the pastor’s kids (behavior, formation, etc.) reflect on her ministry.

I think that most pastors learn to have some prepared responses to the more common comments. Most people aren’t all that original, so you learn to be ready.

Pat Robertson said some ridiculous? “Yeah. If Christians really believed that then I’m not sure I would want to be one either.
A jab about my sermon? “I’d love to talk to you about that at an appropriate time.

We learn to prepare responses that will turn someone back to the way of formation, while also graciously letting them know that what they’ve done is inappropriate.

If we don’t prepare these responses, and sometimes even when we do, we can just be stunned by what we’ve heard. Check out this post by a woman that was complimented on her legs after she had just preached the Word of God. She just laughed. She didn’t think it was funny. She just got blind-sided and the laugh was what came out. It happens more than we’d like. And I’m guessing that it happens to young pastors more often than veteran ones. The vets have heard most of them and are ready.

I’d love to put together a collection of the responses that veteran women pastors have given in these situations. I imagine that even veterans could learn from some things others have said. But I think the rookie pastors will benefit the most from hearing some of the situations and responses that others have experienced.

So here’s what I’d like to do: Will you share some of your situations and how you responded? Maybe you didn’t respond well in the moment but you’ve prepared to respond better next time. Let’s hear those too.  I’m especially interested in responses that address the inappropriateness of the comments, but do so with an eye toward a pastoral response that is formative for their congregant. I will put them all together in a “Top 10” (or Top 20 if we have some great ones!) in a future post.

Follow my blog by Twitter or email in the right sidebar if you want to see that post. Please share this with other women ministers so that we can get their responses too!


  1. says

    I’m aware the Syriac Orthodox have a very simple solution to this though their clergy are all male. The clergy members are required to look as unattractive as possible growing big beards. Perhaps a solution would be to require ordination in all churches to only allow the most unattractive to become members of the clergy? Otherwise, I foresee that these people are always going to receive such sexual comments and that they just simply will have to deal with that. In the meantime, I will refrain from such comments and do my part though I cannot guarantee the entire masculine sex is going to do their part for these poor women.

    • says

      Though the point is not just sexualized comments, we all will have to deal with inappropriate comments. That’s not just “poor women” (a phrase that my female colleagues would certainly take issue with). It’s also not just men that place these unjust expectations on women…many women report that women are just as likely to place them on other women.

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