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Pastor: Dismiss the E-Junk, Not the Sender

I have grown accustomed to these Internet parables, though I rarely use them in my preaching. But these good luck messages still bother me, especially when they come from church members. As a pastor I wonder how to respond.

As a pastor, I am called to a particular congregation and to love and lead a group of people. Appreciation for how church members feel about life and what concerns they carry is an important quality for any minister. It would be rude not to listen to a story they told while visiting them in the hospital or in the grocery store aisle. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
But what about their e-mail stories? Am I free to dismiss them when no one is looking and hope they don’t ask about the e-mail in church on Sunday?

A red flag is raised when the subject line reads “Send to your friends” or “This really works.” Inevitably a short story that may or may not be true is attached that teaches some lesson anecdotally about faith, hope, survival or gratitude.  

After scrolling and reading at the same time—a well-practiced technical exercise—the last few lines appear and unveil the plan. “Send this to 10 of your friends in the next 30 minutes and make a wish. It will come true within 24 hours. It really worked for me. I met my future husband in the parking lot right after forwarding this e-mail.”

I have grown accustomed to these Internet parables, though I rarely use them in my preaching. But these good luck messages still bother me, especially when they come from church members. As a pastor I wonder how to respond.  
Is it proper to send a polite reply in gratitude for the story but correct the theology at the end? Does southern hospitality rule the day and therefore the moment passes with nothing said? Or do I preach about the American obsession with luck and its cultural foundations but theological ineptitude?

One particular church member sends these stories a lot. And just as I was preparing my response one day, the next e-mail from her came with a little disclaimer: “This is a touching story; just ignore the junk at the end.”

My heartfelt hopes had come true. Yes, indeed, the church members who forward these stories are of noble intent and sound theology. This woman is the new paradigm that informs how we should imagine those who forward e-mails.   
Now I am free to dismiss easily the “junk at the end” without dismissing the sender. I may even be able to read some of the stories from my wife’s aunt now!

I may even send this as an e-mail to 10 of my friends, just to let them know that I now trust in them again for the content of their character and not the content of their e-mail.

Jeffrey D. Vickery is co-pastor of Cullowhee Baptist Church in Cullowhee, N.C.