"Pastor, that's just your opinion." Perhaps there is no more frustrating sentence to us pastors than that.  But before pastors become defensive or angry, we ought to take a short time out and reflect upon what we said that triggered that answer. It very well may be that what a pastor says is only his opinion. A good question to ask is, "Where is what I said found in Scripture?" If it is not found there, maybe what you said is just your opinion! A second question would be, "Is what I said just my interpretation of the Scripture?" Your interpretation may be correct, but in today's world, anyone can scour the internet to find interpretations of Scripture passages. You will have to explain why your interpretation makes more sense than others.

On the other hand, the parishioner's judgment may come from a different place. It may be a defensive comment meant to justify that person's belief or action taken on the strength of that belief. If you have said their idea or practice is wrong, most people, including yourself, will become defensive. For example, many of those who disagree with our position on homosexuality have family members who are homosexual. Sometimes questions to pastors come in innocent forms that cover a personal story. I found out years ago that sometimes the question, "What about infants who die before they are baptized?" was not just a question of doctrine. They had suffered a stillborn and were concerned. Needless to say, my rookie, doctrinal answer did not help! I learned to follow such a question with one myself, "Why do you ask?"

We can find ourselves in hot spots because our catechism instruction relies so much on what is called "proof texts." Sometimes they are fine, but in other cases, seeing the entire text in its context provides insights that correct misapplication. For instance, many popular passages quoted today ("I know the plans I have for you," etc.) were spoken to the nation Israel about its future and are not easily applied to us.

All of which is to say that pastoral practice is an art; the pastor's seminary training in this area is only a jumping off point. Much more will be learned through trial and error. Thanks be to God, we have Christ's Gospel promises to which we, too, can turn for forgiveness when it turns out that what we have said is only our opinion!