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The current response we give to Pastoral questions is the following:

Hello <username> and thank you for your question.  
The [mission](https://christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1380) of our site is to
answer factual questions about Christianity.  We are not able to answer 
[more personal questions](https://christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/q/255).  We invite 
you to consult your local church, pastor, priest, mentor, or other trustworthy counselor.

Of course, there is a good reason we use a standard template response. That said, as it currently stands, it is deeply flawed. It assumes that the OP has or is connected to a consult local church, pastor, priest, mentor, or other trustworthy counselor.

It sorts of like if you told an injured person to go to the inn, without telling them where the inn even is, or even checking if there any inns around. In particular, I think most people who ask pastoral advice questions are asking the internet because they don't have a pastor. Indeed, in the USA, for example, only 80% do not attend a church regularly. Probably some lower, but still significant number do not attend church at all.

So, what should we do about this? Leaving as it is seems like a bad option, since it is inaccurate. (I have posted a potential answer below, but feel free to post alternative answers.)

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We're giving them the solution they need: find a local church and begin a relationship with them. If they need help with that, we can help, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone who asked one of these questions ask us for help with that. Because the reality is that most people who come here to ask pastoral advice questions already have some relationship with a church, but they don't want to go to them for advice. That's the root problem they need to deal with, and we're not here to give them stopgap solutions.

  • I'm not so sure. Maybe they didn't think to ask about that. Or maybe they don't know why they should go to a Pastor. – PyRulez Mar 2 '18 at 1:32
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If there was objective meta-resources you could point that weren't tantamount to proselytizing, I think it'd be OK

There are questions like

Is there a way to help choose a Catholic Church?

That I believe more or less fit the bill.

But for the chronically unchurched, I think we've come to the conclusion that everything St. James wrote about doesn't apply to this site.

Good bye and good luck, I'll pray for you! – Peter Turner♦ 3 mins ago

is about the best we can do.

  • What if we ask them what denomination they are, and then link them to such a question? – PyRulez Mar 2 '18 at 0:28
  • "But for the chronically unchurched, I think we've come to the conclusion that everything St. James wrote about doesn't apply to this site." What do you mean by this? – curiousdannii Mar 2 '18 at 1:09
  • You can even create the equivalent of wikipedia red links: Where should denomination X people go to Church?. A more advanced system would even fill in the body with boiler text. – PyRulez Mar 2 '18 at 1:18
  • @curiousdannii I mean: "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?" – Peter Turner Mar 2 '18 at 2:16
  • Uhh. Hmm. I wouldn't say it doesn't apply to this site, but that it may be difficult to appropriately ask for help. Most requests for physical needs will be removed as spam. But don't forget that people can always ask for pastoral advice in chat. – curiousdannii Mar 2 '18 at 2:22
  • @curiousdannii assuming they have enough reputation to get there. – Matt Gutting Apr 7 '18 at 19:01
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Provide a neutral resource to help them find a source of spiritual guidance near them

We should create some sort of resource to help people find a minister/spiritual advisor or church near them. It could be as simple as pointing them to Google maps, or we could link them to some sort of officially licensed minister search engine. For comparison, Health.SE has a find a doctor question. We could do likewise to create a list of neutral resources.

Ideally, we would be able to rate them somehow, but this quickly becomes non-neutral and subjective, unfortunately. Still, this is probably better than nothing.

  • 1
    I'd imagine the most Stackexchange-precedent-oriented-thing to do would be for a couple regulars to get together to have a podcast and then talk about it all the time on meta, I don't think that 'find a doctor' question is a terribly good example (77 views and one answer, maybe it was more contentious and there's deleted stuff?). – Peter Turner Mar 1 '18 at 22:08

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