I’m not going to think this through. I’m just going to start typing…
I received a little nudge a few minutes ago from the head honcho here at Brothers of John the Steadfast. The prod was a kindly encouragement to consider writing a little more frequently. Apparently, I hadn’t offered anything to the ongoing theological conversation in as many as sixty days.
Sheesh. Time flies right by.
No sooner than the noteworthy “ding” of his Facebook notification arrived through my mobile phone did it become churned into the nether regions of cyberspace by the scrolling tide of twenty more email and calendar notifications.
“I want to do more, I really do,” I said softly looking at the screen, “but then there’re these…”
I suppose what I should add to this before I really get riled up is that sometimes I have this dreadfully blackened desire to take my mobile phone into the church’s back forty, strap a block of C-4 to its bosom, and set ‘er off. But with this arises a very practical problem. No, it’s not that I need the phone to do my job, but rather that I can’t purchase C-4 where I live…at least not legally.
And so, having properly vented regarding my perpetual “availability” via mobile phone, let me open the valve of my heart and soul to release the first of two points for this particular post that I am (most likely to the surprise of my editor and good friend) doling out so swiftly after being nudged…and both are, in a sense, points of evidential reference for folks who may think that pastors are lazy and only work on Sundays.
Logistically, the job of a pastor is an all-encompassing one. For example, if pretty much anyone else decides he wants to pack up and go somewhere for a weekend, he can. I can’t. My efforts, even if only considering the administrative aspects, requires me to plan, not days and weeks and months ahead, but years ahead. We celebrate every church holiday to its fullest and every church season to its richest potential – and not because of any other reason than that we want to provide the Gospel in its fullest measure to the glory of the deserving Christ who has established us. Additionally, because Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church here in Hartland, Michigan is such a unique church dwelling in the midst of a generation of shallow religiosity that is barely capable of grasping the historic liturgy, most pastors are not even willing to try to fill in for me so that I can get out of Dodge because, in their own words, it is uncomfortably challenging. Yes, you read that correctly. The Divine Service is too challenging for many of our current pastors.
Now, while I have a wonderful emeritus pastor at my disposal as well as a delightful assistant pastor who is a retired Biblical languages professor from the local Concordia who helps with preaching and visitation, in the end, they both deserve and desire to actually BE retired. This means that I am the sole pastor for a church of 950 people. There are so many congregations out there that are the exact same size and require two and three pastors, and yet I am flying solo. I am writing letters, making phone calls and visitations, performing funerals, weddings, sitting at the bedside of the sick, counseling couples, teaching in our day school, managing crises, mentoring staff, teaching Bible studies throughout the week, attending meeting after meeting after meeting, maintaining duties with the LCMS, and so many other things that do not even begin to allow room on the page for listing the necessarily personal needs of a man, a human being, which I am.
And perhaps this is a good place to begin cultivating the second point.
Guilt often abounds for guys like me. We never feel like we’re making any headway. We have a tendency to feel like our efforts at pastoral care are not as full as they could be. And with this, we’re sometimes at the edge of our seats ready to hear a church member reference a loved one who hasn’t been in church for a while, saying something like, “Well, pastor, you could have continued to write them letters, or called them on the phone, or something like that,” or as I’ve heard even in the last six months, “You didn’t show them enough pastoral care.” This is true. I can never do enough of that, but to this indictment I sometimes feel like asking very plainly of the accuser: “As a fellow member of the human race — let alone this church — and as someone with a family that needs your personal attention, how many people are you currently caring for closely and personally? I know you work fulltime, but surely you have a measure of comparability to the demand you are making of me. While still managing to provide the proper care for your family, is there at least one person on the outskirts that you are caring for with some sort of charitable pastoral kindness, a love that is neither given nor received as obligatory, but is genuine and intimate and on-call 24/7? Maybe two? Ten? Twenty?”
The entire life of the pastor is an inundation of pastoral care needs. He visits all of the shut-ins. He does all of the hospital visitations. He’s there for every newborn baby. He’s there at the deathbed of every passing Christian (and sometimes non-member Christians who have been forsaken by their pastor or non-believers and their families who so desperately need the Gospel in the eleventh hour). One o’clock in the afternoon or two o’clock in the morning, it doesn’t matter. Again, I could go on and on about this point, but it begs the consideration that we ought to take care in setting such weights upon our pastors and opting out of our role as charitable Christians.
Actually, let me be a little more forthright: Unless your pastor is sitting in his office all day long reading Facebook posts or playing “Angry Birds,” it is unfair to level even an atom-sized splinter of this charge against him considering the context. Not even Christ in His earthly ministry could accomplish what is being demanded or expected. A pastor has the responsibility of caring for a congregation to whom God has directly called him, and keep in mind that while it isn’t God’s desire for him, in his sinful nature, burdened by guilt, quite often his work is being done at the expense of his own immediate family.
I can pretty much guarantee that any given pastor that I know already barely has a handful of minutes (literally) in a week and struggles to spend them with his own wife and children. The free time that he has, as little as it is, is not to be spent trying to figure out how to reach out even more than he already has, but rather how he and his family can actually BE a family. It is to be spent squeezing every little bit of substance out of those precious minutes – fast and few minutes – to be a husband to his wife, someone he loves more than anything in the world; and a father to his children, little ones in his care for whom he would lay down his life with the speed of lightning.
So, that’s all I have this time around, Mr. Editor. It probably sounds like I’m bemoaning the pastoral office. I sure hope that isn’t how this is received. And I’m sure there will be those folks who read this and say, “Quit whining! This is what you signed up for.” Well, whatever. No hard feelings. I’ll still be there to pray with you before surgery. I love being a pastor. I love my people. Tentatio sucks. And then there is forgiveness. Praise God for this.
Just something to think about. And I promise I’ll try to put a little more thought into the next post. I wanted to get this to you ASAP and buy myself another sixty days. 😉