In chapter 4 of Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor: A Memoir he talks about his father’s butcher shop as the place where he first learned the importance of treating people special. He said, “The people who came into our shop were not just customers. Something else defined them. It always seemed more like a congregation than a store.” (p.39). He went on to explain how his father knew his customers by name and knew many of their stories as well. Peterson shares, “He gave people dignity by the tone and manner of his greetings.”
One would think this is a “no-brainer” philosophy for any pastor but I have run into a surprising number of people in ministry who are more consumed with their ability to craft a fine sermon or build an exciting program or take care of their facilities than they are to know the names, hear the stories and walk alongside the people God has given them.
It has been said, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.” When people enter the equation of our planning and daily work, what once looked good on paper now includes unpredictable twists and challenges our ability to be flexible. Loving and shepherding God's people defines the profile of a pastor.
One of my favorite Henri Nouwen (from OUT OF SOLITUDE) quotes explains this well, “A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame, Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny wrinkle in his eyes: “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.That is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck , our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then ‘fate’ can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.”
It’s all about the direction of our attention. Pastors, like anybody, else must love God first and out of this relationship will flow the healthy care of the people in our ministries. Peterson concludes, “My ‘work’ assignment was to pay more attention to what God does than what I do, and then to find, and guide others to find, the daily, weekly, yearly rhythms that would get this awareness into our bones.” (p.45)