Yesterday our office administrator called and said she had someone on the phone for me. She said the person had some “spiritual questions.” As I talked to the lady on the other end of the line it was clear she had less than great experiences with pastors who only smiled, greeted people at the door, ran meetings and preached sermons. After asking me a series of other very specific questions she inquired if I really knew the people in our church. Did I know their needs, did I know where they work and did I visit them outside the four walls of the church?
When I answered “yes” to the lady’s question she was shocked. She said she had never experienced that in any other church. My heart grew heavy, my compassion expanded and I expressed my sadness on how she had never received the love and care God would want her to have in the community of faith.
Eugene Peterson, in his book, The Pastor: A Memoir, quoted a pastor/mentor as saying this: “What is the most important thing you do in preparing to preach each Sunday? . . . For two hours ever Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I walk through the neighborhood and make home visits. There is no way I can preach the gospel to these people if I don’t know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about.”
These words should be convicting for any person in any type of ministry whether volunteer or paid. Our words ring hollow if we have not taken the time to know and love the people we teach.
I have high regard for excellent teaching and preaching. It requires research and preparation but when this part of ministry becomes more important than me walking with people in their lives it ceases to be effective and I lose the right to be heard.
As the lady asked her pointed question I was immediately thankful for all those mentors over the years who modeled for me the importance of preaching the word AND loving the people. The mentors include my own dad, a pastor, who spent many afternoons visiting his people and the three wonderful senior pastors with whom I have worked and who have tirelessly celebrated and comforted their “flocks.” What they did became a natural part of my life and ministry.
I have heard it said, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.” All we seek to offer can look good on our computer screen. When we bring real lives into the picture those plans often look differently.
Planning events, preparing for sermons, working on creative teaching experiences are worthy work but only a piece of what we are called to do. In what ways are you too easily letting the “events” more easily define your ministry than knowing and caring for the people you serve? It’s a question I’m asking myself today.