Monday, October 26, 2009

Sometimes the last are first

It used to be that pastors were the spiritual guides in the important transition points in life. They did what southerners call "marrying and burying," meaning that they incarnated the presence of God--that they became a means of grace--at births and baptisms and marriages and especially, always, deaths.

This is now a quaint, old-fashioned way of doing pastoral ministry. Pastors who spend a lot of time on pastoral care--especially with the elderly--are dismissed as "chaplains." Sitting by bedsides isn't considered "strategic leadership." Praying with old people isn't "high-leverage." Comforting the grieving isn't "missional."

C came home from a midweek joint worship service tonight only to be greeted with the news that Mrs. So-and-so was dying and the family was hoping he would come. You need to understand that Mrs. So-and-so and her family are not important members of our church. They don't have much to give, either financially or in terms of service. They aren't well-known. But they are a sweet Christian family and they wanted C to come pray.

When he walked back in the door two hours later, he told me briefly about his visit. Mrs. So-and-so had died while he was there and he had helped each family member begin their own unique journey of grief, offering to do the funeral even though it involved a trip out of town (way out of town) on his day off. He described their deep gratitude for his pastoral presence as they faced one more grief in a long string of family griefs.

We both know how this kind of ministry is perceived by those who are more visionary about pastoral leadership. Maybe that's why C said reflectively, with a little laugh, "You know, tonight was high-leverage in the Kingdom; if it really is all about love, this matters." I think he's right.

Being a leader is a hard job. Being a leader in the Kingdom of God is really a hard job. I don't even pretend to know how a pastor is supposed to do it all, including providing strategic, high-leverage, missional leadership (which is all important, even if I'm not exactly sure what it all means.) But I'm grateful for the many, many pastors who remember that in this Kingdom, everything is upside down and what seems unimportant is often most important and what seems insignificant changes everything.

1 comment:

Robert said...

IMHO, this IS pastoral leadership. And it defines what we are and who we are in this role. It beats "running a church" all to heck.