When I was much younger, I thought that being a pastor would be a pretty good gig. Limited hours – Sunday mornings and a few meetings now and then – relatively decent pay, and sometimes it even came with a house. How hard could that be? I went a different route but still thought that this Pastor job looked pretty good. Then I became active in various Presbytery roles and boy, did my view change. By the time I had served on the Committee on Ministry and then became Acting Presbytery Exec, I had a whole new understanding of the “calling” to be a Pastor.
Yes, there’s the Sunday morning worship service to plan and lead. The sermon apparently doesn’t come fully researched, written, edited, and rehearsed by itself. A 20-minute sermon usually takes hours and hours of real study, prayer, thought, writing, revision, and tweaking. And then, maybe a few folks will actually hear and understand – engage and question – respond and react. And that’s to be done EVERY WEEK. For months. For years. Who can be inspirational, timely, original, innovative, provocative, educational, spontaneous, and at least a little entertaining every week, week after week? We expect our pastor to be all of those and more.
But Sunday morning is only a part of the calling. I’ve seen them after an exhilarating weekend retreat – full of energy and enthusiasm. Or after a week at camp – tired but satisfied that all went well. And I’ve seen them dejected when a planned event just did not work. Or when the folks who were going to provide the … food, entertainment, leadership… didn’t show.
They get to have the privilege and joy of conducting weddings and infant baptisms. And they get to counsel a couple as they head down the road to divorce. Or they try to comfort young parents who just lost a baby during childbirth. Or they sit alone, weeping in their car after comforting a family whose child has just taken their own life. Or they are asked to conduct the funeral for a member who has also been a long-time member and much-beloved friend. And then probably, after getting back to the office, there will be a call from Mr. Charter Member complaining that the coffee pot is not being properly washed after Sunday morning services.
Then, the town or neighborhood wants them to provide the … invocation, the blessing of the new firetruck, pray at the annual business luncheon, judge the homecoming float contest, and on and on and on. Privileges, yes. Time stealers, for sure.
I think I have had a pretty good seat to be able to observe pastors living out their calling. But I recognize that I know just enough about pastors’ lives to realize that I have just scratched the surface. I have been privileged to be asked to do just a few of those duties. An occasional sermon, more than an occasional meeting, leading successful and not-so-successful events. But the real challenges of the calling of a pastor – as least in my mind – are the person-to-person encounters. Sometimes those are with folks in the depth of despair. Pastors become experienced in compassionate listening and in providing sincere encouragement. They are called upon to lead people through their spiritual journey as folks search with all their hearts to find themselves. They are called upon to gently guide someone who is battling mental illness or addiction. They take on the task of helping us through all the other difficulties of life. When the challenges we try mightily to avoid confront us anyway, our pastor says, “I’m here. What can I do?”
Your pastor may have a different title: co-pastor, associate pastor, campus or youth pastor, hospital, nursing home, or military chaplain. Whatever the title, our pastors are there for us, filling the roles we ask of them.
And for these vital roles that we ask of our pastors, we express our sincere appreciation. “Thank you, Pastor” is probably not said nearly enough. And when actually spoken, it often seems so inadequate. But I hope that our pastors know that even when we thoughtlessly take them for granted, or assume that they will be there for us, we do sincerely appreciate their time, skill, patience and most importantly the love that they share with us in abundance – the Love of Christ – in the person of our pastor.
Thank You to each of you. – Thank You.
Submitted by Ruling Elder, Jim Cook