Pastor As Visitor

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    September 3, 2012

I finished the first week of a two week study leave yesterday. One of the weird things about being on a study leave is that I’m supposed to keep my distance from my congregation. My spiritual shepherds have told me that, and I’ve tried to adhere to it as much as I can, but it’s difficult. (Although I’m sitting in my office at church as I write this since it’s Labor Day and the building is quiet today.)

Yesterday I went to the early service of a large Presbyterian church here in town. One of the things I look to do on the few Sundays I’m not worshiping in my congregation is to worship in other churches, to be able to receive, as well as evaluate, from other pastors and bodies of believers. Since I pastor a small congregation I have to always keep in mind that mega-church life is not who we are, or who we will be. But in the midst of that realization that things in Jerusalem are different than things in Nazareth there are hints of the same story being written.

Ninety-five percent of small church pastors would probably tell you that they would like to pastor a mega-church. I think the percentage of mega-church pastors who would like to pastor a mega-church might be somewhat less than that. As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…but cows on both sides leave dung!

I slipped into the next to last row…like a typical Baptist…and surveyed the congregation. The early service at this church was a mostly senior crowd- the kind that will stampede Village Inn for breakfast right after church. The choir was magnificent…a hundred strong! They were accompanied by a piano, bass guitar, trumpet, trombone, and percussion. During the service they led the congregation in the singing of four praise choruses and two hymns. On one of the praise choruses they managed to get the congregation to join in clapping in rhythm for almost twenty seconds before hands once again dropped and the choir left it alone.

It was a familiar scene.

The Senior Pastor did the children’s story. Being a senior crowd he had about a dozen kids up front for it out of the eight hundred or so present. Once again, it was a familiar scene. He had one young boy who was always on the verge of breaking out of the corral, ready to take center stage. The pastor, being a pretty perceptive guy, was always one step ahead of him. It taught me something. There are some children’s stories I do where it seems like I’ve got the rope on the steer, but am being dragged behind trying to get control.

One of the associate pastors read the gospel reading for the morning and in referring to Jesus going out into the desert for forty days misread Mark 1:13. He switched two words that gave it a much different meaning. “He (Jesus) was with the wild angels, and animals attended him.”

Since the scripture was being projected on the front walls people snickered a little bit at his mistake.

It was  a familiar scene. It brought back memories of when I was a seminary student on staff at a large Presbyterian church in the Chicago area. One Sunday I was assisting in the worship service and mixed up two things during the prayer time. “And we celebrate with Kathy Smith on the death of her mother!”

If you want to get people’s attention just majorly screw up!

The Senior Pastor had an excellent message talking about John the Baptist. The service was being streamed into a few retirement facilities around the area, plus, for some reason, a place in Minnesota. About two-thirds of the way through the message the cell phone of the eighty year old lady sitting three feet away from me started ringing in her purse. She reacted quickly, picking up her purse, unzipping it, sorting through a multitude of items inside until she found the cell phone. But instead of hitting mute, or turning it off, she proceeded to answer it and have a two minute conversation. After an uncomfortable two minutes- during which time I missed the pastor’s second sermon point- she finally said, “Well, Mabel, I’m in church…”

It was a familiar scene.

What I took away from the experience was a great message (what I heard) from the pastor, a well-crafted order of worship, a congregation that is serving the city in significant ways, and a time to reflect, renew, and receive.

Every church, small and large, has it’s warts and it’s beauty marks. Jesus doesn’t look for perfection in performance, but rather authenticity in our yearning for the presence of God.

Explore posts in the same categories: Christianity, Community, Faith, Grace, Humor, Jesus, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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