(This story is a composite. Everything in this pastor’s week is possible. And not just for the mega-church pastor. Pastors who read this may find their vision of the scope of a busy, hard working pastor’s duties expanded. And lay readers who read it may have their own awareness of the pastoral task enlightened and their appreciation for the demands of the pastor’s work raised)
Please meet Pastor John Doe. Secular people may not understand his title though they know it has something to do with the church. A few even joke that it is a one-hour-a-week Sunday morning job. Here is a glimpse into one typical week, and the kind of thinking that drives Pastor Doe.
HIS WEEK STARTS ON TUESDAY
It’s eight o’clock Tuesday morning and Pastor John Doe is closeted in his study, reading, researching, meditating, and praying as he lays out pulpit plans for the following Sunday. In the morning he’ll preach his last sermon in a year-long series from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “The Bedrock of Obedience” (Matt. 7:24-27). In the evening it will be, The Christian and Gambling.
When he hears his administrative assistant arrive at nine, the phone in the office next to his study begins to ring. She thoughtfully protects him from calls that can wait. But at 11:45 she breaks his solitude to tell him that the conference superintendent has called; the new Smeaton baby has arrived (a boy); and Jane Hewlett of the Mother’s Morning Out Circle phoned to ask if he would lunch with them this coming Thursday noon and bring a brief devotional. Oh, yes, and Mrs. Grundy phoned to complain that the sound system had not been loud enough Sunday and if this problem isn’t fixed she’ll just stay home and listen to a television preacher.
There’ll be no time for jogging, this noon. By 12:20 he is enjoying his lunch alone — a sandwich, an apple, and a thermos of decaf. By 1:15 he’s on his way to the hospital, first to give thanks with the Smeatons on the arrival of their son, then to visit a high-schooler who has had shoulder surgery, and finally to bring God’s comfort to Grandma Simms in the cancer ward.
By 3:15 he’s back at the church for an appointment with a troubled single mother. She fears her 13-year-old daughter, Alene, is getting into drugs. The symptoms are ominous — secretive conduct, falling grades, a forged bank withdrawal, and wide mood swings. Pastor Doe has had a good relationship with Alene so he assures the mother that he will get in touch with her and he’ll also put the mother in touch with a support group. He prays with her but both know that, if her fears are true, there may be hard days ahead.
In the few spare minutes before a 4:30 appointment with a young couple, he chooses congregational songs for next Sunday morning service. The couple arrive. They’re students at a community college who want to talk about marriage. As their story unfolds they confide that they want to wait until they’re married — they want to be chaste — but the struggle is intense. They are deeply in love. The pastor’s sympathetic ear and accepting response calms them and enables them to talk rationally about solutions. He suggests they talk with their parents (one middle-aged couple and a divorced mother) about setting an earlier wedding date. He makes another appointment to see them.
At 5:50 he arrives home. After a pleasant meal he has time to play a computer game with his ten-year-old son, Thomas, and read a Bible story to his five-year-old daughter, Cheryl. At 7:50 he slips away to look in on a newly formed building committee at the church. He’s home by 9:15 and in the quietness of the family room he and his wife, Lenore, chat about family matters — a better medication for Cheryl’s asthma, new tires for the van, and conflict at the child care center where she works.
NOT WITHOUT ANXIETIES
It was a successful Tuesday but it hadn’t started that way. Before leaving for the church his own quiet time with the Scriptures had turned out to be a worry time. He had tried meditating on a Psalm but instead he had meditated on unresolved stresses in the church. There were three men he couldn’t please. His vision for growth appeared to be the issue. The recent formation of a building committee had increased the tensions. After all, so far as they were concerned, the church was paying its bills, the building was well kept up, the membership was holding steady, and the people enjoyed being together. They complained to him about little things but were never satisfied when he tried to meet them half way. Maybe trouble was ahead.
This wasn’t the way he liked to spend his prayer time. Before he left his room he had committed the matter to the Lord, but was disappointed with the way the problem had got to him. He had confessed his failure, entreated for grace, and gone to face the day.
Wednesday morning bright and early Pastor Doe is on his way to a city 120 miles to the north. At a one-day interdenominational pastors’ conference the main speaker is a young man who in five years has grown a church of 88 members to a congregation of 850. Pastor Doe’s desire to grow his own church makes him eager to hear this man. On the two and a half hour trip he listens to “Preaching Today” cassettes.
The speaker is tall and sinewy with a ruddy face and sandy curly hair. With a couple of preacher’s stories he establishes rapport and then begins to tell how he achieved remarkable growth at his church. For example, he explains that he had to ease out of the membership a few who were obviously not going to support him. (Pastor Doe flinches inwardly.) Then, he had completely revamped the forms of Sunday worship to make them more sprightly, more energized. He was particularly proud of his church’s Jazz and Rock Praise Band, but when it became a fixture in worship a few more members left. That’s when the influx began. He had made it clear from the outset, he told the conference, that he was in charge, and that “sometimes you have to lose 100 to gain 1000.”
His message troubled Pastor Doe. It sounded like power tactics such as a captain of industry might use to turn around an ailing operation by treating employees as mere units of productivity, dismissing long time workers, and bringing in new personnel — always with his eye on the bottom line.
Pastor Doe gets home by eight; the children are in bed; the house is quiet. He’s glad, because he wants to discuss with his wife what he has heard. He describes to her the speaker’s strategies. Doe is confused. Power tactics can be alluring; they certainly seem to have been effective in one pastor’s good cause.
His wife reminds him about a recent sermon he preached from Ezekiel 34. It was about what God expects his shepherds to do — strengthen the sheep who are weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost. He knew these were the speaker’s desires too, but the methods seemed heavy-handed. Doe’s wife reminded him of Jesus’ words: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
As they talked, the fog lifted. He remembered that he had been called to be a servant to God’s people, to offer creative leadership, to attempt to take them into greener pastures. He wanted to succeed as much as anyone, but he wasn’t willing to reinvent himself as an authoritarian boss. Pastoral authority, as he understood it, was not to be used to intimidate or manipulate the flock of God’s people entrusted to him.
A STRING OF CHALLENGES
Thursday and Friday bring Pastor Doe a variety of other pastoral challenges: a visit in the home of an elderly couple soon to be moved to a full care facility after 54 years in their own home; visits on two new families; a conversation with an anguished young man who had just been served divorce papers; a look-in at the nearby school gym on a growing youth group.
By telephone, he learns that one of his members had invited a neighbor to a women’s morning Bible study and after only three lessons her neighbor had professed faith in Christ. A shaken father phones to say that they have a pregnant teenaged daughter and she is hostile and defiant about it; the family needs prayer.
Friday night is family night for the Does. No phone calls. No television. Just games or a good video or reading aloud from books the children love. When it had dawned on them recently that in this busy church their children were getting lost in the shuffle, his wife and he had decided to devote Friday nights solely to them. The children loved it.
Saturday morning he’s at the church for an extended time of prayer, a review of his sermon notes, a conference with the music director, and time to prepare his pastoral prayer. Saturday afternoon may include a family bike ride or a visit to the indoor community swimming pool or just looking after a few family chores around town.
But in spite of the daily challenges, he can’t shake the discomfort that surfaces in unoccupied moments over the tensions with the three members. He wants it to be different. He attempts to isolate this matter from all the other good things but it isn’t easy. Of one thing he is certain: he is not going to use any techniques to run these members off. That is too simple a way to solve the problem and it doesn’t fit with his understanding of pastoring. If they leave on their own that will be different. If he can’t win them to a larger vision then with God’s help he will be gracious and love them in the Lord — without allowing them to block the forward movement of the congregation.
SUNDAY’S BIG CHALLENGE
He awakens at 5:30 Sunday morning and lies abed a few minutes reflecting on the week past. He wonders: is pastoring just another job or is it a calling? Given the interpersonal tensions and the financial stresses and the heavy workload, is there an easier way to make a living? Most importantly, does this task have a center — something that ties it all together?
As he shaves, he thinks of the worship service just hours away. Only a pastor can know the satisfaction from caring for a flock of God’s dear people. Every part of the task has its rewards, but he reminds himself that seeing the people gather on a Sunday morning to join in Christian worship is a special joy.
It’s not just the sermon. For him, every part of worship has value. He enjoys singing selected praise choruses because they are sprightly, fresh, colorful, like garnish to a meal. The best of them contain truth in small packages. But his people can’t do without the richer content of great hymns. Who, he wonders, could sing Bernard of Clairvaux’s “Jesus, The Very Thought Of Thee,” without feeling linked to generations of believers who have sung those words together spanning 800 years?
Recently, a few in the congregation had complained that Scripture readings from Old and New Testaments in service seemed too formal. A few verses with the sermon should be enough. The complaint had led Pastor Doe only two weeks earlier to share with his board the reasons for reading Scripture as a separate act of worship. He explained that through the ages the Scriptures have been read aloud to acknowledge the authority of God’s word over his people. The Jewish people read them in their synagogues. They were read in the temple. The early Christians read them in their house churches. The Reformers rediscovered their power when read aloud. To use them sparsely in worship now would deny all this.
As he stands quietly with his musicians, praying together before entering the sanctuary to begin the service, he is suddenly aware of the prelude being played by pianist and flutist: Jesus the very thought of thee, with sweetness fills my breast …. The congregation sits quietly, waiting.
EVERY PASTOR NEEDS A FISHING ROD
Monday is always fatigue day for Pastor Doe. He sometimes putters around in the little vegetable garden behind the parsonage, but this is dangerous because needs can surface on Monday that lure him to the church. It’s best for him to get out of town and his favorite spot is the bank of a quiet river a few miles to the south. He loves to sit there under a large willow and let his fishing line dangle in the scarcely moving current. He can think or pray or read and allow the freshness of nature to renew him. The experience clears his mind, and by late afternoon he feels ready to gather up his tackle, stow the Russian novel, and get back into town. Suddenly, a new week looks challenging.