When I first moved to Tennessee, the Baptist preacher at the church next door (second largest one in town) asked me to be on his cable show (The Spiritual Side of Clarksville). It must have been a slow day or his programming choices fell through. It was an interesting interview in which he showed surprise that Lutherans preached from Scripture instead of Luther and argued with me that the point of the "just shall live by faith" is on "the just" and not on "faith" (and grace).
Anyway, I got through it and we were making small talk at the end while they reviewed the tape (it was 17 years ago and that is what they used). I told him my Baptist joke ("I am surprised at how liberal you Baptists are; why the other day I saw two Baptists wave to each other in the liquor store..."). He told me his Lutheran joke ("Why I heard that shepherding Lutherans is about like herding cats...").
I have thought about that off and on since that day. "Herding cats..." Now I have two cats -- uh, two cats live in the same house I do. They do not do what I want, when I want -- in fact, most times they just plain ignore me. Except when I have what they need -- food, water, and a clean litter box.
It may not be that hard -- shepherding cats -- as long as you hold in front of them what they need. Now I am no cat whisperer. I do not speak to cats and they do not speak to me. I do not know their feelings or wants and I cannot predict what they will do. They seem to change from day to day -- perhaps only to confuse and confound me. They meow at me but it does not seem that their meows mean anything specific. They occasionally curl at me feet, roll over on the sides, turn their heads upside down, extend a paw -- but when I reach down to them they scurry off. I cannot keep ahead of their moods or wants. But I do know what they need. Food, water, and clean litter. This I can do. And, as much as I can discern it all, they seem to appreciate it.
When it comes to being a Pastor, I am no pew whisperer. I cannot figure out what people are thinking from week to week and many times the folks in those pews tell me contradictory and confusing things. One week they want this and the next week they want that. Their moods are not predictable. They complain when things are not right (everything from it being too hot or cold in the sanctuary to the person in front of them whose kids are a circus or the cell phone that went off etc...). Sometimes they surprise me with the warmest and most wonderful gestures of love and then they are off to their own business and lives. Sometimes we argue over this and that -- less bitter conflicts than family arguments that never seem to be resolved but never seems to effect the family status. But I do know what they need. They need the food and water of God and they need someone to clean them up through forgiveness. This I can do. And, as much as I can discern it, they seem to appreciate it.
So I would suggest to my now retired Baptist friend, I do know how to herd cats. You put in front of them what they need, and they will head there. They will not run, they may be delayed, they may be detoured, and they may need to get a few things out of their system before they own up to it... but they will find their way to what they need.
If the Church is to be effective in the mission for which Christ has founded her, she must give up trying to discern the feelings or wants of people, and give them what they, what all people need. The water that cleanses... the Word that does what it says... the food that feeds you to eternal life... and the voice that absolves your sins...
We embark on a new year with a big pow wow in St. Louis about contemporary vs traditional worship and the hope of some via media... Then we head to Ft. Wayne for a week of Symposia and some down time with family outside the city... Their will be presentations and rebuttals, questions and answers... Their will be fluffing of feathers and preening in front of peers... Their will be hushed conversations and old friendships rekindled... and then I will go back to herding cats... which is where I have wanted to be (despite my complaining) all my life...