Thursday, May 26, 2011
The Concerns Do Not Change
The fact is that the expectations of the people in the pews are not materially different wherever you go. They look for faithful, Biblical, Law/Gospel, passionate and personal preaching. They might like to listen to the latest and greatest orator every now and then but most want a Pastor who knows them and who speaks Jesus Christ to them -- in their need, in their sorrow, in their struggle, in their joy, and in their successes. They want someone who can look them in the eye and apply God's Word to them and to their situation.
They want faithful, pastoral care from the font and the table. They are not looking for the next American idol of the chancel but for wise, pious, reverential, and strong leadership within the liturgy -- a Pastor who is at home in the chancel as in the pulpit. They want an anchor in the consistency of the liturgy amid the constant and driving changes of their lives. They want someone who knows the hymnal and who can pull together the hymns with the propers so that Sunday morning is woven together into one fabric. They are not looking for a party but for the presence of Christ where He has pledged Himself -- the Word and the Sacraments.
The people of God come with consciences burdened down with faults, failings, and failures and they want to know the gracious voice of absolution. When their hearts are blind to the wrongs of their thoughts, words, and deeds, they want a Pastor who can speak to them as Nathan spoke to David -- not delighting in their fall but extending to them the arm of God to restore them through repentance and forgiveness. The people of God come with constant death on the news and in their lives and they want to know that death is not the last word. They are not asking for a pie in the sky hope when you die but the hope that we carry with us now -- in these mortal bodies -- even as we await the life which is to come.
The Church does not need a soul winner or a great administrator or even a great PR person in the Pastor. The Church needs the Pastor who will teach the catechism to their children and to new people waiting at the door, who will stand with them in the hospital room and funeral home, who will counsel the bride and the groom in the promises they make, and who will listen to them pour out the burdens of their hearts even when there is no fix for their problems (the ministry presence). It does not hurt if the Pastor can do other things but his primary role is not as therapist or CEO -- it is as Pastor, Priest, and Teacher.
The Pastor who loves his people will lead them even where they do not want to go but will earn their trust before asking them to follow to far afield of what or where they were before he came. He will teach and gently lead, without threat or compulsion and without a hint that this is his personal preference, choice, or desire that is the goal. This Pastor will be strong and loving with the people, knowing that the two words are not mutually exclusive but flow from the same pastoral heart and calling.
This is what my dad is looking for from his Pastor on the Nebraska prairie. This is what the folks on Long Island sought from their suburban Pastor. This is what the people of a Catskill Mountain community wanted from me in my first parish. It is what the people of Tennessee expect from me now. I am convinced that this is what the people expect from their Pastor no matter where they live or what the circumstances of their lives.