Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Pastor, what can I do?
Every pastor is encouraged by such questions from sincere folks. I know that I am. And yet too often we have nothing concrete to say to them except to pray for us and pray for the work of the Church. Now there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, there is everything right with this. It is the noble vocation of the baptized to come before the Lord's throne of grace on behalf of themselves, their pastors, their lay leaders, their church, those in need, the dying, and the grieving. It is part of our duty and should be our delight to pray for our government, to petition the Lord on behalf of the causes of peace and justice in the world, and to pray for those suffering from man-made or natural disaster. We should pray and to pray is not to do nothing but to do a mighty work. However, there is more than can and should be done. As pastors, we ought to be ready to direct our people in these other things.
“What can I do?” Well, let me give you a specific answer. Over the course of the next year, speak to at least five or six folks who have dropped out of church and invite them back. That is concrete and specific. And it is a noble work. All around us are disaffected Christians who have abandoned the church and, perhaps, the faith. In some cases, they have been wounded by pastors or people in the pew (in nearly all cases without the intention to hurt or harm) and have left to nurse their tears. Perhaps their pastors or church has reached out to them but wounds and hurts and offenses fester over time and tend to distance folks from the very place where they need to be. Perhaps they went through a very rough patch in life and instead of seeking the Lord's grace and mercy have either blamed the Lord or rejected His aid and comfort. When those who sit with them in the pew reach out to them and call them back, it represents a window of opportunity to put the hurt or offense behind them and restore them to a place within the household of God's family.
“What can I do?” Well, look around you. On the cul de sac where I live, hardly any other families get in their cars and head out to church on Sunday morning. I suspect it is true where most of us live. In the county where I live, less than half the population goes to church, any church, on Sunday morning. It is probably not any different where you live. Invite one person with whom you have a relationship to come with you to church. Don't just invite them but offer to pick them up and take the time to prepare them for what they will find there. Tell them why you attend. Speak the Gospel to them in the direct words of Scripture and in the paraphrase of your own words. Share a catechism with them to help them with their questions and to find answers supported by Scripture. And when they decide to attend (which is the way most folks who are not raised in the faith come to faith), walk with them as they make their way through the service and talk them through it. In my parish we have a left column with notes, Scripture references, and explanations that help to direct the person (appreciated as much by lifelong Lutherans as those new to our parish). Use these to help the person find their way through the liturgy. Do not forget to address the issue of Holy Communion and do not presume that if they are they, they should commune. No one benefits from Holy Communion without faith to discern the Lord's presence in the Sacrament and to receive His gifts. But encourage them to come forward with you to receive a blessing. They understand blessings.
“What can I do?” You can see needs all around you. If you desire to serve in the church, there are so many places where a person can serve. We are constantly seeking people to serve as Sunday school teachers or aides, people to sing in the choir, volunteers for everything from set up and clean up for coffee hour to putting up information on the marquee. It is not hard to find a place to serve. And if you wish to serve, be faithful in that service. Don't just serve when it is convenient for you but serve when the need is there (even if that comes at an inconvenient time for you). We have literally a hundred people serving in some way for Sunday morning to happen -- in duties from the altar guild to ushers to greeters to choir to folders and more. There are plenty of places. Pick one and be faithful in serving. And if there is no place to serve within the church sphere, look around you in your community. Visit the sick, the aged, the infirm. Work for the Red Cross. Look for a food pantry or place where meals are served to those in need. Read to children in school. And the list could go on and on. . .