I drove down to the hospital today to visit someone in the intensive care unit. I found out she was there last night just before Ash Wednesday worship. Her diagnosis sounded serious, so I made sure I set aside some time to go and visit her.
She was not a member of our church. She and her family had attended for a while a few years ago. I had baptized their three children. I knew they had a genuine Christian faith. However, I had not seen them in several years.
As I sat and talked with her for a few minutes, someone stopped in to draw some blood. After I said, “Hello,” and asked if it was OK to stay in the room, my friend introduced me: “This is my pastor.”
After a difficult but successful blood draw, one of her doctors stepped in. Again, she introduced me, saying, “This is my pastor.”
On my way home, I thought a lot about her comment. She wasn't a member of our church. She didn't attend our church. I'm not sure if she was attending church at all. Yet, in her mind, I was her pastor.
At one point in his ministry, Jesus told his disciples, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” (John 10:16). Those words never meant as much to me as they did today. There are people out there who think of me as their pastor. Even though they aren't even on my radar most of the time, they maintain that connection with me. I'm really not sure I fully understand this dynamic, but it is a good reminder that Sunday morning attendance and membership statistics do not tell the whole story. My circle of ministry is much broader than I thought.
In a time when people identify themselves with a faith but not with a church, this kind of makes sense. In a culture where most people don't worship with any kind of regularity, other connections are not just possible, but probable. As I daily ask Jesus what he's up to, and where I might get to join him, I shouldn't be surprised that he's gone somewhere else to preach (Mark 1:38).