Why was I so tired?

Photo by Lechon Kirb on Unsplash

I saved the lion’s share of my visiting for Wednesday and Thursday this week. My rounds included a hospital, two nursing homes and one family’s residence. I’ve been doing this for over thirty years, but at the end of the day, I have to admit I was weary. As I reflect on the day, I can’t help but wonder why. I got plenty of sleep the night before (about 8 hours) and ate well. I exercise and am fairly fit. But I didn’t do anything physically demanding. Why was I so tired?

When I left my study at church, a crew of seven was tearing out and installing huge new AC units for our sanctuary. When I stopped home for lunch, a crew was reroofing my neighbor’s house across the street. My wife was working a twelve-hour shift in the hospital ER. My daughters chased their toddlers around all day. They all had plenty of reason to be tired at the end of a shift. Me? Not so much.

Yet I still felt a different kind of fatigue, one that still surprises me. It’s a spiritual weariness, one that follows a day of preaching, teaching or in some way caring for people. It isn’t something that’s easy to put your finger on, but it’s real. A tired spirit is just as real as a worn-out body or brain.

My first visits took me to the hospital. I didn’t know how these folks were doing, so my half-hour included prayer for them and thoughts about them. by the grace of God, both were doing really well. In fact, the first one was doing better than he had for a long, long time. His relaxed smile and clear speach filled the room with hope. Though completely out of context, his wife shared the story of how they met some sixty years ago. My visit was about twenty minutes and my prayer was filled with gratitude.

One floor away, another was recovering from successful surgery, and was looking forward to going home in the next day or so. He and his wife also spoke of their sixty years together and an upcoming cruise they had to put off for a few months. This conversation also lasted about twenty minutes, concluding with a thank-filled prayer.

From here, it was on to a nursing home. I stopped at the front desk to get the room, but when I walked into a large common area, I spotted them as she finished up her lunch and he sat there chatting with her. In the course of the conversation, I learned that he had been working on long term care arrangement for his wife, who really wanted to go home. I could see the pain on his face as he hinted at what was to come. When she finished eating, we went to her room and I read scripture, gave them communion, and also prayed, thanking God for the good care she was receiving there.

My final visit yesterday was at a another nursing home, but she wasn’t in her room. I couldn’t find her in any of the common rooms, so I just left a flower arrangement from church in her room. I would have to try another time on another day.

I had one visit today at a member’s home. He slept through most of it while she and I caught up on all kinds of events in their lives and mine. She spoke of many challenges and a few glimmers of hope. He woke towards the end of my visit so I could also give them communion.

So what did I actually do? I sat and listened. I read a few verses and prayed a few prayers. No big deal. Or is it. Caring for souls is no small task. In my role as pastor I get invited into the lives of families who are dealing with significant changes and challenges. When they share some of their burdens with me, I help them shoulder some of the load. They will not have to carry them alone. I freely share with them the hope I have received from God, too. I may not have all the answers, but I give them what I have.

I guess over the years I’ve learned what helps me rest and recover from such days. I find that gardening or working in the yard, cooking a meal or playing with the grandkids recharges me. These simple tasks and precious lives reconnect me with the one who takes all my burdens and gives me all that he has.

How about some grace?

So, if I weren’t a pastor and I went to a church somewhere, what would I expect of the pastor?

I think that’s a heck of a question, one worth asking from time to time when I wonder where my time went. Am I doing more than I need to do? If so, then why? How much time am I spending on unimportant tasks? Why am I doing that?

OK, here is my list. Yours may be different, but that’s OK.

I would expect the pastor to proclaim God’s Word to me. Preach the word. What is God saying to us through his word right now? I expect that the pastor has studied and prepared some good news for the congregation from scripture.

I would want the pastor to be a regular person. Wife, kids, hobbies, joys and frustrations. If I stop by his house, it’s not perfectly kept. If he comes to my house, he’s right at home.

I would want the pastor to baptize, marry, and bury those whom I love. In those very special, emotional moments, please remind me that God is a part of those moments, too.

I would want the pastor to project grace. I don’t need someone to tell me what to do or how to do it. I already have plenty of people in my life who do that. But grace is hard to find. Maybe the pastor can bring it.

That doesn’t sound too tough, does it? Yet, when you are the pastor, you feel like everyone expects a whole lot more from you. You feel like everyone is expecting you to

  • make the church grow
  • keep the kids engaged
  • attend any and every meeting
  • bless things (crocheted prayer shawls, bibles, necklaces, urns, bricks, cross necklaces…whatever)
  • keep the church sanctuary at a comfortable temperature
  • go after those people who don’t even want to be a part of the church
  • make people behave better
  • tell people how they ought to vote at election time
  • visit people in the hospital who didn’t tell you they were in the hospital because they thought somehow you knew
  • perform a funeral for someone who never came to church but was a pretty good person most of the time
  • conduct a wedding for a couple from out of town who wanted to be married on the beach because you live at the beach
  • remember who can’t drink wine, eat gluten, or likes to drink from the common cup

I don’t know if everyone really expects those things. It’s just that I think people expect those things. We should be able to reach a compromise here. If you expect grace and I expect grace then I can let go of many expectations and simply give you the best gift of all. Grace!

In your shoes

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Photo by Radek Skrzypczak on Unsplash

For this post I am going to try and put myself in your shoes. The shoes of someone who is a member of our church, who has come faithfully for a number of years, but recently begun to waver in regularity. What is that like, what do you expect, and what’s your vision of the future?

You see, I don’t have that option. Not yet, anyway. I have to be there every week whether I like it or not. Hey, when the preacher is absent, people notice! But one day I won’t be the preacher. I’ll be an attender, a worshiper, a statistic, a member, or whatever.

What if I just stop attending? Will someone call and ask, “Hey, where have you been? We’ve missed you.” Do I want someone to call? Or do I just to be able to do something else? Do I just want to be left alone?

This is such a good question for pastors and laypeople alike. I was taught that you must know who is not there and follow up with them. Absent from worship for three weeks? You better be on the phone or at their door. One more week and they are gone.

But what if those folks don’t want to be called? What if they just want to be left alone? What if they just need a break? I know, I shouldn’t be taking their side. But if I didn’t attend, and didn’t want to get up on a Sunday morning to attend worship, would I want a pastor chasing me down? Some might. I’m thinking many wouldn’t. I’m not sure I would.

Which leads me to my next question. How much time should I (pastors) spend chasing down people who don’t want to come to church? Oh, come on, you know there will always be families and individuals who considers themselves “members” who never actually show up. Are they lost sheep? Or are they not sheep at all?

When the crowds walked away from Jesus, he didn’t pursue them. He wanted willing followers. Some followed him, some who were a part of his flock, some who knew his voice. And some of them had their issues, like Peter and Judas.

At a recent pastor’s conference, I heard a brother say he spent Sunday afternoons going around to the homes of those who hadn’t been in worship that morning. Holy cow. I appreciate your commitment. But I’m not doing that. Maybe I’m not doing my job. So be it. But maybe you are taking yours too seriously. Either way if  the kingdom of God is all about righteousness, peace, and joy, I think we can all relax a little, go out to lunch, take a nap, and let God do the heavy lifting.

You might have all the answers, but you don’t hold the office.

talkingYesterday, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at an awards ceremony for a long time friend and member of the congregation. After the formal part of the ceremony, the other guests and I gathered for a meal. I had a chance to sit with the other guest speaker for the occasion, the mayor or our city. I looked forward to talking with her and hearing about her first year in office.

However the gentleman sitting to the other side of her hijacked the conversation. I listened carefully as he held forth on many of his own experiences and opinions on the future of our city. I was impressed with the mayor’s capacity to sit and patiently listen to his expertise in economics, civics, politics, and local government. As I sat there, I realized that her job and mine aren’t much different in that respect. We both attract volumes of advice from those who have all the answers, but don’t hold the office.

It is no different from fans who know exactly what the coach and quarterback should be doing, but aren’t on the field. Or those who have much to say about managers and pitchers, but they aren’t on the roster. Or for that matter, those who complain about their doctors and nurses, but have not studied and have never practiced medicine.

I am not immune to this nor am I above this. I need to be careful before I jump all over someone who works a physically demanding fifty to sixty hours a week and doesn’t make it to church. I need to remember the challenges of raising a bunch of kids, any one of whom may be sick on a given weekend. I don’t really now what it’s like to be a deputy walking up to knock on someone’s door, not knowing who or what is on the other side. And I certainly don’t know what it’s like to have the responsibility of governing a local community or in our nation’s capital.

Similarly, you may know exactly what the church (or the pastor) needs to do. And you may be one hundred percent correct. But keep in mind that you don’t hold the office. You’re not the one keeping watch over a flock. You’re not the one who knows too well the dark underside of those who seem just fine on a Sunday morning. You’re not the one they call when they’re hungry, dying or scared.

I am more than happy to listen to your suggestions and solutions. But they may not rise to the top of my to do list. They may not be feasible. They may not even be possible. Don’t take it personally. I’m just doing my best.

 

When the pastor came to visit me

empty apartmentIn 1979, I had just moved to New Jersey into my first apartment to begin my first job out of college at Bell Labs. After a few visits, I found the congregation who would be my church family for the next three years, Luther Memorial in Tinton Falls. Gorgeous location just a stone’s throw away from the horse farms in Colts Neck. The congregation immediately welcomed me, got me involved in the choir, youth ministry and teaching on Sundays. I got to play a lot of trumpet for worship, too. In fact, they gave me a key so I could come and practice there, since the paper thin walls of my apartment prevented me from playing at home.

Before long, the pastor called and asked to come and visit. “Sure. Anytime.” Continue reading

Top ten ministry moments – #1: “Pastor Dad”

Finally, here’s the one you’ve been waiting for. My number one ministry moment, though, is actually a series of moments when being a dad intersected with being a pastor and I had the unique privilege of baptizing, confirming, marrying and ordaining my children. Continue reading

Who did you see in church today?

pulpitA preacher (like me) has a unique perspective on Sunday morning. While you are sitting watching and listening to me, just one person, I am looking at you, a whole congregation. You may notice a few of the people and your friends around you, but I get to see all of God’s people gathered together to hear His word and receive His gifts of grace.

Do you know who I saw this morning? Continue reading

“This is my pastor.”

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.”

Continue reading

The Call (part one)

Ι have been at my current church for over seventeen years. During that time, I’ve only had one call to serve another church, and that was fifteen years ago. While I have had a few phone interviews with call commitees, it’s been a long time since I had a call to consider. Most of my current congregation have joined since that time, so they hadn’t thought much about the possibility that I might go to serve somewhere else. When I received a call to a church in Erie, PA, it kicked off a month of prayer, discussions and meetings that will shape our ministry in the years to come.

I knew that I was on the short list of a couple of congregations earlier in the fall and was interviewed by phone in October. The call didn’t actually come until November 3. I received a phone call that Sunday afternoon from the chairman of the call committee in Erie that the congregation had met and voted to call me as pastor. The call documents would arrive in the mail later that week. I told my family and my elders, but not my present congregation as I awaited the additional information (compensation, church self-assessment and future plans). I did however begin to try and figure out when in the world I would be able to squeeze in a trip to Erie. I was already traveling to Philadelphia to help my dad move out of his home and Thanksgiving was fast approaching when i would have my whole family in town.

The call documents arrived in the mail on Tuesday. No surprises, really. The salary was a little more, but with higher taxes in that area, it was a wash. The history of the church was interesting, but more on that later. I planned a trip on the one Friday and Saturday my wife and I could get away and prepared to tell the congregation on Sunday morning after each worship service.

Sunday was interesting to say the least. Some (the elders and their families) knew the announcement was coming, but for most is was completely unexpected and a shock. Some who heard it believed I had already decided to leave while others began planning ways to try to convince me to stay. On Monday morning, I sent a letter to each family explaining the call and asking them for input.

Most of the initial responses were emotional. Many were about the weather. Then as the week progressed, I began to get some very well thought out emails and notes. Towards the end of week two, I heard that there were some in the congregation who thought it would be a good idea for me to move on. Finally, many wanted to sit down and talk with me about the call and my present ministry. I have to say that everyone who wrote and spoke with me expressed tremendous respect for the office of the ministry and the divine call. Many had been through the process at other churches, as pastors left and as new pastors were sought.

The responses that really got my attention were the ones stating that the church couldn’t and wouldn’t survive without me. Phrases like “you’re the glue that holds the church together” and “your departure would bring about the demise of the congregation” really bothered me. As I often remind my self, the church was here before me and it will be here after me. I was forced to confront the truth that many were a part of the church because of me. I know that this is true for many churches. As much as I want people to be connected to Christ, the reality is a connection either with or through me. This would continue to haunt me in the weeks to come and eventually help me with my decision.

Our trip to visit the church was a whirlwind tour. We left early on a Friday morning, connected in Philadelphia and arrived in Erie in the late morning. We rented a car and toured the church neighborhood, spent a few hours driving around Presque Isle, and visited a cemetery that overlooked a beatiful gorge where a friend’s father was buried. We ate supper that night with the chairman of the call committe and another couple. The next morning, we met with the call commitee and leadership of the congregation, got to see the inside of the church, ate lunch and flew home.

Now what? I had decided early on that I would take a month to make my decision. I wanted to ride the roller coaster of emotions and reactions. I wanted the congregation to think about the future. I wanted some time to reflect on my own ministry. November was a very good month for all of that.