Dear Disciple of Christ,
I’ve mentioned before the matriarch in my Brooklyn Church, the widow of the first pastor who was there 42 years. A “matriarch” is a woman who has a position of authority (often based on some actions or positions held in the past). Being the widow of the founding pastor gives that person a life-long position of authority even if they are not elected to a position of responsibility. Respect for them (and their opinions) is a way of showing respect to past members (and, in this case, to the founding pastor). In and of itself, that isn’t bad of course. But it can be terrible (and has driven many a pastor from their church when the matriarch – or “patriarch” – the male counterpart to the matriarch, is opposed to the pastor).
Back in March of this year I mentioned her attempt to be a controlling force in my ministry (as she had been on the previous pastors who preceded me) by bringing me the church mail each week. You perhaps remember my cutting a hole in the side door of the church to allow the mailman make deliveries (and remind the widow that was not her right or responsibility to have it delivered at her house). I didn’t win any battle with her at that time as I wasn’t at war with her. I refused to argue with her. I simply cut a hole in the door. I knew the mailman knew the rules and it was not proper for him to deliver mail to a destination other than to what it was addressed. Once it was clear to me what needed to be done, I was willing to stand by what I did. The issue was never raised with me by any member or council person (or even the widow herself). If there was discussion, they must have felt the widow was wrong and that was that and they never mentioned it to me.
But it is possible for matriarchs and patriarchs and members and visitors to bring forward ideas that have merit even if they are brought forward with multiple intents. This was the case one Sunday morning when I was out front of church greeting neighbors walking by and members arriving for church. The very same widow arrived, shook hands with me and then said, “You know, the front of the church never looked this bad when my husband was around.” She then went up the steps to church leaving me to think about her comment. I believe her intent was to try and compare me and my ministry to that of her husbands which was so much better.
But she was right. I could have mentioned that people littered less in the 1920’s and 30’s and even 40’s and 50’s. People didn’t get off the bus back then (we had a bus stop in front of our church) and drop their garbage on the ground. But, ignoring some of her intent, and looking at the ground and sidewalk in front of the church, I saw what I hadn’t really considered. I was simply ignoring the actions of those people and doing my best not to be frustrated or angry with them. Instead, I should have made sure that our sidewalk and surroundings reflected the respect we held for our church and our mission. So, I went into church, got a garbage bag, a broom and a dust pan. I saw (and heard) the problem and simply dealt with it. It’s important to listen to input and act accordingly. Lesson learned.
But there was another lesson I learned from that incident. That very Sunday, as I swept up around the front, when members began to arrive, they said, “Pastor, you shouldn’t be doing that.” I responded, “I’m happy to do it. It should look better (quoting the pastor’s widow). “Let me do that,” they said, taking the items from my hands. And week after week, people came and swept up in front of church. Moral of the story is to lead by example. I learned it then and live it now. It is always comforting and encouraging to have people join in the mission. I was never the kind of pastor who wanted to do everything myself (though I was willing to do anything needed). What a joy to minister with others, with brothers and sisters in Christ who share the same vision and goal to serve the Lord.
I remember one of our moving ministry experiences where we joined together with brothers and sisters at church who saw the need to help as I did. It was provided for one of our visitors (providing care for members and visitors is important). It was hot that day as is often the case in the back end of a truck or on top of the church trailer. We were tired but late at night by the time we finished doing what was needed and the person receiving the care understood she was not alone, that brothers and sisters in Christ who did not even know her were willing to join the pastor and care for her. That ministry developed when we saw the needs some members had to have help in moving. That’s the way ministries of service develop, when we see the need before us and by God’s grace and impetus, we seek to do something about it. It is always my prayer that all of us will keep our eyes open to see the needs around us and, in the name of Christ, do something to make a difference.
Peace in His service,