Faithful Friday – September 22nd

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.  – 1 Peter 3:8

Dear Disciple of Christ,

Considering the stories I’ve been telling about my life starting out in pastoral ministry in Brooklyn, I wonder if you thought I had a tough time and that the issues and situations wore me down. Actually, none of those situations (like little in the way of financial resources, few in numbers of members, less yet in numbers of volunteers) wore me down. I never had “second thoughts” about whether I should have become a pastor or if I should have taken the call to Trinity Lutheran in Brooklyn. My call was clear and God’s support even more so.

But that is not to say there weren’t wearing concerns that challenged my spirits. But that had more to do with the challenge members had in understanding what it was like for me to be a pastor. Remember the old Indian proverb, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”? That is similar to the verse I began with above that talks about our having sympathy or empathy with another person. I’d like to say that the only one who can understand what it is like to be a pastor is another pastor, but ministries vary among pastors so I’m not sure even pastors understand what it’s like for other pastors doing a different ministry.

When I began ministry in Brooklyn, I had no ongoing support or direction from synod officials. The church body I was in had one bishop for the entire east coast of the United States. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of contact with that bishop. In 1975 we didn’t have computers for communicating with one another either. So, practical issues and questions about ministry were really things each pastor had to figure out for themselves, even something as mundane as days off and vacations. Are you aware most pastors try to take one day off a week? The “rumor” is that pastors work (mostly? Only? Primarily?) on Sundays (coincidentally the day that most members see them). Very honestly, that day with worship is mentally and emotionally exhausting (holding conversations with people in all situations in life and changing gears as if you didn’t have a clutch – “Pastor, I’m getting divorced. Pastor, I’m getting married. I’ve got cancer. The tumor was benign. My child just got arrested. Etc. etc.) but, it Is not our only work day.

Though I knew the general idea that pastor tried to get that one day off a week, it has never been sacrosanct for me – meaning that I wouldn’t do pastoral ministry on that particular day. I have a very understanding wife but she would agree that if someone was in the hospital undergoing surgery or an emergency, the pastor (me) should provide care. In my entire ministry, I’ve had few (if any) days off that didn’t include some work of ministry. I found it best just to not mention what that day is (and take it if I can or provide care if it is needed). I never wanted to find out someone didn’t let me know of their need (It was just a quadruple bypass, Pastor, and I know how busy you are….). 

But I had no guide in the early days for how much vacation time was appropriate. I knew “regular” workers (in “regular” jobs) who got two weeks of vacation after they had worked in their job for a year or more. So, with nothing to go by and no one to guide me, the first year I took one week of vacation and one Sunday off. I was really tired by the end of the second year and took two weeks and one Sunday off then. The next year I was really really exhausted and took two weeks and two Sundays…. At that point, one of the members came up (upon my return) and greeted me with, “You were gone again?” I honestly felt a little bad for a bit. Was she right? Was I just being lazy? Why was I so tired?

But my moccasins gave me the answer (my shoes were wearing out). It really is a little different “job” (calling, vocation) to be a pastor. Whereas most workers have a break in their week (when they come home on a Friday until they return on a Monday, pastors again try to get one day off (with meetings in evenings not an unusual occurrence). Whereas we would be hard pressed to hold two church meetings (for the same members) in the same week, pastors are in attendance at most, if not all meetings of the church. Many times they are preparing some leadership part of those meetings. 

And weekends tend to be some of the busiest times of the week. We can see members on weekends who work during the week (doing pre-marital, counseling, committees, etc.) as well as finishing up the sermon for the weekend. Sundays are a busy day for sure. Throw in some hospital calls and delinquent phone calls and some administrative work and Bible studies and…. 

That challenge for the laity to understand the pressures their pastor experiences is like the challenge they have in understanding and empathizing with other members. Sometimes pastors are more privy to the life situations and struggles of the members than the general membership is of each other. It breaks our hearts to watch challenging interchanges with members when we know some of those members are in the midst of battles with spouses and children and parents and bosses and co-workers and drugs and sex and health and mental issues. 

This is just one pastor’s plea that each of us do the best we can to be patient with each other, and, as Peter says above, “work for unity with one another, sympathize and empathize with each other, and love one another with a tender heart and humble mind.”  If we do that, we may get to experience in our hearts some of the reality of the life of another. Perhaps they will even let us walk a mile in their moccasins or at least with them for a mile or two of their lives offering support.

Peace in His service,

Pastor Johnson

Scripture Readings for Friday, September 22nd

Psalm 145:1-8; Nahum 2:3-13; 2 Corinthians 13:5-10