I still remember the time vividly.
Steve and I had recently moved from Cuenca, Ecuador to Quito where we were serving as Southern Baptist missionaries. The horrors of Katrina were splattered across the TV screen on the only U.S. news station we had available. Our son, who had finished his course work at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was being interviewed by a committee to be a pastor in Arkansas. He, his wife Katie and very young son Luke had spent the weekend at the church where he was questioned by a host of folks and preached to them that Sunday morning. The all-important vote was to take place at the conclusion of that service.
Matt’s jubilant voice came over the phone to say that the vote was 376 to 3 in favor of calling him. (No, I don’t remember that first number exactly, but I do remember that “3”). Matt and Katie were so excited about this new field of service, and I was, too. But, my first thought, if I’m being honest, was, “Give me the names of those 3. I want to set them straight about how great my son is!” All of you mommas out there can relate, I’m sure. How dare anyone doubt my son’s abilities or rightness for the task?! I finally concluded that those must have been just some children or teenagers who had been left unattended with ballots. 🙂
Matt, for the record, went on to have some very successful years leading that church. Their missions giving went through the roof, and they heard some mighty solid preaching — totally unbiased opinion, of course.
All of that to say that my thoughts/feelings/needs/wants when it comes to my own pastors have been derived from three contexts. 1) I’ve heard sermons every week for 68+ years. I’ve had at least a dozen or more pastors and other interim pastors along the way. Each had his own set of gifts — some for preaching, some for pastoring, some for administration. Very few had all three of those qualities in large amounts. Some became our close friends. A couple of them were much older than Steve and me. A few were about our age, and others were younger. 2) My dad, in his work with the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home, was in touch with practically every Baptist pastor in the state of Alabama. I heard daddy’s thoughts and did a lot of observation on my own. Frankly, some of those men were absolutely outstanding, while a few were, shall I say, less than stellar. 3) But, now, as “the preacher’s momma,” I tend to know more about what is really going on behind the scenes WHILE I hear my son preach messages with passion and intense preparation.
At my age and after being a Christian for almost 60 years, I don’t have to have a pastor who is my babysitter, the smoother of my ruffled feathers, or my hand-holder when I stub my toe. Surely I have matured beyond that point.
At this stage of my life, I’ve concluded that these things are what I need the most from a pastor:
- When he stands in the pulpit to preach on Sunday, I want him to teach me something new. Or at least make a familiar passage or concept fresh. I may be a Senior Adult from an age perspective, but my desire to keep learning hasn’t dried up. I need to know that he has spent a lot of time in God’s Word during the week and in communication with the Father asking Him what he should say to His people. I need to know that he has given top priority to this important hour in the life of my church. Dig it out. Find what God wants us to know, and put it in a context that we can apply and take out the back door with us when we leave.
- I need to know that he, or at least one of his “people,” cares when I am going through a serious crisis and that he will genuinely pray for me. If I am a part of a large congregation, I completely get it that there aren’t enough hours in the day to be a close shepherd to 1000 sheep, but I’m counting on him to organize his staff and/or the deacons so that everyone can be touched by someone in a pastoral position when those critical times happen. At this point, let me stop and mention two former pastors who will always be deeply loved because of their demonstration of care and concern for me and my family. My mother died suddenly in January of 1986. Her death put my dad, my siblings and me in utter shock. When I looked up at her funeral and saw Bro. Brooks Barkley there, it meant the absolute world to me. He had driven from Hartselle, AL to Troy, AL because he cared. Then, when Steve’s dad drowned in a boating accident on the Tennessee River in 1997, I can still see Dr. Mark Tolbert and his wife Joy standing behind us for HOURS at the funeral home visitation, whispering encouragement, bringing us water, handing us Kleenex, just loving us and ministering in any way they could. As I’ve already said, I’m a “big girl.” I really don’t even WANT anyone except Steve there when I have an outpatient surgery, for example. I have friends and family for times like that. But, I would greatly appreciate a touch of some kind from my pastor, or his representative, when I’m shaken to my core.
- I need to be confident that he has a clear vision from God about the direction of the church and that he is earnestly asking for His wisdom and guidance in how to implement it.
If I need a family counselor, I’ll seek out a trained one.
If I spot a maintenance issue in the church building, I’ll let a member of the maintenance staff know.
If I have questions about a committee decision, I can ask a committee member to clarify it for me.
From watching my son pastor a church WHILE also being a husband and father, I know that bothering him with a hundred petty things only depletes his energy and discourages him. What I do see that he needs from his church members and what I need to give my pastor are these things:
My willingness to assume the best and walk in the door each week looking for good things and expecting to find them.
Above all, my prayers. I have the ability and the desire to intercede on behalf of my pastor and his family, asking that God will provide their needs spiritually, emotionally and physically and that God will keep my pastor focused on his task.
Is your church searching for a new pastor?
Have you gotten caught up in putting expectations on a pastor that are unrealistic, maybe even impossible?
Perhaps some of the words I’ve typed will help. And let these verses encourage you.