A few times over the course of my ministry with small congregations, I have been taken aside by some member of the congregation and thanked for what I have done and am doing in the congregation. Since I am somewhat analytical by nature, I have generally asked the person to tell me just what it is that they think I have done. Initially, I was thinking I would hear some comment about my breathtaking preaching, my incredibly inspiring teaching, my superlative administrative skills or at least the fact that last Sunday, I managed to produce a bulletin with no discernible mistakes.
But in almost every case in which this scenario happened, the informant doesn’t mention any of those things. Almost all have told me that what I have done that is so important to them is change the atmosphere of the congregation. They mention that they come to worship now because they want to, not because they feel it is their duty. They talk about the fact that we laugh a lot as a congregation–and often add that we laugh together, not at each other. Sometimes, the person will say that the congregation used to be gloomy but now they feel hope and excitement.
I have to confess that this hasn’t been some planned strategy on my part but as I have reviewed the ministry I have done, I can see that a change of atmosphere is generally a by-product of what I have been doing. And in each situation, I haven’t been doing anything more than what I think is my job as pastor.
My primary area of skill, ability, gifts and inclination is pastoral. I am concerned about people. Now, because I am an introvert, I joke with churches that I don’t actually like people but that really isn’t true. As a pastor, I like and care for the people I am working with and for–and they are my primary focus. That doesn’t seem to be the case for all pastor-congregation matches.
As I read and study pastoral trends these days, I find strong encouragement for me to be a Leader, a Visionary or even better, a Visionary Leader. I am told by others that I must be an unflinching advocate of the TRUTH, unwavering in my defence of all that it right. Others suggest that I must be Seeker Sensitive, designing worship and programs for those who aren’t there but who might come if I get things right. I also need to be an advocate of Church Growth, following which ever theory is hot at the moment.
In the end, though, I am a pastor, called by God to love and care for a specific group of people. The spiritual (and sometimes actual) feeding of this flock is my focus. And as I have analysed the congregations I have worked with, I realize that the comments I mentioned at the beginning of this post are a direct result of the fact that the people feel cared for and supported in their spiritual development–and that changes the nature of their relationship with both the faith and the church.
These days, I am more aware of the atmosphere of congregations and more concerned with changing the atmosphere. But the process I follow really hasn’t changed. I am still a pastor. I work at listening and caring and supporting. I build my teaching and preaching on what I am hearing and seeing and deducing from my pastoral contacts. But most of all, I spend time with people, listening and learning.
The results of good pastoral care are many and varied–but one of the most important is that people feel valued and important. Worship becomes a time of sharing with each other and with God their sense of value and importance. Whatever we do as a congregation grows out of this atmosphere of value and importance. People are free to open themselves to the leading of the Spirit–and when the congregation opens themselves to this leading, there is no telling what will happen but it will generally be positive, powerful and exciting for everyone involved.
The church weather report is one of the most powerful indicators of the health and potential of a congregation–and the role of the pastor is crucial to establishing conditions for a good weather report.
May the peace of God be with you.