I am leading worship, something I do twice a Sunday almost every Sunday of the year–I do take vacations. I have finished the announcements, begun the worship and we are singing the first hymn. After making sure that I have the bookmarks in place for the responsive reading and the next hymn (I am organized, not obsessive), I take some time to look around at the congregation. I have greeted everyone as they come in and had a brief conversation with most of them but this is my first time to really see the whole congregation.
I know who is there but at this point in the service, I get to take a quick count (a relatively quick and easy job in small congregations) and at the same time, discover who isn’t there. Some, I already know won’t be present–they have mentioned to me that they will be away because of this or that commitment. I am pretty sure that I know the reason for the absence of one or two others. But there are a couple whose absence concerns me.
I am not concerned because it makes the numbers look bad–having been the pastor of small congregations for many years, I don’t get too concerned about numbers until there is a major, sustained deviation from the average. But I am concerned because I don’t know why they are missing from the worship that day.
You might think this shows that I am a controlling, nosey, busybody who needs to know every detail of everyone’s life. I prefer to think that I am a pastor, a person called by God to provide spiritual and other input as God leads me–and being a pastor means that I am concerned with what goes on in the lives of the people that God has called me to shepherd. Most Sundays, my big concern isn’t whether we have 17 or 20 people in worship–my real concern is whether those who aren’t there are okay.
I have the same concern for those who are there as well–but I can do something about that. As I greet them and talk with them, I can and do get a sense of how they are doing and whether I need to plan some pastoral input during the coming week. But when someone expected isn’t there, I have to confess that I have alarm bells going off in my mind–not level one, all out panic alarm bells but alarm bells nonetheless.
If I am really lucky, someone will mention to me that one of the absentees had company drop in or caught a cold or something equally minor. If not, I might ask one of their friends. And if no one knows, the person goes on my pastoral list. Because I am a pastor in small, rural communities, I can be pretty sure that if the person missing from worship is suffering from a major, catastrophic event, everyone will know about it and someone will tell me eventually. But there are lots of things between minor and catastrophic that I can and do respond to as their pastor.
One of the things I know is that I am called by God to provide pastoral care to the churches that I worship with each week. Pastoral care is a vague and hard to define concept that is often much easier to see in its absence that in its presence. It is a calling that I sometimes get tired of–but can’t seem to ever get away from. Even when I am not a pastor, I find myself reacting to people like a pastor–listening and watching and paying attention, looking for the clues that God helps me see so that I know how best to respond to the individual and their needs in God’s name.
Being a pastor tires me–but it also completes me. It irritates me at times–but it also gives me a sense of purpose and direction. Being a pastor clashes with my introverted nature sometimes–but it also fulfills an even deeper part of my nature.
I know that I am called to be a pastor. Some days, I am not sure of much and other days, I discover that what I think I know is wrong–but every day, I know that I am a pastor and need to care for those people whom God has called me to shepherd.
May the peace of God be with you.