I was reflecting on my days as a corps officer (pastor) and wondering how it compares to the current situation. What has changed? Clearly, the pandemic and dealing with those things have had a huge impact. The role of nones is having an increasing impact on church life. Nones are those who in a census declare they have no religious affiliation – that number continues to climb. And of course, digital tools are having an impact.
I hear from time to time that our digital systems have had an impact….but when I think of the time in the past writing out finance sheets, using carbon paper (some of you don’t even know that that is), and having to copy columns because there was no other way of carrying numbers forward is gone, well I am grateful for the provision of tools that help.
Having said that, I see that the essence of pastoring is still about showing up in person with people.
I’ve also been reflecting on my own experience of pastoring, especially in the early days where the number of people who I was the corps officership was smaller. I remember the first time I sat with a lady as she took her final breath. Her family was around her, and as it became evident that she was at the end of her journey I took her hand and as the hand holding joined everyone in the room together I prayed for her, for her family, and thanked God for her life. By the time I said Amen she was gone and I backed up letting the individuals in the room come to hug her and say a final goodbye before leaving the room and heading home – it was very late in the evening.
There was the funeral of Marty – just 8 years old killed in a car accident – sitting with his mom and sister not knowing WHAT to say – I was 27 and what did I know about loss, at least that kind of loss and did I help them at all? Or when the police officer took his own life and I sat in the living room with his wife and other officers as they wept and yelled and called out to God and accused Him of not listening…what was there to say?
Or the time that I did the funeral of a pedophile who had molested his own granddaughters…and what could I say to comfort the family who had conflicting feelings – sad for his loss while feeling relief he was gone and anger at how he had hurt their family. What could I say to his son who asked me to do the funeral but was clearly hurt.
And there are dozens of other illustrations….
Here’s the thing.
The New Testament has very little to say about Jesus outside of the three years of his earthly ministry. Yes it talks about this birth – what we call the incarnation – and there is that one story about the time he was 12 and his parents lost sight of him in the crowd but found him in the Temple. I think it is safe to say that 90% of Jesus’ life is not recorded. The Bible is silent on it, except for this singular phrase: God WITH Us.
Immanuel. That will be his name the angel instructed…
And so perhaps in living out our lives – not just ministry about living is about being with people. Sometimes it is okay to be quiet, especially when we don’t know what to say. To simply sit and be present.
At that moment maybe we most like Jesus.