One of the amazing things about our congregation is that I look out on it, and realize that I would be friends with a good 85% of the people there, even if I just met them out on the street.
You know how it is. As a pastor, you love people. You learn to deeply appreciate them. And often, you grow these wonderful friendships with men and women whom you would never ordinarily interact with. That’s the beauty of church. But, for some reason, I am now in a very enviable position of being around people whom I love, appreciate, and would be friends with.
At the church, our book club picks out books that I would read. Groups get together for theater nights to see shows that I would pick out. And… I feel a bit guilty about this… but… we probably vote the same way. Most of us get outraged about Styrofoam cups, our medical system, and exclusive language for God.
I have never been in a church like this. Most of the time, I have been the pastor who’s making a big deal out of the war when everyone else is boycotting “French” fries.
It makes me extremely thankful for the church that I serve. When I was looking for a congregation, I read Let Your Life Speak, and realized that in the next call, I needed to pastor a church that I would ordinarily attend. And now I do.
As much as it makes me grateful for the congregation that I’m in, strangely enough, it also makes me thankful for the congregations that I served in previous years.
I was a skilled pastor, and yet I was a good thirty years younger than most of my congregation. I was continually reminded of the palpable longing for the retired interim who came before me. I thought that it was because he spent every afternoon in each person’s home—and so I would try to keep up with the visitations, but it would never be enough. I was trying to redevelop the church, and that’s difficult to do if you spend every afternoon with the elderly women in your congregation.
It wasn’t just about the number of hours in each living room. I know now that it wasn’t just the daily visitations for which they longed. It was also the friendship. A friendship with someone who was at the end of his career, working out what he was going to do with his retired days, whether he was going to take a trip to Europe this year or the next. In contrast, I was a scrappy young pastor with a child who was trying to figure out how to pay for her utility bills. He lived in a swanky neighborhood, instead of a starter home, in a city my parishioners looked down upon. He was an equal, a friend, in a way that I never could be.
And as much as I was frustrated by it then, I am feeling thankful that they welcomed me. They must have really enjoyed having a pastor who was a friend. Not in the forced sense, but in that comfortable sense. They read the same books, they went to the same theater, and they probably voted the same way. They would have been friends with him if they had met him on the street. And yet, they gave a gift to the next generation of the church by hiring me.
We are in a particularly difficult point in our denominational life. We have churches that are dwindling, and fewer of them can call pastors. The average age of our parishioners is getting higher each year. We have a lot of retired ministers who are reluctant to let go of their jobs, because they have a great deal to offer, and because they receive tremendous financial incentives to hold on to their positions.
On the other hand, we have many, many young pastors who are looking for calls. And if we’re going to be a faith that is proclaimed from generation to generation, we cannot neglect to hire, support, sustain young pastors, even if current congregants feel uncomfortable with them. Even if they would not normally be friends with them.
Why? Because youth attracts youth. Young pastors will reach out with ease to their friends. If they are allowed to flourish, many ministers are able to bring people into their congregations who look like them. That might be a scary proposition for many older church members. But, if they are able to put their own need for pastoral friendships aside, then their church will gain a life beyond them. It could be a very selfless gift for the next generation.
Photo by Teddy