I recently read a quote, which I have of course lost track of, to the effect that a church is too large if the pastor can no longer know and visit all the members of the congregation. Of course that leaves out megachurches. I tried one out years ago and went for months without one person bothering to even speak to me. Sure the preaching was good, but when the pastor said something I disagreed with, it was easy to leave. They had small groups, but apparently you had to request to be put in one. You’d think someone would have been looking at people who came but were not assigned.
Now obviously, regular pastoral visits with a congregation is a practice that seems a bit old fashioned. I can’t remember having them even as a child and I have been around for several decades. But the quote made me think a bit about which of my pastors really did know their flocks, myself included. I’m a quiet type, sometimes easily overlooked. I think the one who was there for my older childhood and adolescence did. But it was a more recent example who came to mind.
Art came to our church when we were having a difficult time of it with rapid turnovers of our head pastor every couple of years. We had had a particularly hard time with the last one, who was a poor fit for our congregation, which had members leaving in droves. Now Art himself could have viewed his new assignment as a demotion, since he came from a position in the nationwide leadership. In addition, he had to spend much time living hours away from his wife, whose university position did not allow her to move. But there was no sense of any of that being a problem with him.
He came and immediately asked to have a number of meetings scheduled in neighborhood groups so he could get to know us, instead of one large reception. And in those groups, he asked questions. It went way beyond what’s your name and your occupation. He asked things like, who do you see as the key people around here and what do you want to see happening in the services and other ministries? I have to tell you, after the last guy, who kept inviting people to leave who went to him with concerns, this approach was healing. This man was not only telling us who he was, he was actually listening to us.
Just recently, a friend came up to me and was saying how much she missed him. She talked about how, when her granddaughter was baptized, Art carried her around the church so everyone could get a look at our newest official member. And I remember him coming up to my mom and telling her what a treasure she was to this congregation. It had been years since all of her musical leadership happened, but when he heard the stories, he made the connection and said thank you.
You see, Art took the time to love us, and we loved him back. I think many pastors could learn a lot from him. I hope he has moved on to that sort of ministry, pastoring the pastors. As it turned out, he was called to a church near his wife’s job after only two years with us. We were sorry to see him go, but happy that it sounded like a great opportunity for him. It’s amazing that someone who was there such a short time could be remembered so fondly. Sometimes it seems you are barely getting to know one another in that amount of time.
So if you are a pastor, I hope you will ask the Lord to help you love your congregation. It won’t mean there are never issues, but when you approach the issues with an attitude of deep care for one another, it is much easier to resolve them. Even if you have to agree to disagree, it takes the sting out of it.