Christmas Anothen at Maplecrest
Having seen what it did to my home pastor, I never wanted to be one.
How it happened was…
I wanted to be a professor and write books; so I went to a seminary that was more academic than, uh, pastoral.
After my first year, the president’s right hand man called me into his office and said there was a very small church around the Delaware Water Gap on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey that needed a pastor but couldn’t afford to pay the going rate at that time for a graduate.
I said I had no interest in putting up with the kind of stuff that pastors put up with because I saw what it did to my home pastor; and reminded him that I was in seminary as part of my plan to become a professor.
He reminded me that I was getting a full ride.
So I went to the Delaware Presbyterian Church in
Delaware, New Jersey that was a few miles down from the road from the First Presbyterian Church of Belvidere, New Jersey where my supervisor was pastor.
He became a mentor and said something that I’ll never forget: “Bob, I know you have your heart set on becoming a professor but don’t let academics ruin you so much that you separate yourself from God and His people by degrees.”
I made lots of mistakes.
But even more back then.
While tempted to say they endured me because I was cheap, I think, looking back, they just understood love a lot better than…
Mary comes to mind.
She was older than my mom is right now and sat in the front pew every Sunday; smiling and nodding approval even though I didn’t know what I was doing and fumbling around with what I was saying.
Anyway, I spent two years being their pastor; and can recall almost everything that God did for me through them to convince me that I’m called to be a full-time pastor and occasional professor.
Actually, I always knew I was called to be a pastor even if I wanted to be a professor and write books.
It happened first in 8th grade.
My home pastor took me to the seminary that I’d attend years later and asked over a coke, “What do you think?”
I said, “I’m coming here some day.”
My first goals as a pastor were pretty simple – modeled by my home pastor.
I wanted to tell people about Jesus, visit people in the hospitals and nursing homes, and try to help people to become happy.
Yeah, that’s why I wanted to tell people about Jesus; for even way back then, I knew, still know, the only way to be happy is to know Jesus.
That was years ago.
Yeah, I wrote some books along the way that nobody’s read – still running behind the toothy guy from Texas in sales by about a trillion to one.
I’ve been an adjunct professor at two seminaries and kinda liked being brown-nosed which is different from churches that rarely pretend to like you if they don’t.
I’ve been a high-steeple preacher with lots of perks and made lots more money in my first two decades than last two.
Pero I’ve only been really fulfilled and personally happy when telling people about Jesus, visiting people in the hospitals and nursing homes, and trying to help people to be happy in/through/for Jesus.
While I’m no longer tempted to write books that no one will ever read or any of the other things that I thought would be fulfilling and make me happy before my seminary president’s right hand man made me go to that small church near the Delaware Water Gap on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I’m still tempted every now and then to look for significance and respect and prestige and renown and reward in other ways from being a pastor that just tells people about Jesus, visits hospitals and nursing homes, and tries to help people to be happy in/through/for Jesus.
I’m tempted by the dissonant voices to my soul that keep saying I’m not significant or famous or attractive or innovative or winsome or wise or whatever enough to grow a church as big as that toothy guy in Texas; and size and sizzle do matter to people that don’t know any, uh, better.
Just recently, I got caught up in that again while ministering to a fallen colleague and another wonderful pastor that just isn’t popular enough in the community to satisfy the need of his church for a religious superstar to feed their emotional as well as financial coffers and egos.
I looked at the attendance on the corner of Lincoln and Main; and it’s not getting better.
I looked at the finances; and the handwriting is on the wall.
I heard whispers.
Sure, I know the church in America peaked in membership and attendance from WWII through the 60s and it’s been downhill ever since with an acceleration over the last decade or so that portends the official end of the church age.
Still, people longing for the way things never were or maybe were but are no more were getting in my ears and I started wondering what to do to recapture those good old days that never were or maybe were but are no more.
I begged God.
I did it before in New Jersey and Kansas City and…it happened.
Can’t something big happen again for God?
Can’t I be a part of something big happening again for God?
See, I was getting caught up again in who God never meant me to be.
Then I went to Maplecrest Nursing Care Centre in the second week of Advent.
I sat and listened and prayed with people that reminded me of Mary.
We sat at the table of Holy Communion together.
As I was getting ready to leave for some clergy meeting to discuss things that would never get done because nobody really wants to do them anymore as the church of all persuasions continues to decline in passion, relevance, and cultural interest – Jesus just ain’t what He used to be in America and her churches anymore – a resident came to me and said another resident just learned that he son died and could use a prayer.
So I went to see her with her friend.
Then we sat at the table of Holy Communion together.
During the sacrament, we thanked God for the eternal life that her son now had by grace through faith in Jesus.
She didn’t ask if I had written any books.
She didn’t ask about any of my degrees or where I went to school.
She didn’t ask where I taught or even where I am a pastor.
She didn’t ask how many members are in our church or the size of our budget.
She just smiled…like Mary…and I remembered why my seminary president’s right hand man made me go to that small church so long ago.
Yes, there are times when I am tempted to want to be famous for Jesus; or maybe, really, famous for church members that need a famous pastor or maybe, really, famous for myself and, just coincidentally, famous for Jesus.
Maybe you’re a pastor and feel like that.
Maybe you’re one of those people that lusts for your pastor to be like that.
Maybe you think too much about your pastor and church than Jesus and His kingdom.
Maybe you need a trip to Maplecrest with me sometime.
Maybe all of us need a trip back to the cow trough.
It wasn’t a big crowd.
Pretty mixed gathering.
Rich, poor, celestial, barnyard.
Talk about inclusion-inspiring incarnation.
They didn’t seem too concerned about the attendance.
They were focused.
While I may be wrong about a lot of things now, I know I was wrong when I thought it’s got to be more than talking about Jesus, visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes, and trying to help people to be happy and knowing the only way to be happy is to open the door and let Him in.
Blessings and Love