There are many rich rewards to being a pastor, but there are also some dangerous pitfalls. One is rarely having the opportunity to be on the receiving end of ministry. In order to offset that danger, I ask our staff pastors to take a Sunday during the summer and attend another church with their families so they could be ministered to. Sunday was my day to be away.
If you aren’t a pastor, then some of what I’ll say won’t make much sense. Although pastors are regular people, ministry does some weird things to our self-image and our sense of responsibility. Being in charge of worship services and the spiritual care of others tempts us to be too concerned with things that aren’t ultimately that important- things like worrying about what people will say when we’re not at church, or worrying about whether or not things will go OK in our absence. Stupid stuff like that.
The day began like every other Sunday. I got up at my regular time and got my wife out the door (her presence at our church was required today). I decided to attend a large church in the next town, about 30 minutes away.
On my way to church, it occurred to me that I am completely unused to driving anywhere on a Sunday morning, because I normally get to church early. I was eager to see what the rest of the world does. Two miles from my house, a black Dodge Charger blew by me and passed me over double yellow lines. I guess the hot rods wake up early on Sundays. My route took me past my friend’s church (he’s the pastor), and I said a prayer for him as I went by. I couldn’t help but notice that the parking lots of the diners were full. I drove by the Country Club and was surprised to see a foursome putting on the 10th green, because it wasn’t even 9AM. I guess they get an early start on Sundays, too.
All the way to church, my stomach was churning. My mind was telling me this was a bad idea. I should be at my own church and ministering to my people. Then I received a text, which is unusual for me on Sunday mornings. It was my friend who doesn’t usually attend church. He sent me a picture of the inside of my church’s worship center, with the caption “Are we going to miss you today?” He came to church! I was sick, and it was all I could do to keep from turning around and going back.
Finally, I arrived. I was nervous walking up to the front door, because I didn’t know anyone. This must be what it feels like to be a guest at my church. I made a mental note to speak to everyone I see next Sunday. Here was the view from my seat:
You need to know this about pastors who visit another church: it’s very difficult for us to stay out of “comparison and evaluation mode.” Our instincts are to analyze instead of relaxing and worshiping, and I struggled at first. Then, somewhere during the second song, it happened. Like a Ninja, Jesus slipped in and stood beside me. The words and the music took me in, and everything else seemed to slip away. He gently reminded me that the success of my church doesn’t depend on me. He’s the one in control. It was liberating!
Then the pastor spoke, and his sermon was both relevant and engaging. The topic was prayer, and he taught that my prayers are a reflection of my perception of who God is. If I perceive God to be weak, disengaged, and uncaring, then I’ll pray that way. I was convicted.
Before I left for church, I wasn’t sure what today’s experience would yield. But God had it all planned. He created an atmosphere for me where I didn’t have to concentrate on anything except what He was saying, and it was so rich. I heard Him, I felt Him, and I was renewed. It was a gift from heaven, one which I rarely get to experience. Next week, when I stand before my own church, I’ll be better because of today.