August 12, 2009
The Pastor's Front Row Seat
Part of being a pastor is just being present.
"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them … Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep." Romans 12
There was a point in my life when I hated weddings. I'd do anything I could to get out of going. I'd leave early. But now, when I think about all the celebrating I missed …
I think the main problem was that I wasn't married myself—and I hated just about any and every reminder of that fact.
Ditto things like dealing with hard issues in people's lives, confrontation, or even other people's sickness. Nothing in my life had ever exposed me to—much less equipped me for—much of that at all. So, of course, it was good to go into a vocation like ministry where I would deal with all of those things on a regular basis.
While I always hated going to weddings, I've found doing weddings another thing entirely. As I drove home from a wedding the other day, I realized just how much I enjoy this role I get to play in people's lives.
In fact, I think I've always enjoyed doing weddings—well, except maybe that first one. The "pressure to enjoyment" ratio was way out of whack on that one. Good thing it only lasted about 10 minutes. On this last one, I think I finally crossed the 90 percent ratio in terms of pressure to enjoyment. Now it's almost pure pleasure. I know what I'm doing. I feel like I have something to offer. And most of all, I can relax and enjoy my front row seat.
As a pastor, I get to see things that most people don't. I regularly stand two feet from men and women as they pledge their lives and their love to one another, tears streaming down their faces. I stand there at one of the most significant moments of their lives, helping to create it. And I'm literally the only person in the room who can see the faces of the bride and the groom and all their family and friends at once. It's amazing. The supreme pressure I used to feel to mess things up (after all, who wants to be that pastor who calls the bride by the wrong name or accidently skips the vows) has now given way to just feeling honored at being invited so close to something so intimate.
That's how I've come to feel about dealing with some of the harder stuff, too. I still don't relish the hard issues—the confrontations or the hospital visits and the sickness. And I can't imagine anything I'm looking forward to less than the first Evergreen funeral.
But I know that if I fight involvement in those things internally, I will "mess it up." I'll be less present than I need to be. I'll look for easy ways out. I'll do my "job" and move on—and that, frankly, is a very poor way to approach something as sacred as the entre' into the hardest parts of people's lives.
Better to lean in, to feel honored to sit with someone in their sickness, their moment of grief. To feel the weight of being trusted by God to be present at the birth of the piece of someone's character that is forged in grief or confrontation and (hopefully) resolution. To feel privileged to have a front row seat in the marriages, the arguments, and the strife as well as the forgiveness, the growth, and the healing that God works in those situations.
At least at this point in my life, I can't imagine doing anything else. But the challenge is to root this role not in my position as pastor, but rather in my love for others as a Christ follower. And in doing so, I realize the front row has plenty of seats in it. Whether or not you are in "ministry," you can have a front row seat to what God is doing in others people's lives, if you will simply choose to be present. If you will just be the kind of person who grieves with the grieving and celebrates with the joyful, who shows up for other people with alarming regularity, who checks in, hangs out, lifts up.
Sounds like hard work. It is. It's also a big part of what it means to "love one another."
Bob Hyatt is pastor of the Evergreen Community in Portland, Oregon, and a regular contributor to Out of Ur.