My friend David told me what happened. One thing I am sure of, there was a mighty embarrassed preacher (not Dave) in the church building that day.
Here’s the story in my words, not his.
Dave was pastoring a small church in a deep southern town while living in the nearest city. During the week, he worked at the health department.
One day, his church leadership requested that Dave get ordained. He passed this on to his home church pastor in the city.
The pastor said, “Dave, anyone in particular you want to preach your ordination?” Dave couldn’t think of anyone. “I’ll leave that to you,” he said.
The night of the big event, Dave entered the church sanctuary and spotted a colleague from the health department. As they exchanged greetings, the friend said, “Uh, Dave. Have you seen who’s preaching your service tonight?” He hadn’t.
As soon as he laid eyes on the featured preacher, Dave stood there in shock.
That preacher was a retired pastor who lived in the city. Only a few weeks before, Dave had served him with official papers demanding that he take care of some health issues on his property or face legal action. The preacher had defiantly cursed David out, creating quite a spectacle.
“He did take the remedial action we demanded, however,” Dave says.
But even so.
The preacher who cursed David out is now about to preach his ordination service.
No doubt the old preacher had not had a clue who this young pastor was. He had accepted the city pastor’s invitation blindly.
And now he was facing a little version of his own personal Judgement Day.
The old pastor was receiving a comeuppance.
Just before the service got underway, the older man sidled over to Dave and whispered, “I think we can just forget about that little incident between us the other day, don’t you?”
And because Pastor Dave is the gentleman the old man should have been but wasn’t, he agreed.
This episode set me to thinking.
One wonders what would happen if every pastor’s audience next Sunday was composed exclusively of men and women with whom he has had dealings in the last year.
We enter the sanctuary from the organ side.
Over here on the left sits the mechanic who worked on the pastor’s wife’s car. Down the pew is the waitress at his favorite coffee shop with her family. Behind them we notice the grocery store checker along with two teenage girls who fill in for her from time to time. They all wonder if the preacher is as impatient to move the service along in his church as he is when they’re waiting on him.
The pastor’s barber is there, right beside his plumber and his electrician. The trashmen are here too. Fortunately, they are wearing their good clothes today. Behind them sits the newspaper delivery fellow. They’ve all heard enough complaints from the pastor about lousy service to stoke their curiosity about the kind of sermon such a preacher would deliver.
Sitting halfway back is a group the pastor doesn’t recognize. These are the telephone service people from Sears, the internet provider, the phone company, and the TV mailorder place. Some speak broken English, but they understand enough to get by. The pastor was more than a little impatient with all of these on the phone recently.
The children’s schoolteachers are here, along with the assistant principal. The college where the pastor’s son attends is represented by the campus minister and the woman who works in the business office. The pastor had words with her a few days ago.
The pastor rises to begin the service. He strides to the center of the platform and glances out at his audience. Hesitating, now for the first time in weeks, he transforms his usual invocation into a genuine Lord-help-me prayer.
Assuming the pastor to be a man of genuine integrity with a heart for God and people, the experience of seeing before him a large group of people who have had contact with him in some of his less flattering moments would be a great thing.
Granted, we are assuming a lot. The pastor who is rude to service people and who throws his weight around with “lesser mortals” cannot be assumed to value integrity or have a heart for God. If such rudeness is a pattern for him, then he is what may be officially termed a hypocrite. And that makes him an embarrassment to the cause of Christ.
If he has little or no integrity and less a heart for God and people than for his own power and position, then he will bull his way through the worship service today with scarcely a thought about the people he has trampled upon who would love to see some humility from him today.
But if his rudeness was the exception, then he looks upon the congregation today as an opportunity to right some wrongs. His leadership today will involve a number of powerful influences.
He will be humble. Above all, he feels a sense of his own sinful heart and his constant need of grace, both from God and from others.
He will be specific. The old pastor who leaned over to my friend Dave asked if they could put “that little incident” behind them. That’s not good enough. That was the equivalent of sweeping it under the rug, and asking the victim to okay the act. There needs to be a specific confession for what he has done.
He will be apologetic. He will ask for forgiveness. And he will extend forgiveness and mercy to anyone needing it from him.
He will be Christlike. He need not grovel or humiliate himself. He would be receiving forgiveness and possibly extending it, receiving love and giving it.
He will seize the moment for a lesson from God’s word. The choices of stories from Scripture are almost endless.
But since we are fantasizing here, it’s probably as far as we need to journey in this direction.
The minister’s conduct is never a private matter. He is no private citizen but a servant of God on mission in an alien land. He is an ambassador for Jesus Christ. People are making decisions about Jesus and eternity based on what they see in him.
Is that unfair? Whether it is or not, the pastor should have known this went with the territory when he accepted the call into the ministry. It’s who you are.
His situation is not unlike an American soldier stationed in a foreign country. He wears his uniform into the city and engage people in conversation and various dealings as he buys items, eats in restaurants, takes in a movie. The people however do not see him as the individual that he is. They see an American soldier. They make decisions about Americans and our military based on his conduct.
Imagine the U.S. Ambassador to Britain (aka, “The Court of St. James”) saying to the president, “I can’t imagine you asking me to do that thing. I have my rights, you know. Why should I act any differently in London than anyone else?” The president sighs and says, “May I remind you, Ambassador, you are there by my appointment. I can recall you any time I please. Your entire purpose in that country is to do my bidding. What part of that don’t you understand?”
And so, the Christian in this world–but particularly the minister of the Lord Jesus Christ–may put up with a great deal of hassle and misbehavior without retaliating. He knows that he is representing the Lord Jesus and that people will draw conclusions about his Savior by what he does. Sometimes he might even resent that, but this is the life he signed on for.
The driver the pastor just cut off in traffic turns out to be his next appointment. So, he will “drive unto others as he would have them drive unto him.”
The father of the student the pastor chewed out for what he perceived to be mistreatment of his child turns out to be an important official he was about to ask for a favor. And so he will look for wise ways to stand up for his child when necessary.
Look, pastor. No one is suggesting the preacher become a door mat.
We do suggest he become more like Jesus.
That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)
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I thought of this a few days after posting this article. Years ago, when I was the new pastor at the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, they had a parking space for the pastor designated in the rear of the building. Since I visited the two local hospitals first thing every morning, often I would arrive to find my spot had been claimed for someone else. One morning, I decided to see who the culprit was.
I pulled my car up to the back bumper of the offending vehicle and went inside.
A few minutes later, a distraught young mother came into my office, all apologies. “Oh, Dr. McKeever, I am so sorry I got your space. It was raining and I had my hands full of diaper bags and papers and my baby was crying.”
I felt like going through the floor.
That day, our custodian transformed that parking space into a “loading zone.” And we painted over the names/titles of every staffer who had a designated space. We would not make this mistake again.