Just got back from Nashville for “The School of Congregational Development” of the United Methodist Church. Big churches. Lots going on. Not many small churches out there. Occasionally as I tell the story of Girdwood Chapel and ministry here, the struggles, the blessings, etc., I get asked if I see myself as “as small church pastor.” My usual response is, “I don’t know. That’s all I’ve ever been sent to.”
There are lots of things to love about the small church. Those bigger churches out there are trying to find ways to make themselves smaller — small groups, cell groups, home groups. We’re already small. That’s a “win” for us. And those bigger churches have large staffs with large plans. They can have a lot of momentum. But there is an “agility” with the smaller church. We can change on a moment’s notice. If a visitor comes up to me on a Sunday morning and says, “Hey, I sing in my church choir back home and I wondered if you’d like a special song today?” I’m going to say “yes.” And I’m not going to ask for an audition first. We’re just happy to have you.
There are, of course, problems. While I sometimes love being able to “run the show” and not have to clear my ideas through this or that committee, it’s clear that those larger churches can have creative teams that I’d love to be part of. And, I have to say, having a full-time secretary to take care of the office work sounds wonderful at times. And, how, about a custodian who took care of that leaky roof for me (Although I thoroughly appreciate the Dick, and Ida, and George who have served as our “sextons” during my time at Girdwood. I’m known for lots of things, but I’m not known for keeping things neat and tidy on a Sunday…)
There’s a lot of things that pastors…at big churches and the small ones I’ve served…just have to do. In Kenai, it was my job to start the coffee on Sunday mornings and to make sure it was all shoveled out in winter time. And in Girdwood, it’s well known that I’ve been the chief roof-shoveler of our old church. My wife keeps asking why it is that I don’t have a rotating list of names for who shovels the roof. And I keep telling her that the problem is that the roof REALLY needs shoveling when it leaks…and I’m the one who usually sees it leaking. And it needs to be done right away, not at some work session later that day or later in the week.
Just yesterday I swept water off our roof and did it again this morning before worship.
There are just odds and ends that come with being pastor; things that you just have to do. They are things that might not get noticed or recognized and are surely not as much fun as leading studies or getting up in front of persons and delivering sermons. They are behind-the-scenes. And they are needed.
I’ve been reading Mitch Albom‘s book, “Have a Little Faith: A True Story“ that was given to me by a new Girdwood friend. I like it. He touches on these pastoral duties as he talks with Pastor Henry Covington of the I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministry in Detroit. It’s a ministry in a big, old, downtown church with a 10-foot hole in the roof. Here’s the dialogue that I want to highlight:
I looked around.
This is a big church, I said.
“I know it,” he said, chuckling.
You have a New York accent.
Was this your first assignment?
“Yes. When I first came, I was a deacon and a caretaker. I swept, mopped, vacuumed, cleaned the toilets.”
I thought of how the Reb (the author’s childhood rabbi), when he first arrived at our temple, had to help clean up and lock the doors. Maybe that’s how Men of God develop humility. (Mich Albom’s Have a Little Faith, Hyperion Press, p. 119)
Well, maybe all of the less glamorous things we clergy (really at bigger or smaller churches) have to do is a way for us to develop humility. It gets us out of the limelight. It gets no adoration. No one comes to our churches saying that they are there because no one can clean toilets (or roofs) like we can. But with all of the “works” we do before others…it’s good to have a whole bunch of “works” that only God knows about and only from God do we get any thanks. Perhaps it helps keep us all humble.
What’s that country western song….”Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way…”