I’ve told this story before about the church member who phoned me late at night – almost every night – to review her day, when I was a single pastor.
Me (waking up to answer the phone after midnight): Hello?
Lonely Lady: Hi, Pastor Jan. How are you?
Me: (still technically asleep) Ok. How are you?
LL: Well I just watched Citizen Kane again and it’s really excellent.
LL: When was the last time you saw it?
Me: I don’t remember. Are you ok?
LL: Yes, I just wanted to chat since you were available.
Me: Actually I was asleep. I’m happy to talk in the morning.
LL: But you have to talk with me. You’re my pastor.
Me: If you have an emergency, you can contact me any time. But if you are calling as a friend, this can wait.
Here’s one of many problems with that conversation: I am really NOT available 24/7, even in the event of an emergency. Sometimes I’m driving a car. Sometimes I’m on vacation. Sometimes I’m with someone else during her/his own emergency.
We pastors (and other self-claimed “heroes”) need to stop giving people the impression that we are always available. The beautiful thing about The Priesthood of All Believers is that all of us can be equipped to sit with the frantic, pray with the anxious, hold the hand of the dying. In fact, if I am the only one doing this, I am a failed pastor.
How can we make this Biblical shift?
- When you hear someone say, “Our pastor is never available” don’t automatically believe it. Every pastor gets at least one day off a week. Every pastor works away from his/her office. In fact, if your pastor does not answer the phone on the first ring, it means that – at that particular moment – he/she is probably doing ministry with someone else. Or taking a much-needed nap after working late the night before.
- If you need “a pastor” consider who else could help you – A Stephen minister? A Deacon? An Elder? A person in your spiritual community with obvious gifts of compassion who is not an official officer of the church?
- Remind your spiritual leaders to keep Sabbath and don’t grouse when they do.
I used to lie in bed at night after a long work day and recall all the things I didn’t accomplish that day. But we need to change this culture. We have done enough, if we have done the best we can do.