A girlfriend and I were talking the other day about church. Well, specifically we were speaking about pastors. I have had the good fortune to sit under a handful of really remarkable pastors. I wrote about Pastor Smitty in my memoir After the Flag has been Folded. I cannot read the section of that memoir without tearing up, especially since Smitty passed away this year. Can you imagine what an impact it makes for a young fatherless girl to have a man of God step into her life?
I am convinced had it not been for the love of the people at Rose Hill Baptist Church, I’d be writing you letters from prison. (Oh, gosh, sitting here in Starbucks in Bend, wiping away the tears. I’m such a sap!)
When I came to Oregon, I had the honor of sitting under Dr. Herb Anderson at Corvallis First B. As you might expect, a college town requires a pastor to be a learned man. Dr. Anderson was one of the most challenging pastors I’ve ever sat under. He was such a reader. And he loved poetry best. I can still see him standing behind that pulpit, his thin frame leaning forward as he quoted entire poems from Frost, Millay, Wordsworth. It was enchanting to hear him recite those poems.
I think, perhaps in part, because I knew that poetry had spoken to him in time of darkness. A time when poetry was the only thing that could speak to his soul. I can’t be sure of the facts, given the goulash I now count at memory, but what I recall is that when Dr. Anderson was a young married man, he worked in the woods. In one of those lookout towers where folks stand watch for forest fires. He was in the tower with his young son, who fell out, leaving the boy brain damaged. The boy was shuffled into a special treatment center forever after, and the guilt of that haunted Dr. A.
From great pain came tremendous compassion. Dr. Anderson took seriously his role as shepherd.
There were other pastors, several of whom were youth pastors, who have poured their lives into mine or into my children. They not only challenged me to live out my faith, they taught me how to do that.
But I have also spent far too many of my adult years sitting under pastors who are not learned. They don’ t read. They don’t study. They don’t take their job of shepherding seriously. They are lazy and unfocused.
If that sounds harsh, I’m sorry. It’s the truth.
Why not go somewhere else, you ask.
To be quite honest, the pickings in rural America can be quite slim. When you live in an agriculture-based community, it can be difficult to find a pastor as learned as Dr. Anderson or Pastor Smitty.
That’s not to say my criticisms aren’t valid. It’s just to say I’ve mishandled all this. I should have been on my knees praying for these shepherds.
It’s not easy to be a pastor, you know.
My girlfriend shared how she’s learned to put in a “filter” so that when a pastor stands before her and says, “Every woman either is married or wants to be married”, she can note that such a word isn’t a word from God — it’s opinion.
And not a very learned one.
She doesn’t storm out the church, swearing to never return. She simply prays for her pastor. She prays for wisdom for herself. She prays for the people she serves alongside. She loves her church family. And that’s what they’ve become to her — a family.
It’s hard being part of a family.
You have to learn to get along with people you don’t necessarily enjoy all that much. You have to learn to bite your tongue from time to time. You get crabby with them. They get crabby with you.
But then there’s that moment when you say, “I’m sorry, I’m such a crank.” Or “I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to say.” And they tell you, “It’s okay. I didn’t mean to snap at you.” You embrace, and in that moment, is grace.
We really need to embrace each other more.
Quit being so cranky with each other.
My friend was saying that she had a friend who attends the same church and they are worried that all these misinformed remarks made by the pastor would be detrimental to their children.
And that struck me as funny.
Think about it, those of you who have grown up in the church. Can you remember one sermon you heard before age 18? Can you remember a sermon you heard five years ago?
Yeah, me, neither.
In fact, for all the admiration I hold for Pastor Smitty and Dr. Anderson, I can’t recall one sermon. Not a one. I can see them in the pulpit. I can hear their voices. I can see the tenderness in their faces, but I can’t recall one message.
Except the one they lived.
And, in that regard, we are all shepherds to somebody.
I confess that I’ve spent far too much time worrying about the sermon my pastor is imparting, instead of focusing on the message my life is preaching.
What about you? Have you done that, too?