Before You Phone Your Preacher
"Call the preacher, he's the only one to reach her, and there ain't no time to lose." Country singer Martina McBride's slightly irreverent tune strikes a chord with me. When life grows chaotic, ministry morphs into headaches, or dreams turn into nightmares, call the preacher.
I did and felt slighted by the initial response.
"Dr. George Robertson's first available opening is next month, Gaye. If we need to get you in sooner, perhaps we can arrange a phone call?"
Preferring a face-to-face meeting, I waited my turn. When that day arrived, I made one mistake. I told my husband about the appointment over breakfast.
Jim dropped his fork and looked up with a devilish grin. "We okay? You're not going to report me or something, are you?"
I reached over and squeezed his hand. "Course not. It's my ladies' Bible study. These women have huge needs, and I have few resources. I just felt the senior pastor ought to know what's going on. I've been waiting weeks to see George."
Jim went back to breakfast. "Uh huh. You know these hash browns are great, honey."
I frowned. "Uh huh? What do you mean by that? Fess up. You don't think meeting is a good idea, do you?"
Jim grabbed his napkin and wiped his mouth before he spoke. "I'm not going to talk you out of it, but think on this, sweetheart. What is it you expect the man to do for you?"
Such an obvious question. What were my motives? My real wants, once revealed, turned my stomach. I wanted:
- A pat on the back, even though I might manage to mention in conversation the perfunctory, "My ministry is all grace, of course."
- Assurance that the pastor knew more than just my name, and I mattered.
- A means to lighten the load. I had more than I could handle.
- A real solution---a pastoral answer---to the big questions my ministry created.
As if his thought-provoking question wasn't enough, Jim hit me with another. "Who's going with you? If you leave his office disenchanted, you need to consider that you won't go down alone. You could take a good friend with you into that disappointment. Great breakfast, honey. I have to go to work."
Faithful are the wounds of a friend and husband. His response annoyed me. Still, the man had a point.
I thought of cancelling the appointment. Instead, I went to the prayer closet with my not-so-hidden motives for meeting. Confession: I am a self-absorbed woman who still needs a Savior. I carried those hideously unfair expectations to God and asked him for an exchange. The God of all creation knew me by name; in fact, he wrote it on his hands (Isaiah 49:16). He had answers, resources, and riches far beyond my ability to count.
I should have called him first.
My second epiphany came as I thought of Diane, my friend and ministry partner. What would encourage her in that brief hour we'd share with the pastor? Diane's lifelong passion is prayer. What if---instead of unloading a mountain of questions and need---Diane and I approached the time as an opportunity to pray specifically for these needs with our pastor? At the end of our meeting, we could leave those burdens at Jesus' feet, not our pastor's.
I had squandered many prayer times with 55 minutes of explanation and 5 minutes of prayer, and I didn't want to make that mistake again. I went to my computer, filled two pages with prayer requests, and carried three copies of the finished product to the meeting.
When we arrived at the church office, George wasn't there.
"He's been delayed with several meetings running longer than expected," his secretary explained.
Diane noticed the big picture right away. "I suppose everyone wants a little piece of his time, and there is only so much time to give. We'll be glad to wait."
A few minutes later, George arrived at the office. He opened the door wide and extended his hand. "Sorry to be late. Good to see you."
As we entered his office, I noticed the next person came early for an appointment. What must it be like to sit and listen to person after person as they ask for recognition, assurance, and relief? I'd be exhausted at the end of the day.
George extended his hand to three chairs in front of his desk. "Tell me what I can do for you." He sat down in a chair and leaned forward.
I gave George his copy of my prayer requests and spilled out the speech just as I'd rehearsed. "Well, George, I had planned to tell you all about the problems Diane and I are having with this ministry. That's when it became obvious that they are too big for you. They're too big for us too. So I typed up some requests. Diane and I will start to pray, maybe go back and forth a little, and when you catch up with us by reading and praying, then feel free to join us."
He turned his attention to the paper. "Can I keep this? It will help me pray later as well."
George smiled. He hadn't expected this at all. I secretly thanked the Lord for my husband, the man of hard but great questions.
George closed the prayer time with these words: "Lord, I thank you for the privilege of praying in the middle of the afternoon for kingdom-building things with these two women."
As we walked out, the next visitor jumped up and looked anxiously toward the door. It made me wonder, What would happen if we sheep went straight to the top with our needs---to God first---then to the senior pastor if need be? Our pastors might find their appointment books a little less daunting.
We often feel slighted or ignored if the senior pastor isn't right there when we call him. We wonder if he truly cares about us, question whether he's a people person, and whine about feeling unheard. Note the irony: We bypass the God of all creation on our quest to meet with someone higher up the church org chart.
Sometimes it's best to carry our personal needs directly to God. But when you feel the need to call your pastor, when he asks, "What can I do for you?" say that you want to spend a few minutes praying with him, asking God to do something awesome in your church. He just might faint.