I’ve totally lagged in my effort to journal or in this case blog about the last ten years of pastoral ministry since I graduated from seminary back in May of 2003. Overall I’ve been involved in ministry since I graduated high school in 1986. When it comes to being a pastor I’ve gone through the ups and downs. I’ve taken my share of licks. On the one hand I’ve been blown away by how God works in the lives of God’s people even in spite of my shortcomings as a pastor. On the other hand I’ve had those moments where I’ve asked the Lord what it is that God was doing in my life and in the lives of God’s people. I have noticed something recently that I give thanks for, which is making me rethink what I do as a pastor on any given Sunday.
I’m only guessing when I say this. In every church there are at least several little churches. There’s the church of the front of the sanctuary and then there is the church of the back of the sanctuary. There’s the church of the balcony and then there’s the church of the sides of the sanctuary. There is even the church of the narthex and the church of the fellowship hall. I’ve noticed something of recent. I’ve noticed a lot of people on the sides and in the back open up their hearts wanting someone to listen; wanting to be heard as well as wanting someone to pray for them. Now I know there are folks who don’t want to be noticed. They come, they sit, they leave. That’s all fine and dandy. I get it. I think though if the church with the big C is going to continue to remain viable and take an active part in the mission of God, the church has to start paying attention just a little bit more to the back and to the sides of the church. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be people of the new commandment. It means getting up and moving from the front of the church to the sides and to back.
Now I know every church handles their prayer time differently. In my context as a part-time pastor of two churches, we have a moment in the worship services where people share aloud their prayers of praise or concern. Now mind you there’s always someone from the front who shares. I don’t want to downplay the front. I love the people of the front of the church. They’re awesome folks. I now they love the Lord. I’ve witnessed with my own eyes, the heartfelt prayers of concern as well as the praise reports of how God answers prayer and how they’ve seen God work. It’s the prayers in the back and on the sides that have caught my attention lately. How I’d love to share them here in this setting. I will tell you the most recent answered prayer came from someone who sits in the back of the sanctuary, who had only visited the church a couple of times. This past Sunday this person with the biggest smile, shares with the entire church this persons gratefulness that the church prayed the week before for something that was shared by this person, and that God answered this persons prayers during the week. It was the smile and the look in this persons eyes that grabbed my heart.
To be a church of the new commandment means we’re going to have to start paying attention to the back and to the sides of the sanctuary. It means that we need to move from the front to the back. We need to take an active role in the lives of the people of the back. It means letting the back know that we not only see them, but we care about them and that we care that they were able to find enough strength to enter the doors of the church and that they matter to us and most of all to God. How will they know they matter? By the way we love one another and by the way we go out of our way to welcome the stranger. They don’t care about the bulletin or the registration card. They want to be loved and accepted and are looking for hope.
They’re looking for good news. There is nothing good about the news right now in the world and of all places the church should be a place where good news is proclaimed unashamedly.
What would it mean for you to move from the front of the sanctuary to the back this Sunday? What would it look like if you sat with someone in the back and most of all are you paying attention to what’s being shared from the back and how God is working through the real honest prayers of God’s people? What would it mean to be a church of the new commandment?
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35