I got to musing the other day at Edgewood Cottage about how preachers are viewed by the general public. (You’d be surprised at folks’ reaction when I say I’m a minister as well as an artist). Funny thing that in the movies most professions are depicted halfway truthfully, but two groups are skewed: the prostitute and the preacher.
The prostitute is always pictured in the movies as a good-hearted person, who has strength of character and helps the underdog, etc. etc. The preacher? He’s usually a harmless, ridiculous, irrelevant, bumbling figure who mumbles inane phrases at the funerals depicted in movies, or else in the movie he gives a stirring, 30-second sermon totally devoid of any Biblical content.
How do you picture preachers, “reverends,” or whatever you call them?
Let me talk with you a moment about the personal life and calling of ministers. Like myself, most ministers are in this work because they have felt a call from God.
The joke about the man seeing the letters “GP” in the sky and interpreting it as God saying, “Go Preach” when it really meant “Go Plow” has some merit to it, but not often. Most ministers enter the ministry without any thought of whether they will ever get rich that way (three of my brothers included a surgeon and two attorneys). Most ministers feel a calling to “minister to the weary in need of rest, to the lonely in need of friendship, to the hurting in need of comfort, to the sinful in need of a Savior, and to the joyful in need of a place of celebration.”
But in this age of television, even the pastor of the smallest country church is expected to be a fine speaker, a good administrator, a superb counselor, a genius at public relations for the church, husband to the perfect wife (meaning she is involved in everything at the church), father of perfect children (meaning they will never act like the deacons’ children and be arrested for drunk driving, etc.). He is to visit every home once a week, be sure to see all those in the hospital, even if the hospital is a couple hundred miles away, and somewhere along the way he is to prepare honest messages from God given to him as he meditates and studies the Word of God. Can any man—or woman—fit that picture?
I had just gone to a new pastorate, and after a few months a terrible tragedy happened. Several teenagers in the church were involved in a car crash. My wife and I had spent the night in Atlanta at the hospital with the families, trying to bring comfort in the deaths of several of the youth. We finally headed back to our town the next morning. We stopped by a grocery to pick up a few items. In line to check out, an elderly church member saw us and demanded if the new pastor knew her name. It was absolutely the wrong thing for her to do since the church had 2,000 members! With no sleep, with the horrible night still fresh — I put down the groceries, told the stunned cashier, “If you know her name, you tell her!” and walked out. Naturally, a few minutes later I was aghast at what I had done and called my secretary, who was a walking bank of information. I described the lady to her, she immediately gave me all kinds of personal information on that lady — family, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. So, I went to the lady’s home to apologize and see if I could mend the fence. When she came to the door, you would have thought she was seeing a ghost. The long and the short of it is that we smoothed it over, and she explained that she had a fear of dying and the new pastor not knowing her name!
Remember that your pastor is human. He tries to do his best for you and for God, but like you, he has faults and frailties. Yet such stories as the above are so easily outweighed by the gratitude of folks whose lives have actually been changed, who have received strength and comfort and hope, as the minister brings the grace of God to situations just by his presence. As the great Baptist minister George Truett said, “If I had a thousand lives, I would spend them as a minister.”
Ah, it’s a great life if you keep your eye on heaven!