ATTENDANCE IS DOWN!
These words pierce any pastor’s heart! In my 20 years of pastoring The Vine Fellowship I have seen the attendance grow and decrease. You always get questioned (and question yourself) when the attendance is ebbing but not when it is growing. Former members point to the decline as some sort of justification for their leaving or the fulfilling of their prophecy of ‘bad things to come’ they slammed you with as they left.
Pastors maintain an optimistic outlook of the church and God’s people. We work hard to be faithful and loyal to the flock that God has entrusted to our care in His Kingdom. We give people the benefit of the doubt, love them when they are unlovely, support them and the decisions they unwisely make, and serve them without reservation. Imagine our hurt and disappointment when they decide that they don’t need you as their pastor anymore and move on.
I have found that loyalty doesn’t keep them nor does serving them 24/7.
- In my years of service to the Saints: I have tended to families whose children have committed suicide.
- I have sat by the beside of a dying member with their spouse until he took his last breath in the early morning.
- I have helped keep marriages together that were being devastated by the infidelity of a spouse.
- I have intervened in the physical abuse of a spouse only to be threatened by the abusing spouse myself.
- I have tended to families who loved ones passed away on Christmas Eve, took food to them and did the service the day after Christmas while missing much of my families Christmas celebrations.
- I have supported a fearful wife as only God and I could as her husband was on a ventilator close to death.
- I have given large amounts of benevolence money to members. One time I found out that one member was using it to pay her cable TV bill!
- I have helped members move, cleaned their homes, repair and paint their homes, and mow their yards.
- I have suffered ridicule for ‘not being there for them’ when I was trying desperately to be there for my own family.
- I have become all too familiar with hospitals, funeral homes, morgues, crime scenes while caring and serving 24/7.
- Etc. etc. etc. (Pastor, you can add to this list.)
What is significant about all the above situations is they all eventually left the church.
I was loyal to them. But, I found that these situations did not endear loyalty to me and the church. I discovered people could walk out of your life as if these never happened and forget you gave yourself unreservedly for and to them.
But having said all that, I would accept them back, be loyal in my care and love of them, and not hold their leaving against them.
Is that wrong? To paraphrase Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington’s comment about how baseball goes, ‘That is just what baseball do,’ I would say, ‘No, that is just what pastor do!’
I will never lower my expectations of being loyal and serving God’s people, and I will always hope they will reciprocate in kind.
I am eternally optimistic!!!