I was having a conversation recently about what makes a “good” pastor.  Is it good preaching?  Good administration?  Is it about pastoral care?  Is it knowledge of the Bible?  Is it about engaging young adults?  You know how these conversations go.  Too often, at least one party is looking for an angle to criticize a church leader.  But I realized something anew… there are a variety of gifts, of strengths important to “successful” pastoral leadership, but some “great” pastors have some gifts and not others.  Nevertheless, there is one quality that I think is essential:  a pastor must love her or his congregation.  No, it’s not a sappy or silly thing to say.  I’m talking not about a sweet emotion but about a commitment and a depth.  I’m talking about a passion that is as strong on rough days as on easy days, in Ordinary Time as much as on Easter morning.  I’m talking about the language of 1 Corinthians 13 (yes, that passage is about relationships within the body of Christ, not about romantic love.)   I believe a pastor must truly love her or his congregation in order to lead effectively.

This may seem like a tangent, but please bear with me:

Mom broke her ankle and has had two surgeries in the past month.  She spent most of that month either in the hospital or in a rehab center, not in the small, personal assisted living facility that she now calls home.  At the time, I recognized that things weren’t quite the same, but honestly I had no complaints about her care.  I expected when she lived in a much larger facility that there would be many more needs that the staff had to manage, and thus mom’s needs might not be addressed as urgently.  I expected that when someone is new in a large facility, their needs might not seem as urgent as the needs of a long-time resident with whom the staff has a stronger, deeper relationship.  But the staff in the rehab center were friendly and they seemed to care.  So honestly, it seemed like a pretty good situation even though it wasn’t perfect.

Mom didn’t seem herself, though.  She was quiet much of the time, disinterested in things around her.  But the day mom was discharged and I drove her back to the small facility she now calls home, I remembered.  These people know mom.  And though they aren’t family or longtime friends, there is something about deep familiarly, about knowing someone, that is very close to love.  They know mom so well, it’s like they love her.

I pushed the wheelchair (a temporary situation while her ankle heals) into the room and all the staff jumped up and came to great her.  Everyone was full of hugs and kind words.  Mom, who had been fairly quiet and withdrawn for weeks, sat up straighter, she smiled.  The next day when I arrived, mom looked different:  she looked fresh.  A staff person remarked, “Her hair clearly hadn’t been washed in weeks.  Someone just used that bottled stuff you don’t have to rinse out, but your mom loves to have her hair done.  So it took several of us, but we made sure she got her hair all clean and styled.”  It was that simple:  mom looked like mom because this group of people knew how she liked her hair done.  And honoring mom’s preferences led to mom’s contentment in ways that mom cannot even put words to.  She has only been back for four days, but in that short time, it’s been a huge transformation.  She is cheerful and chatty again, she wants to be a part of group activities.  To know someone and to care about their needs is to love them.

Pastor friends, love your congregation.  No, you don’t have to do their hair.  But talk to them, listen to them.  Discern what is most important to them.  Contemplate what is missing in their lives.  Name their priorities and see how they respond and then together look at those priorities and how they correlate with the Gospel.  Get to know them better and better, because only by knowing them you can better love them.  It’s not a job, it’s a calling.  Thank you to the CNA’s and other staff who helped me remember this truth during the past few days.



One thought on “What makes a good pastor?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s