If he is only knowable from the stage, only preaches to you formally, and only prays for you as he closes his sermon, is he really a shepherd? I'm just asking a question.
The world is lost and what it needs is shepherds - real pastors who know the voice of their people, and vice versa. That means that the world needs you, pastor, to show up.
Showing up means personally acknowledging people. In the South, this is deeply integrated into the culture. If you're driving on a two-lane road and someone is coming towards you, chances are they will have their first two fingers raised off the steering wheel. This isn't a peace sign nor an inappropriate gesture. It's them saying, "Hi." They're acknowledging you.
If you stay with someone down here for the weekend, you should send a Thank You note to the host. Chances are, however, that before you even get home, there's a note in your mailbox thanking YOU for visiting. They're acknowledging you. It's what people here do.
Is it what pastors do? Again, just a question.
Preparing and preaching are important to be sure, but as I recently heard one pastor point out, "People can download a sermon, they can't download a pastor."
We shouldn't spend all week in an office. We shouldn't climb any ladder that leads further away from people. We shouldn't delegate all personal contact to other staff. I understand sharing the load, but not getting rid of it. That helps no one. Which is what showing up is all about.
Showing up creates a relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, opening the gate for folks to receive personal help as they go through life. When we don't show up, we become unknown. If we're unknown, we're perceived as uncaring. Thus, people are left unhelped.
The other day I realized that my HOA fee hadn't been automatically drafted from my account since last April. I searched for information, trying to get in touch with the management company but found nothing but a P.O. Box. I wrote, receiving no reply. I later found out the management company folded. They had sold my business to a new management firm without telling me.
The new company had me listed with two addresses and was sending mail to the wrong one. I happen to know that they could have, with great ease, figured out that I had a problem. But, long story short, they never took the time to acknowledge me and thus my problem got worse - I had a huge bill on my hands since it hadn't auto drafted for quite some time.
You may say, "it's a big company, you can't expect them to pay attention to you" to which I say, "fair enough."
But I'm writing this post because many people could tell a really similar story about a church they used to go to. Doesn't matter if it was a big church or a small church, many testify that no one ever showed up for them. Thus they feel towards the church like I feel towards my HOA manager - that it's uncaring.
Those folks often separate from the body, leaving them to figure things out on their own when they want and need help from us - pastors who say we're called to show up for God's people.
How to Show Up
Showing up is a lot like art. There isn't necessarily a long list of rules. It's not like Math or English. The point is just to do what comes naturally, and let it flow. Find your way of acknowledging people personally through a medium you find effective. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
As pastors, we're often only notified about the big things, like when our members are in the hospital. That's because many people don't feel it's necessary to call a pastor for something that seems small.
That's why we have to check in with them, just to see how they're doing. This is as simple as a text or email that says, "I take time each week to pray for each of our members. If anything is going on today or this week that I can pray about specifically, let me know."
Sometimes you may get a sense that something is wrong. You might see or hear something that prompts you to reach out. Always, always, always follow that prompting.
The other day I was talking to one of our members who told me he saw a kid on our church van knock ice cream out of another kid's hand on purpose. The ice cream was totally ruined, laying on the floor of the van. The child being bullied said he'd never come back to our church.
After figuring out who it was, I personally stopped by his house with a gift card for another ice cream. I was able to chat with the little guy and encourage him. The next Sunday he was back in kids ministry.
Trust me, I'm no hero. I have more stories about my failure to show up than successes. So let me give a shout-out to one of my deacons.
There's a homeless man who attends our church. Our deacon saw the obituary of this gentleman's mother one day in the newspaper and called me with the funeral information. At his suggestion, I went to the viewing, just to stop by. All I did was quickly shake our homeless friend's hand and tell him I was sorry. That's it.
But several times now that guy has stopped me in the parking lot and told me how much it meant to him that I showed up.
Interestingly, I've never, to my knowledge, had a sermon do what my showing up has done. Never have my administrative skills nor my event planning given anyone the help that my showing up has. I'm not saying to give up the former for the latter. I mean that we're responsible for both if we're called to shepherd God's flock. Show up for their help and your own joy.