Pastor's Confession


I’d been to my denomination’s Pastor’s Conferences before as a Bible College student but this was my first one as an ordained pastor. I always looked forward to these week long conferences held every Fall at one of the churches in the San Fernando Valley. Sprawled over two large campuses, this megachurch was the premier Starship in our denominational fleet and was commanded by a much respected nationally-known senior pastor. Thousands of pastors attended from various denominations with each one of us eager to learn how to grow our own church into a megachurch. 

It was after lunch and about a hundred or so pastors were standing in the courtyard at the West Campus. We were waiting for the sanctuary to open for the afternoon session and most of us were standing in small groups and talking the church talk. Listening to the loud talk, you’d believe that all of our churches were experiencing huge God-ordained growth and we were all doing awesome things for the Lord in our ministries. The gifts of humility and humbleness don’t easily float to the surface of an extroverted  personality. We all wore the uniform of the “off-duty” pastor. Polo shirt with khaki Dockers. Guys from the larger churches had their church name and logo embroidered on their shirts; those of us from smaller churches had IZOD embroidered on ours. 

I was standing with a group of eight guys who had surrounded the executive pastor of the Ministry Care Department at the megachurch where the conference was being held. He had given some of the break-out sessions that week and was now being bombarded with questions about ministry in a megachurch. He was clearly enjoying being the center of attention in this group of pastors. Some of the guys in the group I knew. They pastored small to medium-sized churches in our Southern California district and were all charged up and ready to grow their church into the megachurch of their dreams. As a new pastor, I was frankly enjoying being in this group of seasoned ministry veterans and tried hard to present myself as one of their “peers.”

I noticed a young couple enter the courtyard and approach a group of pastors. The girl asked something and one of the guys pointed to our group. I watched as they tentatively approached us. She was about seventeen or eighteen and if he was older it was by no more than a couple of years. They were both white, very thin and looked like runaways. They had frightened expressions on their faces and the girl looked like she was trying hard to keep from crying. The executive pastor asked if he could help them. The boy asked if the church was open and the pastor told them it was not and this was a conference for pastors. In a soft southern accent the girl said, “We just wanted to find a place where we could pray and maybe talk to someone.” 

The executive pastor quickly said, “You can try the Ministry Care Department and see if there are any of my staff people who can pray with you.” Obviously impatient with the interruption, the pastor turned his back on the young couple and continued to tell us about the blessings of ministering to the needs of their congregation of 20,000. I can still recall today the hurt, confused look on the faces of this young couple as they looked at each other and then down at the ground.

The church pastors in my group were paying no attention to the couple and I was trying to do likewise. After all, this was our once in a year opportunity to find out how to be better pastors. But I couldn’t help to notice that as they walked back through the courtyard, hand in hand, shoulders slumped in rejection, they looked completely defeated. They walked towards the street and disappeared from my sight. The small, still voice of God whispered to me, “Go pray with them.” I ignored it. Hey, sometimes a pastor needs to pay attention to the big picture and I was at this conference to learn the important stuff about how to do “church.”  

The executive pastor was now telling us how important it was for a megachurch to have a well-structured Ministry Care Department to meet the complex needs of a multi-cultural congregation. Some of the pastors around me were taking notes. “GO PRAY WITH THEM.” This time I felt my anxiety rise. I knew this was the voice of God, but I’d look like an idiot to these guys if I went running after these two kids. I was now proudly holding my Bible with the title "Rev."freshly stamped in gold leaf before my name and I was part of the pastoral inner-circle.

GO PRAY WITH THEM.” Suddenly I felt an urgency in my spirit that overcame my pride and I hoped I was not too late. I turned from the group and walked quickly out of the courtyard and to the street. I looked along the sidewalk in front of the church and didn’t find them. There they were. Sitting on a bus stop bench across the street. He had his arm around her. It looked like she was crying now. I punched the “walk” button to change the light to green. The light for westbound traffic turned yellow. They were still there. I impatiently punched the button again, harder this time. One more minute and I’d be across the street.. talking with them.. praying with them. Suddenly a westbound bus hurtled through the intersection on the yellow light and pulled up in front of the young couple on the bench. The light changed and as I took my first step into the crosswalk, the bus pulled away. The bench was empty. They were on the bus. They were gone. My eyes filled with tears.

A young couple desperately seeking answers, comfort and spiritual guidance had gotten on a bus to come to church that day. To come to the only place they knew of that would be a refuge in their personal storm. A safe sanctuary. A place to pray. Burdened with heavy hearts they came to church to find someone who could lead them to Jesus... They came seeking someone who would listen to their pain... Someone who would love them, pray with them and wipe away their tears... Someone who would speak words of faith and hope... And instead, they found professional ministers...

The details of those moments stay glued to my memory like a movie that I have seen over and over again. God used that one experience to change my heart and profoundly reshape my ministry. That is why I have the burden I do for people who are hurting from the circumstances in their lives and seeking the One who can heal. It’s why I became a counseling pastor. It’s also why, when I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit, I annoyed the people behind me in the “15 items or less” line at the store by praying with the checker – right then, right there after she had told me about her daughter.

The reason I had not immediately obeyed the Holy Spirit that afternoon was that I was more concerned about fitting in with a group of ministers than doing ministry. I was more concerned with what these men thought of me than what God wanted from me. As I walked back into the church courtyard I was deeply convicted of the wrongness of my attitude and was soon to find that I wasn’t the only one who would be changed by the redemptive power of God that day. I returned to the group of pastors I’d been standing with.

The executive pastor was still talking but all the guys looked my way as I rejoined them. One of them asked, “Did you pray with them?” I told them that just as I’d gotten out there, the bus picked them up. The executive pastor looked at me and said, “Hey, don’t worry about it. We get people like that all the time here.” Words spoken a little too loudly – a little too uncaring. Those thoughtless words hung in a loud silence as the Holy Spirit swept though the group and the countenance of each man became noticeably repentant. One of the pastors said, “I should have prayed with them.”  Another one said, “We probably all should think about what just happened here...”  

With nothing more to say, each man awkwardly turned from the group and walked away in silence. The executive pastor looked around, shook his head and walked toward the Ministry Care Department.

We had been eagerly absorbing the lectures, programs, sessions and sure-fire methods for church growth. But for that little group of eight pastors, the teaching moment was when the Holy Spirit interrupted our important pastor’s conference to remind us that God had called us not to grow a big church but to love people like Jesus does and then let Him do the rest.

They're desperate for hope
Darkness clouding their view
They're looking to you
Just love them like Jesus...

Love Them Like Jesus by Casting Crowns

1 comment:

  1. Touching... I too have been in a similar situation. I was comforted by the Lord who talked me through my delayed obedience like a parent lovingly takes advantage of a "teaching moment." And when I was presented with another opportunity, I was redeemed through my "immediate obedience" and the knowledge that this walk of ministry is all training ground.