The Things That Endure in Ministry

Published 4:43 am Monday, January 8, 2024

By Michael J. Brooks

“Today I went back to the place I used to live,” to quote song writer Bill Gaither.

As a pastor for many years, I’m often invited to conduct weddings and funerals in churches I used to serve. On this day I conducted a service for a long-time member who’d had declining health and had been out of state for years living near her son. I remember her as a faithful church member, a Sunday School teacher and a member of the church choir. So, I was happy to share some fond remembrances with the gathered family and friends.

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The sumptuous lunch the church served gave me the opportunity to visit with old friends, and I came away with the affirmation of a theory I’ve had for some time.

Two people told me how much relatives appreciated my visits with them in hospitals and the prayers I prayed with them during their illnesses. Pastors are in hospitals and nursing homes most every week, and it’s often hard to remember specifics, but I did remember these two. One of these men was in two separate hospitals in two cities and I thought of him when I visited with our student pastor lately in a particular hospital since this was only my second time in that place and in that city.

No one at the funeral thanked me for any sermons I delivered while their pastor. I don’t mean they weren’t an appreciative audience, because they were. But I’ve often believed the most enduring things pastors do is pastoral care—being there in times of need.

Of course, the weekly sermons are important, but I’ve found it true that congregants don’t often remember specific sermons. They may remember a few illustrations or stories, and they may remember a time or two when the pastor messed up, or in my case, when I was stung by yellow jackets while conducting a graveside service!

Someone made a good analogy once about meals at home. We may not remember specific menus too clearly, but we do know we had a nutritious and balanced diet over the years. Our church members may not remember specific sermons but hopefully they know they were fed a steady diet of God’s truth.

A pastor must speak the truth and always speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15). But it’s also true that what people most seem to remember is the ministry of presence when he or she stands with them in illness or grief, or at the wedding altar or in the baptistery.

Pastors go to seminary to learn to exegete scripture and to systematize theology, and this is good.

But we also learn by experience the value of caring for others who hurt. 

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.