I'm not a pastor (and, for the record, I never will be), but I really appreciated Joel Beeke's words to pastors in last month's Tabletalk magazine, which I finished up this morning.
He says, "Every morning for several months, my wife and I walked past an injured Canada goose, whose feathers stuck out in several directions. For all those months, several geese dutifully stayed with the injured bird.
"Likewise, caring for the wounded is the church’s loving duty to her own. Paul teaches us that when one member of Christ’s body suffers, “all the members suffer” (1 Cor.12:26 KJV). Caring for the grieving promotes the unity of the body of Christ and fosters the communion of saints. Furthermore, grieving saints have a claim on our compassion for Christ’s sake (Matt. 25:40).
"This is particularly true of pastors. We are called to be shepherd or pastor (Eph. 4:11), which means we are to “feed (literally, ‘be a shepherd to’) the church of God” (Acts 20:28 KJV). That involves avoiding certain attitudes and cultivating others, then putting those attitudes into action, remembering our great calling as Christ’s undershepherds.
"Attitudes to Avoid. First, don’t regard grieving people as an interruption. I was in the ministry for more than ten years when I received what proved to be a life-changing call. I was working on the conclusion of my doctoral dissertation when the phone rang. I sighed as I answered: “Am I that much of an interruption?” asked the voice on the other end. “Interruption?” I asked meekly. “Yes, didn’t you hear yourself sigh?” Suddenly I realized that my dissertation, not the grieving caller, was the interruption. The grieving caller was my life’s work, my calling, my real ministry. My dissertation was the interruption of this real ministry.
"I never forgot that lesson over the last eighteen years of ministry. Grieving, hurting people are what ministry is all about. We must not think of our churches and our parishioners in terms of numbers or cases; rather, we should think of our churches as hospitals where the wounded and grieving come to us, seeking our biblical guidance and loving care.
"Second, don’t treat all sheep the same. As a good shepherd, remember that some sheep will need more attention than others. Third, don’t forsake shepherding for preaching. Don’t say, “I’m a preacher first and foremost, so I don’t need to spend much time with my flock.” Preaching and pastoring are two sides of the coin of ministry. Yes, it’s tough to do both well, but do them you must. God never promised you that the ministry would be easy."
PS - Hi Beth! I thought of you when I was reading your pastor's words! I haven't forgotten to respond to your email from ages ago ...