I’m not sure if this has ever happened to you, when it feels like something you read in Scripture punches you in the gut.

In the quiet of the morning with but a single lamp on in the house, my freshly brewed coffee on a little tray I set next to me on the couch, and my Bible open to the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, a little phrase — two short words — jump off the thin page and smack me a few times, knocking the wind out of me, nearly spilling my coffee. (Agreeably, our couch is brown.)

What was it that struck me so violently? Here it is:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” –John 10:11-13 (ESV)

A hired hand. Hasn’t this been me? Am I not the outsider brought in to get the job done? A mercenary pastor? 

I realize I’ve written a lot lately about the role of a pastor, so I apologize if I’ve become repetitive. (Maybe I am becoming a pastor. Aren’t they usually repetitive?)

After I left my church in Toledo, I learned there was a church in a nearby suburb needing a part-time worship director. Several people encouraged me to inquire into the position. Maybe they would make it a full-time position. Maybe you can help them, and they’ll help with the bills for a while.

Well, I met with the pastor and we talked and prayed about it. He then discussed it with his leaders and returned to me with a proposition: I would join them on a temporary, part-time basis, while they continued to search for a director and I continued my search for a full-time position. We’d scratch each other’s backs, so to speak.

The Worship Consultant

Looking back on my time at McCord Road Christian Church, I realize what a great opportunity it was for me. I learned a lot during my seven months there, though I’d thought I’d been brought in to teach, not to learn. See, initially I saw my objective similar to that of a business consultant. I’d go in, analyze what does and doesn’t work, then offer my solutions as the expert. The difference, I suppose, was that I’d actually help with the changes.

The problem was that I assumed everyone there wanted a worship ministry that reflected what I’d been doing for the past several years. I gave little consideration to how they viewed worship and what they appreciated in the service, what brought them closer to God. I thought they just wanted a fully contemporary service.

See, what they had been doing was trying to squeeze contemporary music into a traditional service. I thought they needed to do away with the traditionalism, so I stomped all over elements I didn’t know many people loved. 

For instance, offering was very traditional. They had an offertory during the collection. After this the plates would then be brought forward with much pomp by the head usher to be prayed over by a pastor. We didn’t have an offering collection at my previous church, because we dropped our offerings in boxes near the entrances. I thought this traditional offering portion of the service had to go. So I started showing videos and having announcement spots during the collection, doing away with the offertory. For some this was a difficult change, because offering was meant to be reflective. I won’t get into what it should or shouldn’t be.

Whatever the case, I didn’t take the time to learn about the people, their past experiences with worship, what they were accustomed to. I was the mercenary pastor. Get in, get the job done, get out. The hired hand.

(By the way, I met some wonderful people there, and when the possibility arose I nearly rejected the position down here in Eaton to stay with them.)

God has not called me to be a hired hand, a mercenary pastor. Sure, I can do music well and I have a lot of experience designing and leading worship, but my church needs more from me. Thankfully I’m seeing changes. I’m recognizing more and more people when I’m leading them in worship. I’m aware of their struggles and I pray for them even while reaching for a barred Em7 chord. I’m deeply concerned about the wolf who desires to snatch them away. And this might be the most telling: I’m looking for country-tinged worship songs that folks in rural Ohio would like.

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