Lee Eclov on Pastoring the One When You’d Rather Pastor the Ninety-Nine

My wife, Susan, comes from a Christian family of nine kids. They had lots of family times together around a long table. (Her father considered installing a drain down the middle to catch all the spilled milk.) But one thing Susan rarely got was time alone with both of her parents at once. In fact, she remembers only one occasion, and she remembers every detail. As with my wife’s family, seeing that each person in our church family gets personal attention is difficult, but it’s part of a church being a home.

Eugene Peterson once said that next to the Bible, the church directory is the most important book in the pastor’s study. Near the beginning of Peterson’s book, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, he writes,

It is the unique property of pastoral work to combine two aspects of ministry: one, to represent the eternal word and will of God; and, two, to do it among the idiosyncrasies of the local and personal (the actual place where the pastor lives; the named people with whom he or she lives). If either aspect is slighted, good pastoral work fails to take place.

Names Matter

Sometimes churches forget that names matter. I remember talking to a staff member of a church of about 400. Their staff had gone through the church directory and realized that half the people listed were unknown personally to any of them. That’s not a healthy family.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church he mentions 33 names, each precious to Paul.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. … Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.

Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

He goes on to his “dear friend” Ampliatus, his “co-worker” Urbanus, Apelles, “whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test,” Rufus, “chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too,” and others. He never asks how big the congregation is now. He just asks about the people and sends greetings to them from eight specific people who were with him.

I grew up in a small rural church in South Dakota where it wasn’t a problem to remember names. We knew a lot more about one another than names! The church I now serve in the northern suburbs of Chicago is different. We might have 200 people on a Sunday morning, but the names keep changing. In a recent five-year period, we said goodbye to 261 people and welcomed 261 people. That’s a lot of goodbyes and hellos, and those are a lot of names to learn. But if we’re going to be a family, learning names is a priority.

When I called Pat by name on her second Sunday her eyes got wide. “How did you remember my name?” she asked. I didn’t tell her that I work at it. Learning someone’s name is an introductory act of Christian love. We can’t dismiss this duty by saying, “I’m just not good with names.” If that’s the case, then you’ll just have to work harder at them. The second time folks show up in church I want to call them by name, because I am a shepherd and they may become my sheep.

Names are sticky. Once you learn someone’s name you can start attaching details to it: a hometown or a profession, a personality type or a testimony of faith. But without a name you can’t do much more than be an acquaintance.

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Source: Christianity Today