Saturday, July 08, 2006

A pastor without a flock

Before I began my sermon this morning (July 2) with the congregation of the University Baptist Church of Austin, I made a confession: today is the first sabbath in twenty-five years I have not been a pastor of a church, a shepherd of a flock.

Pastoral ministry is absurdly particular, familiar, and local. Simply put, a pastor raises a herd of Christians. The good pastor settles patiently into the rhythms and routines of esta familia. The routinization itself produces spiritual value in a culture seized by what someone has called "the tyranny of the new."

The sameness of the spiritual surroundings in a congregational life is what provides so much of the meaning: same pew, same preacher, same people. Same tear in the carpet at the edge of the chancel. Don't fix that! We order our spirits by that defacement at the altar of the Lord.

These congregational constants constitute a focus for our spiritual energies in worship. They help us meditate. A little boy in my Lubbock congregation would count the number of red, green and blue tiles in the stained-glass window above the chancel. I would venture that's as productive a spiritual exercise as listening to the sermon.

So, the dislocation unsettled me today until I named it out loud at the beginning of my sermon. Then, I was ok. There was an immediate unspoken but clearly conveyed message from that fine congregation that said, "We hear you, Charlie. We know what you mean. We love our home too, the familiarity of it. You are our guest. Share our routines with us today."

Same old, same old can hold spiritual power too.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps your flock is now in a larger room.

DRM said...

anonymous...I don't know if you're the same person that keeps speaking in code...but say what you mean. What does this mean?

Anonymous said...

I'm not intentionally speaking in code. It just meant that Charlie's blog means that he can still commune with a congregation...but the room is the size of the world.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your article, "Pastor without a Flock". How in the world you find the time to do all that you do we will never know. Please know that many of the old San Antonio Crowd are experiencing withdrawal pains. You will be in are hearts and prayers always. GBJ & BDJ

barry said...

charlie, it's great to see you've started this! can't wait for our first atlanta cigar night.

Anonymous said...

Who is Charles F***** Johnson? I've milked cows for twenty-five years. Does that make me a milkmaid? I'd rather count red, green and blue tiles.
Good Boy Bob

Speed01 said...

Good Boy Bob--yes, you're a milkmaid. And yes, counting colored tiles should be the extent of your religious participation.

hannahbrake said...

Charlie, you are a wonderful man of God and a wonderful testimony to us all about how to gracefully except what God has put on our plates. I wish you the best of luck and I hope you won't be a stranger. :]
You're in my prayers!

Glen Reddell said...

Yea, Charlie, Rave on! I enjoyed your first blog and will look forward to what wonderous things God has for your next great adventure. Your sermon at Abline FBC was on the mark.

steve said...

Hey Charlie!

Don't know whether you received my message to you awhile back or not but wanted you to know our faith in you and your calling is matched only by our anticipation of the wonderful things God has in store for you. It is a privilege to be called your friend!


leslie said...


I want to talk to you. You and yours have been much in my thoughts. Glad you will be closer so I can visit.

Love you,


Anonymous said...

If you remember the woman at the altar at the Brooklyn Tabernacle who used to go to Trinity, that's me. You have been in my thoughts and prayers very much. If it would help you in any way to come back to visit the BT again (since we are a very multicultural congregation,as you know), I would like to invite you. You can call and ask for me in the Adult Ed dept.

Jim said...

I was vectored into your blog by Gordon Atkinson, with whom I've eaten one meal and had a very worthwhile correspondence, and whose blog is fantastic.

If the vitriol that some have heaped onto you, early on, is at all representative of what you had to deal with, it's shocking that you stayed as long as you did! In particular, those anonymous commenters who insist on libeling you are troublesome.

While the Bill of Rights separates church and state, it's all too sad that nothing seems to keep politics from congregations.

We Episcopalians are having our own bouts with internal politics, perhaps on a larger, but no messier, scale.

With the rest of RLP's readership, I'm looking forward to reading about your new adventures.

June said...

Dear Precious Charlie: you may be without an organized flock but you will always have a flock. These are the people who will always love you and cherish every sermon they heard from you and continually lift your name in prayer.
You are a great man of God and I consider myself privileged to have had you call yourself my friend. You got me through many dark valleys over several years and I can never thank you enough for giving me the courage to keep climbing.