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.