by Robert Earl Houston
Just as laypersons become ill, pastors become ill. Illnesses creep in and sometimes the Pastor is days, weeks, months and in rare cases years away from the pulpit.
I have seen all four scenarios. There are the pastors who are ill momentarily and then the next Sunday, they bounce back and return to their pulpits. Then there are those pastors who experience surgery and are down for a number of weeks. Then there are those pastors who are down for a matter of months and then return to their pulpits. And there are a few, rare exceptions when a pastor is out of the pulpit a year to as many as four years, in an state such as a coma, who then returns back to the pulpit.
I have lived in the first two examples. I’ve had common colds, flu, and normally then return to my pulpit, even if I’m sniffling and sneezing. I’m right now in the midst of the second scenario, where following cancer surgery has had me down for the past three weeks and counting. I pray God that I never have to cross the scenarios of the latter two examples.
So what does a church do when the Pastor is on extended leave? I want to offer some suggestions:
#1 – COMMIT YOUR PASTOR TO PRAYER
If there was ever a time when the congregation needs to pray for it’s shepherd, this is the time. This means during any and all meetings, any and all choir rehearsals, any and all gatherings – even if they are social events, the corporate church should devote some time to prayer for their leader. Not only should prayer be offered congregationally, but it should be offered by family – especially in families with children. Children can be taught a very valuable life lesson in seeing the head of the household round everyone together and pray for the pastor! At meals, during family devotions (if you have them), together call out the name of your pastor before the Lord. And of course, individually, put the pastor at the top of your prayer list – after all your pastor is your conduit to the Lord’s spiritual directions for your life. Call out your pastor’s name and ask the Lord to restore your pastor!
# 2 – COMMIT YOURSELF TO GOING TO CHURCH
Most pastors who are ill will tell you that while laying on their bed of afflictions will tell you that one of our biggest concerns is “how is the church doing?” Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Vicinity once said that we understand the principle of when the cat’s away, the mice will play and that Satan uses and takes advantage of the pastor’s illness to sow discord in the local congregation. However, Pastor Thompson says unless there is a firewall. That firewall is three fold – first off, members of the church have to rise up and “let the church be the church.” The pastor’s illness should not translate into “the member’s vacation.” This is the time to go to Sunday School, go to Church, come to Bible Study, give your tithes and offerings – so that there will be no lack in the storehouse when the Pastor returns. Secondly, beware of seducing spirits and those who will try to take advantage of a pastoral absence. Sadly, there are some other pastors who will try to take advantage of another pastor’s illness – but this is not the time to entertain invitations. This is the time to stay put. And lastly, keep peace with each other. Go the extra mile, love each other, serve each other – and do it until the Lord’s church becomes the happiest place on earth in regards to fellowship.
# 3 – SEE WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR PASTOR
If it is an extended or prolonged illness, your pastor will not be able to do someone of the things that he or she normally does. 9 times out of 10, there are some errands that the pastor won’t tell you about that are being left undone. Little things have to be done – correspondence, mail, issues within the house, issues with the car (I remember a pastor who was ill for about three months – he had a 17 year old member that came to the house twice a day, just to crank up his car, drive it around the block, and re-park it – just so the engine wouldn’t die and then he would wash the pastor’s car (without permission) just so the pastor wouldn’t have to worry about it). This is a time of great, lasting assistance you can provide to your soul watcher. The Apostle Paul once said that it is reasonable to sow temporal things after he has sown everlasting things (paraphrase) – therefore, you may have to ask your pastor – “how can I help you?” Don’t be so prideful that you say “I ain’t taking out no trash” – but have a servant’s attitude and remember this – what you sow may be sown back into your life later on in life.
So there it is – pray, commit and help. And whatsoever ye do . . . do all to the Glory of God.
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