by Robert Earl Houston
I have not been in my office or in any church meetings since the end of May. I’ve been on sick leave because of a discovery of melanoma (cancer) upon my body following two biopsies, and removal of said cancer (praise God), and subsequent aftermath of a two hour surgery.
However, I want to share with you three things (among many) that I have learned during this time off as a pastor:
#1 – I Have Learned The Show Must Go On
This is going to rub a lot of pastors the wrong way – please forgive me for that – but when the senior pastor is down, the congregational life still (and must) roll on.
Meetings still have to be held. Rehearsals still have to be conducted. Sunday School still has to meet. Morning Worship still has to continue on. And yes, preaching still has to still be performed Sunday after Sunday. Bible Study still has to be taught as well.
If you’re ego is so large that you think you are the end all, be all of the lifeblood of your congregation – whether you’re the founding pastor or one in a great lineage of pastors – illness will teach you quickly that the church must still roll on.
I live right next door to the church and I get the benefit of hearing the car doors shut every morning that lets me know that church staff is there, in the afternoons that let me know that meetings are still being held, and evenings that corporate activities are going on.
Things should never stop with the Church just because the Pastor is ill.
# 2 – I have Learned That What You Taught Rises to the Occasion
I have noticed that my teaching and preaching is now reverberating through the congregation and they are doing what they’ve been taught.
Every Sunday we run a sick and shut in list in the weekly bulletin with an admonishment from me to visit them and send them cards. I now have accumulated a collection of beautiful cards of encouragement. This is a high-tech era, so I’ve gotten text messages, emails, tweets, and even electronic greeting cards.
Not only that, they have provided food and loving care. Just yesterday a couple of men from the church came over to change air filters and lighting – which I can’t perform due to being in a leg splint and under doctor’s orders to stay off my feet. The ladies of the church have brought meals to the house or given me and my wife money to purchase meals. This morning one of my Deacons came to the house and visited with me before worship because “I just had to lay eyes on my pastor.”
When you are a pastor who cares about the people and are known for getting up out of bed in the middle of the night to see about my members, I’m now the same recipient of that same love that I gave out. My chairman of Deacons came to me and said something that I’ve said in many different settings, “I’ll handle it.” It’s comforting to know that the teachings of “loving one another” and “caring for one another” have resulted in watching it being performed.
#3 – I Have Learned That Being Missed Is Temporary but One Day will be Eternal
As I open the cards and emails, I keep reading these words: “We miss you.” And when I can, I write back or communicate back, “I miss y’all too.” And hopefully in just a few short weeks, I will be returning back to my old routine (Lord willing).
When I get back, I expect to see stacks of stuff – papers, letters, requests – you know? The usual pastoral paperwork that 99% of the congregation is not even aware that takes place. I’ve had to cancel speaking engagements, teaching engagements and have to catch up with members and staff and to find out what’s going on at the church.
But a day is coming. If the Lord tarries, there will come a time when a future absence won’t be temporary, but it will be permanent. Whether it’s by death or relocation or adverse circumstances or the Lord’s direction – one of these days, Pastor Houston won’t be coming back. This illness has reminded me that none of us who serve as Pastors are permanent. We are in the long procession of men and women that have come before us and will follow after us.
As much as I love my church, I also owe it to my church to make sure that I’m not the focus of their worship and work – because I’m temporary. I followed a beloved minister who was temporary – albeit 46 years – he was guaranteed to be with the church forever. I’m just 53 and if I served as long as my predecessor I would be in my early 90s. Even if the Lord gave me unusual strength and zeal even with a pep in my step at 93 – there is still coming a day when my tenure is completed.
So, I am glad that we all remember that Pastors serve in seasons – but my job is to preach every Sunday, Christ and Him crucified. When I teach, the lesson is never about me – it’s about He who died, was buried, and rose with all power in His hand. It’s my job to remind everyone that pastors are human but Jesus is eternal.
In Conclusion, I can’t wait to get back on my feet. I thank the Lord for what I’m learning while off my feet.
Your comments are welcomed.