My Dad once said I should be a preacher. His advice wasn’t based on my oratory skills. I couldn’t have been worse in that area. I’m also sure he didn’t think I was in possession of some wisdom that needed to be bestowed on the masses. It was more practical than that. He thought since most of what the preacher was doing were things that everyone had to do anyway, you might as well be the only person in the room getting a check.
Before I get a crowd from the Board of Ordained ministry gathering at my office explaining how pastors work more than Sunday morning, let me give you a little context.
My Dad attended a Baptist church within walking distance from his farm. His father and grandfather built the church 110 years ago. Attendance ran in the 20s in the good years. Lately it has been less than 10.
In considering the role of the pastor, one of the first things to come to mind is visiting people of the church who are in the hospital and nursing home. To my Dad, this fell into the category of something everyone has to do anyway. These are your friends and neighbors. It is your basic responsibility as a decent person to check in on them. This isn’t even a Christian thing. Non-believers can also be very good at visiting.
In addition to attending to the infirmed, there are weddings and funerals within the congregation that the pastor is involved with, but once again, they are the friends and neighbors of all of the members of the church. Attendance isn’t really optional in a small country church, and people have to pitch in to help.
Preparing a sermon is a pastor-only role, but Dad saw study of the scripture as a basic requirement of Christian discipleship. In addition to regular Bible reading, he would study his Sunday school lesson through the week. At his church, there was a little box on the back of the offering envelope that queried you about studying your lesson. This number was recorded and posted on the board, along with attendance, attendance a year ago, offering, offering a year ago and how many people brought their Bibles.
The preacher has to be at every worship service, but from my Dad’s perspective, this is a basic requirement of every member. It’s a commandment, for goodness sake – the one about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it Holy. Dad was a busy guy, but he never missed church. And by never, I mean I’m not aware of one single time.
When it comes to administrative functions that go along with running a church, that was pretty much handled by the church officers, which amounts to everyone when you have a congregation the size of his.
A pastor friend once told me he was frustrated with his congregation because they all expected him to be Christian on their behalf. They wanted him to do visiting and ministering in the community because that’s what they hired him to do. They didn’t want to do it on their own.
When you have church members who fully embrace their role, you can have vital churches of any size. The Missouri Conference has a lot of very small membership churches – many of which have been small for a long time. They often touch the lives of people in their community in profound ways. People are compelled into leadership and rise to the challenge.
My father, Chris Koenig, died February 15, 2017. As I was going through paperwork with family members, I found some documents that had been given to him by a sibling years ago. In it was his birth certificate, which had his full name as Christian. None of us had known that was his name. We’re not even sure if he knew it. But he lived it.