In my Toronto neighborhood every evening, people stand on their front porches, banging pots and pans in celebration of frontline health-care workers. Sidewalks are chalked with rainbows and chirpy messages of gratitude: “Thank you, essential workers!” These gestures, in a global pandemic, feel absolutely right. And yet, there is another group I want to thank.
Besides the bus drivers and grocery-store employees, besides the doctors and nurses, besides the daycare workers and teachers, I want to thank the pastors.
Now that pastoring and preaching have gone digital, I worry for pastors. I worry for them as they stand in their houses, preaching the Scriptures to empty rooms. I worry for their weariness, for their own discouragement and isolation. Even as certain parts of the economy have begun opening, it’s unclear how long the church will remain scattered, and I worry pastors will forget how much their work matters.
Even as certain parts of the economy have begun opening, it’s unclear how long the church will remain scattered, and I worry pastors will forget how much their work matters.
In some ways, I’m particularly suited to offer these thanks. I’m not a pastor or a pastor’s wife. Neither do I serve on a church staff. Instead, I represent the most ordinary of people sitting in the pew, Sunday after Sunday, year after year. I’m a little girl whose legs grew long in church, whose life has been indelibly shaped by the men standing behind pulpits and showing up for our lives.
These are some of my thanks.
1. Thank you for heeding the call.
In his 20s, my pastor was a bright, ambitious law student when he met Jesus. Before his conversion, he dreamed of living in Toronto’s best neighborhoods, of sending his children to the best private schools, of affording memberships to the most exclusive clubs. God had other plans. When Dan gave his life to Christ, he also gave up his career prospects as a lawyer. He heeded a call, first to student ministry, then to seminary, finally to planting a church in the heart of Toronto’s downtown.
When pastoral hours are long, when the emotional toll is great, when the gratitude is meager, I can imagine pastors doubting their vocational call, especially in light of the sacrifices. Few pastors don’t dream—on Mondays—of easier jobs (and the retirement savings they might have accrued). But I want to say how much their example matters. They model for us a life invested in God’s kingdom, a life that takes seriously Jesus’s promise: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will received a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).
When pastoral hours are long, when the emotional toll is great, when the gratitude is meager, I can imagine pastors doubting their vocational call, especially in light of the sacrifices.
When I remember my pastor’s sacrifices, I’m challenged to love my own comfort less and to love the Lord and my neighbor more—which seems a particularly salient lesson for this pandemic. Pastors, thank you for helping us learn to heed God’s call, whatever the cost.
2. Thank you for preaching the Scriptures.
Several years ago, as one of our pastors preached from Romans 1, a man stood up in the balcony to loudly protest. “How dare you!” he said, wagging his finger at the young pastor behind the pulpit, who had faithfully opened a text that chafed against the sensibilities of our age. Our church, of course, is located in the middle of a North America’s fourth-largest city, a city that prizes its ideas of personal freedom and tolerance. But whether pastors preach in urban pulpits or rural ones, each has to take up the prophetic courage to speak the truth their congregants (and visitors) often hate hearing.
A pastor’s faithful preaching of the Scriptures, week after week, is a gift to his church, especially in times like these. Regular immersion in God’s Word renews our minds and helps us to become the kind of people who discern God’s will for the particular contours of our own lives. It helps us regularly rehearse the true story of the world: that God made the world, that he has worked to redeem it in Jesus, that a day is coming when death and disease are no more. Faithful weekly preaching of the Scriptures nudges us to take up the Bible on the other days of the week: to read it, to study it, to memorize it, to talk about it, to trust in its wisdom. God’s Word provides an anchor of hope in these times. Pastors, we thank you for helping us learn to love it.
3. Thank you for sharing our grief.
When my father died unexpectedly more than 25 years ago, and my brother committed suicide several years later, it was our pastor, Darrel Gabbard, who arrived first. He witnessed our freshest moments of horror, preached their funerals, kept calling long after the casseroles stopped coming. I think about this pastoral burden often: of helping bear the weight of congregants’ grief.
A pastor’s faithful preaching of the Scriptures, week after week, is a gift to his church, especially in times like these.
In a global pandemic, this grief-sharing is, of course, constrained by social distancing. Still, the work is no less urgent: helping those who fall ill, those who lose loved ones, those whose lives are upended by unemployment and other uncertainties. I have every confidence that pastors will find ways for accompanying us as we enter the valley of the shadow of death even if, for now, that means Zoom meetings, text messages, and phone calls.
When the light wanes tonight over Toronto and people clang their thanks to essential workers: pastors, I’ll be thanking God for you.