Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reflections on the Last Sunday of 2008

Today was that Sunday out of the year that is the “in-between” Sunday. That is, we’re not fully out of last year, but not yet in next year either. It’s what I often call “dungeon Sunday.” The time of year, combined with (usually) dreary weather, holiday travel, and increased numbers of absentees due to sickness, makes for a challenging day.

And yet, today could not have been better and the year could not have ended stronger. Attendance was strong and giving doubled. Plus, the video (The Journey) reviewing our ten-year history was a reflective stroll down memory lane.

After more than 11 years at PCC I have found that days like today are great learning opportunities for me, and here are a few thoughts I’d like to share with you.

1. Days like today are when I discover who sees PCC as a calling and those who see it only as an extra-curricular activity.

Those who see PCC as an extra-curricular activity are the first ones to call in and cancel their duties; or they simply do not show up, or they leave early. Those who see their service at PCC as a calling go beyond the call of duty to cover the bases for everyone else. This means a lot to me, and it does not go unnoticed.

Today, for example, all our key positions were filled. As far as I could tell, there were no "no shows." Yes, there were a few families absent due to sickness, out-of-state travel, or visiting their families for the holidays. But almost everyone was present and accounted for. From the volunteer, to staff member, to the attender - most of our congregation sees their role at PCC as a "calling."

2. I learn about myself and the motives of my heart.

If I am depressed, complaining, or secretly wishing I could be home (watching TV) instead of being in church (even on a day like today) then there is something wrong with my spiritual development. Days like today are opportunities for me to love our volunteers, express extra appreciation for those who come, and make sure I do not neglect those who show up to join us in worship.

Charles Spurgeon once said that when you pay attention to the seat that is empty, you are paying a disservice to the one that is filled. Even when attendance drops my focus must be upon those who actually show up. Whoever shows up, even if it is only a few, are those who God has brought to us, and we must minister to them giving our best.

I walked through the atrium and sanctuary today before service acting like a greeter (“working the room”). Everyone I talked to – to the person – was offering words of encouragement and expressing how awesome they thought last Sunday’s service was. What this did to buoy my spirit, you’ll never know.

I can still remember the days when there were seven to twelve people meeting in my living room and we called it “church.” I can also remember the early days at Pace High School, when, if 40 people showed up we would have considered it a huge victory.

When you have pastored a church from your living room, you learn that your calling is to love and shepherd everyone that God brings into the fold. If I can’t do that whole-heartedly because attendance is not high enough, then something would be wrong with my calling – because Jesus considered them worthy of dying for.

So on days like “dungeon Sunday” (that Sunday between Christmas and New Year) I get up early and have a plan to make the most of the day: I get to work early, work hard, give God my best, give His people my best, and pray for God to search my heart. I have failed at this many times, but as I learn to do better (bit by bit), I love our people more and appreciate that I get to pastor any one.

3. I learn how much our people love their church.

Today, for example, there was a mother who seen her son off to Pensacola Airport for his return flight to Iraq, where he is a soldier. This mother had every reason to just go home and curl up under a blanket. Instead, she made it to church…. to worship… to be among God’s people…. and to be faithful.

Consider the couple who was out of state all week visiting family. After several days of travel and getting in very late last night, instead of sleeping in and sleeping off the jet lag, they got up and came to church. They were found at their post of duty. This did not go unnoticed on my part.

Or consider the woman who drove to Birmingham AL Saturday afternoon to be with a friend of hers, who had lost her mother. After spending time at the funeral home for visitation last night, this lady drove back to Pace in the same day arriving home late Saturday night (or the wee hours of Sunday morning), just so she could be in service today.

The commitment of some people is completely humbling to me – not to mention noble. The fact that they love God and love their church this much is contagious and encourages me very much. If 100 people showed up, instead of 500, and they have done whatever it takes to get there to worship and fellowship, then those people are the dedicated of the dedicated.

If people are laying down their lives like that, then I can lay mine down too.

4. On the worst days, I learn the best lessons. Therefore, they are the best days.

I thank God, that on the last Sunday of 2008 when morale is typically low, people came and worshipped God enthusiastically and gave generously. You were inspiring. I learned a lot, which made it one of the best days of the year.

BTW – wasn’t the video (entitled “Journey”) exceptional?

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