I recently read the book, I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. In six short chapters, Thom S. Rainer throws down a gauntlet for making church membership actually mean something important and helpful and fulfilling.
The chapter titled "I Will Pray for My Church Leaders" starts with a story that one would think is cobbled together from several sources, but is actually a true account of a single, heartbreaking day in the life of a church pastor.
It's Thursday morning. Pastor Mike has a clear calendar, an aberration in his busy schedule. Actually, the calendar is not really clear. He has set aside time to finish his sermon for Sunday. His Bible is open. Study aids are nearby. He begins to study.
Then the phone rings.
His assistant tells him about a car accident involving a family in the church. The ambulances are already on the way to the hospital. Mike leaves all his study material on his desk and jumps into the car.
On the way to the hospital, his assistant calls him again. The entire Godsey family of five were in the car. None are seriously hurt except Gary, the father and husband of the family. His condition is grave.
Pastor Mike walks into the emergency room. The family has just been told that their husband and father did not make it. They see their pastor and run to him sobbing, in total shock. Mike is there for them. He stays with the entire family for three hours until he is certain enough people are around to care for them.
He stops by his home to see his wife and grab a quick sandwich. It is now afternoon. He's not sure if he can return to his sermon preparation, but he knows he must. He must fight the emotional exhaustion of the morning and finish the message. But as he walks back to the church, his assistant apologetically tells him that two people need to speak with him. They consider it urgent.
Mike meets with the two men. One of them is the worship leader of the church. He is struggling with his ministry and is considering giving up. For two hours Mike listens, consoles, and attempts to encourage the staff member.
The next visitor then catches Mike off guard. George is one of the key lay leaders in the church. Mike considers him a friend and an incredibly vital person in the overall leadership of the congregation. George struggles to speak: "My wife is having an affair..." There are no more words for five minutes. Just tears and sobs.
Mike stays with George for over two hours. They pray together and talk about next steps.
It's nearly five o'clock in the afternoon. Mike is too drained to attempt to get back to his sermon. Instead he begins to look at his crowded e-mail inbox. He cringes when he sees one of the senders of an e-mail. But he cannot stop himself from opening the message. It's from one of Mike's most frequent critics in the church. She has two complaints. The first irritation was something he said in last Sunday's sermon. The second complaint addressed Mike's failure to visit her sister-in-law who had minor outpatient surgery yesterday. The woman is not a member of the church. And Mike knew nothing about the surgery.
Pastor Mike shuts the laptop cover and moves to his car slowly. He'll stop by the house to grab a quick bite to eat. Then he needs to check on the Godsey family. He will stay with them for a while, but he must leave prior to 7:30, when he is to give the invocation for a local high school basketball game.
Several people corner him at the game, so he doesn't get home until after nine o'clock. He goes to his small study in his home, shuts the door, and begins to cry.
Gary Godsey, the father and husband who was killed in the car accident, was Mike's best friend.
This was the first chance Mike had to grieve.
Truth is...for everything to hit all in one day like that is rare, but none of the individual components of the above story is unfamiliar territory for a person in a leadership role in a local congregation. When is the last time you prayed for the leaders of your church?