We want to hear from you: G&P invites pastors and church leaders to read the following fictional account in the life of Pastor Susan and give their suggestions for how she should respond to the disconnects facing her ministry online at www.graceandpeacemagazine.org. In a forthcoming issue of G&P, Douglas Hardy will provide a reflection on the responses.
Pastor Susan was as shocked as everyone else in the adult Bible study group she was leading when Tim made the announcement that his dad, a long-time lay leader in the church, had just been rushed to the emergency room following a severe heart attack. As Tim left to join his father, the Bible study group immediately launched into intercessory prayer. Pleas for healing and expressions of faith filled the room, only to be interrupted not more than ten minutes later with a text message from Tim letting everyone know that his dad had died during the ambulance ride and asking Pastor Susan to come to the hospital.
As Pastor Susan pulled on her coat to leave, one of those who had been praying spoke up: “Don’t worry, Pastor, everything’s going to be fine. God must have had a good reason for calling Mr. Bledsoe home.” “That’s right,” said another, “God is in control.” Two others in the group were visibly angry. Susan noticed their reaction as she headed for the door and wondered if they were upset at the comments just uttered, or with God, or even with her. Then she saw Litia. Litia must have stepped out of the room soon after Tim’s announcement. A newcomer to the church with no religious background, she was slumped against the hallway wall with a stunned look on her face. She quietly mumbled, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”
Susan felt torn inside as she headed for her car. She knew she needed to be with Tim at the hospital, but she also worried about the parishioners she was leaving behind. Their comments about God “calling Mr. Bledsoe home” and God being “in control” were at odds with what she was planning to say to Tim and were not what Litia needed to hear. Litia had lost her father to cancer six months ago and was struggling to reconcile a newfound faith in God with such a profound loss. How ironic, thought Susan, that the Bible study topic was “Prayer: Partnering with God on the Journey of Life.” The key concepts and truths she’d been teaching for the past two months did not seem to be helping her parishioners respond with the level of spiritual maturity for which she would have hoped.
A quiet room greeted Pastor Susan as she joined Tim standing watch by his father’s lifeless form. He seemed numb, making no movement and speaking no words. The hospital chaplain, Quan, greeted her with a nod, gently touched Tim’s shoulder, and left the room. Susan knew from previous hospital visits that Quan was Buddhist. She had seen him interact with patients who shared a room with her parishioners and was impressed with his calm, non-anxious presence.
Sometimes, on occasions when non-Christian patients and their families seemed more ready to face death than did the Christians she was trying to comfort, she wondered if something was wrong with her understanding of the faith.
It was close to midnight when Susan and Tim left the hospital. It had taken time, but eventually Tim was able to talk and pray with her. She was encouraged by a sense of God’s presence and the care of so many at the hospital. Grateful to be a pastor, she felt renewed in her calling to be used of God for the sake of the Church. Although tired when she arrived home, she decided to watch a bit of news before going to bed.
The summary of headlines from the day were familiar and expected, except the very last story: “Pastor faces criminal charges in prostitution scandal.” She knew the pastor’s name. They had attended seminary together and now served on the same district. A quick review of the messages on her answering machine indicated calls from two local TV news stations, each requesting an interview. Pastor Susan, wondering how such a thing could happen, yet taking to heart the words of Matthew 6:34 to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own,” prayed her evening prayers and went to bed.
Consider the various ways in which Susan experienced or confronted a disconnect in her ministry. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary* defines the noun form of disconnect as “a lack of or a break in connection, consistency, or agreement.”
- What contributes to internal and external disconnection in our lives and ministries?
- How might the Christian Gospel help us respond?
- What have you learned from experiencing and confronting a disconnect?
DOUGLAS S. HARDY is Professor of Spiritual Formation and Director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City