When you’re not the Pastor…

“So what is life like?” Well, it is nothing like we imagined it to be, or at least what we prepared for. I think our preparations were much more geared for people living in the bush, and Accra is a somewhat modern city. It actually exists on several levels: there is the local level, the foreigner level, and finally the embassy & governmental level. There may be higher levels, we don’t know.

I think one of the biggest surprises for me was how active we would be in church. I had read about pastors who, when they left the church, didn’t darken its doors (like some of the kids I knew in seminary, who never went to church unless they were preaching at it), and wondered, would I be that kind of person? I had thought that I would spend each Sunday going to different indigenous churches, studying their worship patterns, songs, and styles. But what I find is that, as each Sunday approaches, my soul longs to return to one or two particular churches to worship. The bigger surprise is how quickly my kids connected to the youth group, and how this has become an important part of their life. It is a huge set of friends, and each week they spend most of Saturday together, either going to the orphanage (or Zoo), eating lunch and then staying for prayer and youth group until at least 5pm.

When I have gone to the indigenous different churches it feels more like an anthropological study than a worship experience, and what my souls long for at the end of the week is a time to connect with God and other believers. It isn’t that I don’t feel God’s presence in the local churches, it just is so different from my worship traditions, and I don’t know where I fit in.

For example, last Sunday we visited Bethel Methodist Church in Dzuwurlu. It was our friend’s stepfather’s retirement service, and they were honoring him with a five hour worship service. Really. We arrived just before 9am and the service let out a quarter past 2pm. Now in all honesty the actual worship service was over by 12:30, that’s when the liturgist got up and said: “And now for the second part” which was mostly tributes and gifts, music by a special choir, and a word of thanks.

There were three memorable parts to this service:
First was when we sang “The Church is one Foundation” near the beginning of the service. During it I felt the Holy Spirit move. Now I must confess traditional hymns do not usually do this to me, but there was something about being half way across the world, the only three white people in a large church of 600 people, surrounded by a different culture, different traditions, and people, and not knowing our place in it all, but when that opening line came out, and I heard the congregation sing “the Church is one foundation and Jesus Christ her Lord…” I felt chills, I felt I belonged here, I was part of this greater church. I thought about all the other churches and people worldwide who might be singing that hymn right now, or would be later, or had already, and I was struck by what it must be like for God to hear this hymn come from all over the world in different places, and languages, and how thankful I was to be a part of God’s church.

The second thing that was memorable, happened at about 12:45 when they passed out cold bottles of Coke and these great Chinese crackers. Think about it, they were ready with, I am guessing, a thousand bottles of Coke, Fanta and Sprite, straws and these great crackers. The congregation was most wilted at this point having been at it for almost four hours, and then we got our Cokes without the worship service skipping a beat, and it felt like communion. OK I know, it is a little strange, but the feeling was the same, like a sacrament that refreshed us so we could finish the worship service well.

About an hour before we got the Cokes, and this is the third thing I’ll remember, there was a time for prayer, maybe 10 minutes. I expected it to be an extended period for silent prayer or meditation, but the church erupted into the sound of people praying out loud. Now I don’t know if they were praying in their local language, or in tongues, but I remember my own prayers going something like “God, you know that this isn’t how I am used to praying, but if you are here, I honor and praise you” and again I felt the spirit move. Maybe it was like Paul recorded in his letter to the Corinthians,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
And though things were very different, it was the same spirit, the same Lord, the same God and I was thankful to be there.

It is this feeling or sentiment that we in the church try to celebrate on World Communion Sunday, observed on the first Sunday in October. World Communion Sunday was this past Sunday. I always love the way the service starts, with the telling of “as you were sleeping and the sun was rising over the Africa, people outside of Monrovia, Liberia were gathering in village churches to do this in remembrance of him, and as the sun began to break on the eastern seaboard believers on the island of Newfoundland were shaking off the snow to enter into church and remember, through the bread and wine, and as we were drinking our coffee this morning, people in churches such as…” and I would name a particular historic church on the East Coast…, and I loved telling how all over the world today we would remember that we were One Church.

I am not sure if Elim Church, the church our kids have connected to and we know so many missionaries at, celebrated World Communion Sunday (Suzanne says they did serve communion but there was no mention of World Communion Sunday). I was teaching Sunday School for the 9-11 age group, known as the Blue Eagles. Sunday School happens concurrently with worship. I signed up for the month of October as a sort of penance for all the years I was too busy doing the pastor thing to teach. All those years of hearing Kaylenn, my church’s children’s minister, express the need for teachers, and now that I have the time, and no other responsibilities to the church, I can. This was the first Sunday that I missed being a pastor, I had wondered when and if that day would come and it wasn’t because I was teaching this international group of 25 kids for 90 minutes. It was something more simple. We were setting up the sound equipment and having some trouble doing it. I have been playing in the worship band about once a month, and so while we warm up, they set up the sound system. Reminds me of the days when Foundation worshiped at Lakewood Elementary and we had to set up every morning (but we had better sound equipment). So I’m tuning my guitar, or arranging my music, and someone says “Pastor,” and involuntarily I look up and realize they are not talking to me. It is like when you have young kids and you’re at the store and someone else’s child says “daddy” or “mommy” and you turn, thinking it was your child…and it isn’t.

Five minutes later another thing reinforced that realization. We are going over the worship music for that Sunday, and one of the arrangements has changed from the way that we had practiced it the day earlier. I try to play the song as I thought we had practiced it, but clearly it isn’t working. There is a clash of styles and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, because I see the leader for that Sunday wants to do them a certain way. That way wasn’t good or bad, it was just different, and it was a new experience for me, not having people bend to my way because I think things ought to be this way or that. That’s when it struck me, “Buch., you have no executive power in this situation.”

My brother Rod, who is a leadership expert in the Kansas area, tells me that there are two types of power in leadership: executive and legislative. Executive power comes with the office. This type of power is granted by those whom see you in authority over them, like staff. For example, as pastor, I had the executive power to organize worship, and make certain decisions because I was the pastor, and when I was serving as the music director, I had the executive power to select songs and say how we were going to do them. The other type of power is legislative, that is the kind of power you earn with people. It is your power of influence, and trust, and it takes time to build up. This is the kind of power you have with volunteers and volunteer leaders. They will follow you because they like you, or believe in you, or trust you, but not because “you’re the pastor.” Because this was the first time I had played with this set of musicians, and they didn’t know me that well, I didn’t have much legislative power, and certainly no executive power and it was a new feeling for me… You’re not the pastor.

I remember Bill, who had a powerful conference job after having served as a pastor for 30 years. We are at a big church conference in Kansas City and I’m opening my heart to him about new church problems. Bill offers some wonderful advice and then to pray for me, and I say, off handedly, “Thanks Pastor,” and Bill begins to tear up. We’re walking to the next meeting so I don’t notice this right off, but the next day he says, “I didn’t realize how much I missed being a pastor, and when you called me that yesterday, I realized how much I had longed to hear it.”

I don’t think I am to the point that Bill was, but it was an awakening, that I actually missed some aspects of being a pastor (besides the people). For these last three months I have really enjoyed living a normal life, if you can call living in West Africa normal. It feels great to take naps in the middle of the day, to have time to do whatever for my kids, to cook each night, and to have time to chat with the neighborhood vegetable stand lady or our guard without feeling like I was stealing time from something more important. I admit that in the States, when I was in conversation, my mind was usually 10 minutes to an hour ahead and I didn’t have time to listen to whatever I needed to be listening to because I had this next big thing. I don’t have conversations like that here, I actually have time to listen, and teach and serve in the church, and I think it is good.

I think it will be good for me to serve in the church—not as pastor—but as a volunteer. I have already seen how what the pastor does affects those who work or volunteer on the other side of the altar. I’m sure this is just the tip of the emotional iceberg, but I’m already seeing how things I did, or decisions that I as the pastor made, affected the larger circle of the church in ways I didn’t really appreciate. I am sorry, and ask for your forgiveness.

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8 thoughts on “When you’re not the Pastor…

  1. Steve-No apologies necessary. Your last two entries have been extremely moving to me. We all learn in our chosen fields just as we learn on the job how to be good parents. We take the good and the bad that we have witnessed and try to meld them into our best effort. The only constant is that the closer we try to follow God’s agenda and less we think of our own or that of the “church owners”, the better we do. We’ve only had one perfect leader and you’re well aware of what they did to Him.You are missed and prayed for- John

  2. Thanks for your thoughts John. We parents do the best we can at the time, but later as we reflect on what we were not able to do, I know personally, I wish I had done more. Speaking to a missionary-friend on Sat., he said that the first mission field is our family, and only when we have done our work there can God use us to go beyond it. Misquoting scripture we could said what does it gain a father to save the world but lose his family. Anyway, I appreciate your friendship and covet your prayers.

  3. I just checked your blog and read the comment you added. Sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier. You know how it is up here in the harried North. We make time for everything else except the most essential things – the quality of our lives and the health of our souls. I have seen pics of the space-to-space booths and my parents who have been back a few times tell me about them, and a few other things. Nothing however will surpass your up-to-date information though. In our day the tro-tros were much more intimidating – if that is possible. Except for the front they were basically all wood, with wooden backless seats. What am I saying – you probably saw the grand-dadies of all trotros back in the 60s.What actually led me to your blog is Asheshi Uni. My uncle was at Swarthmore the same time as Awuah (sp), the president and founder of the university. The two never met, for all I know. But he has been following his work with great interest; and now so I am. Someday, who knows, I might just find myself back in Accra, with a check to help the cause you are working on.Meanwhile I await – on my tiptoes, of course- the next installment of the great tales and sermons.

  4. You’ve worn many hats in my life, Steve: pastor, friend, boss, musician, and fellow Longhorn, just to name a few. Thanks for who you are and thanks for your dedication to the God we serve.

  5. Hi ChicCheckTo: Ashesi is an amazing place and I hope you have a chance to see it while it is still at this stage. It is the most amazing group of dedicated people I have ever seen. We almost daily speak of the “Ashesi Way” and though its goal is the change Ghana, it may well change the world. We still see the Mammy Lorries from time to time (The BedFord series TroTros) of old, but mostly these days they are hauling materials instead of people. So, just for kicks, what do you think the Space to Space booths do? It took me several weeks to figure out, so I’m interested in your thoughts.

  6. Hi Paul – Thanks for reading the blog. Its been great fun writing. Of all the hats I’ve worn for you I think my fav. is friend. Remember what I said to you after your last Sunday?You should come visit.

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