confessions of a pastor: the line

every week, at precisely the same moment, i have an experience that always leaves me amazed, frustrated, and hopeful simultaneously.  no one told me about this moment before i entered the ministry.  i was not taught how best to handle it.  it is not covered in any of the minister’s manuals that i own.  and even though i have now endured this surreal moment once a week for 25 years, it never ceases to baffle and stifle.

it is the moment immediately following the “amen” at the close of the sunday meeting.

usually, my first movement is to begin gathering up the accoutrement of my labors (my bible, my laptop, my valium).  in my mind, i am considering the many duties i need to address when something very bizarre happens–a line forms.  for some reason, people must to speak to the preacher after the sermon.  the reasons vary wildly, but their compulsion is irresistible.  some want to ask a question, some want to debate a point, and some want to commend me on a job well done.  i’ve had people confess sins and i’ve had people accuse me of sins.  frustrated bible scholars often inform me of a nuance i missed or a hermeneutic i mangled.  many want me to pray for them (does anyone else have trouble discerning proper placement of “laying on of hands”?).

the struggle for me is giving complete attention and patient devotion to the person in front of me, while “the line” invades my peripheral vision.  i suck at making people wait, but everyone seems to need me at once.  how do i appease all these people?  is there some kind of “needs triage” we can institute?  on top of the barely-controlled chaos around the platform, the children are beginning to revolt (several years ago, i foolishly started handing out suckers to kids after church…now they see it as an entitlement). and i cannot begin to describe the thoughts racing through my mind: “i need to catch those visitors before they get away” and “i wonder if bob’s mother is still in the hospital” and “i really gotta’ pee.”

keep in mind, all this time my arms are loaded with books and computers and stuff.

as in so many other areas of my life, i am conflicted at this moment.  i am gratified that people are responding to the message, but i have frighteningly few answers.  i am delighted to help people and pray with people, but i know me.  how stunningly miraculous that god chooses to entrust his gospel to flawed vessels.  and how strange that he empowers the weakest among us (like moses and gideon and me) to salve and encourage and lead his precious lambs.

and the most astonishing part, is that they are going to be back next week.  in line


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