Ellsworth looked down at my feet after hearing me preach for the first time and said, “A man who isn’t afraid to wear cowboy boots in the pulpit is a man I can trust.” I glanced at my feet and then to his. His boots were black. He was a deacon in my first pastorate. He taught me about being a pastor and it had nothing to do with footwear.
I remember sitting with him and drinking coffee in silence. I counted the tick of the clock on the wall, thirty metrical ticks between sentences. Ellsworth slurped his Folgers and stared out the window. We never talked much, but this is where I learned the most important lesson in being a pastor. He never complimented a sermon, he never challenged my theology, he never asked me for council and he never encouraged me. The closest he ever came was after church one Sunday he said, “Preacher, God rarely gets in a hurry.”
After three and a half years I moved to a different state and changed shoes.
Aside from the obvious list that you might learn in seminary like: holding confidences, faithful to the creeds, be prepared to preach, stay away from the finances, don’t exaggerate too much in sermons, keep your lust at a disguisable level—there is another way to measure trust. It is deeper. It goes unseen but not unknown.
Congregants can smell a restless pastor like polar bears smell seal pups. They may not be able to articulate the feeling they get from the aroma of a pastor on the move, but they know not to put their full weight on him. When he aches for a larger platform, a bigger name, a more dynamic city, a different climate, or even a ‘do-over’ he fails in his most holy sacrament: being present.
Something happens between the soul of a congregation and the soul of a pastor that is not unlike the connection between a husband and wife at the most intimate level. A husband who is easily distracted by a pretty girl from being present with his wife is a husband not worthy of trust, whether that girl is physically present or tucked away under the mattress in his mind.
My wife responds to me serving her. When I serve her she comes alive. When I power up on her she may submit, but a little of her soul dies inside and she is less human. She is less than God’s intention when He dreamed her up before time.
I imagine a frown crease the brow of my Lord when he sees how I treat my wife, and sadly, how I treat his.
When, through a surge of testosterone, a pastor rides his church to accomplish his goals under the guise of advancing the Kingdom, something of the bride of Christ shrinks and shrivels even while she is growing as an organization. She is becoming less like Jesus and more like the pastor. But when the pastor has found his place in the bosom of Jesus and can relax, the bride responds and when she moves through her community you hear the soft sound of sandaled feet.