Blessed are the flexible: improvisation and ministry

As the apocryphal addendum to the Sermon on the Mount goes: “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape.”

I’m rapidly learning the virtue of flexibility as a pastor.  I’m not sure it’s really a virtue, because it is more a matter of survival than acquiring a skill or habit, but that is a technicality.  What I am certain of is that no pastor will survive a congregation (sans a coronary) without a large degree of flexibility.

Case in point: arriving at church this morning, we discovered that the heat had not come on the sanctuary the night before.  The rest of church was warm and toasty, but the sanctuary was about 50 degrees.  What to do?  Make the church members, many of whom are older and generally colder anyway, simply deal with it?  Cancel worship?

Enter what is now designated “plan b”: we moved the altar, pulpit, and lectern to the fellowship hall.  Hauled up all the equipment for the handbell choir.  Rearranged the tables and chairs so they would all be facing front.  Made coffee.  Made a LOT of coffee.

My time interning at a church with a contemporary service taught me that church can look like a coffee shop.  It wouldn’t be the first choice of my parishioners, if you polled them, but it could certainly be done “in Spirit and truth” for one Sunday morning.

And you know what? It worked great.  God was with us.  If anyone griped (as I expected some to), I did not hear them.  Blessed am I, with flexible church members…

What’s the point: life really is made up of how you react, not what happens to you.  As a pastor, you have to keep your head about you.  Stress, like all emotion, is contagious.  If you project it, it will negatively impact your people and hamper the ability to worship together.  On the other hand, if you control your emotions, and view problems as opportunities, you’ll be amazed at how God can surprise you on a Sunday morning (or any morning).

Blessed are the flexible, my friends.

3 thoughts on “Blessed are the flexible: improvisation and ministry”

  1. We received a foot of snow one Saturday. We canceled church… but then about a dozen people showed up the next morning anyway. They walked, mostly. So we ended up having church. The parsonage was right next door, so I was there. It was communion that day, and the only thing I could find in the kitchen was apple juice and raisin bread… so that was our communion. People talked about it long afterward.

    Yes, flexibility and improvisation are important. There is one thing in your post, though, that gives me pause. It’s the notion that I must control my emotions, particularly ones thought to be negative. Yes… and no. As a pastor, calmness is important. In stressful and scary situations, my presence can help calm things. But I’ve learned it can also be valuable for my people to see my emotions. If I am walking through a scary situation with a family, I think it can be valuable to them if they can see that I share their fears. It validates their feeling, at least I hope it does. What I’m saying is I don’t think it’s always healthy in a pastoral relation to control your emotions. And too much control gives off the impression you are aloof.

    So in general, calmness is good. But I’m learning that sometimes its okay for people to see a glimpse of my fear or frustration with something. It humanizes the pastor.

    Anyway, good post. Thoughtful, as always. Peace to you.

  2. Chris,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I can see where my comments could be seen as leaning towards a pastoral stoicism, which was not my intent. The comments about not showing emotion should have been more clearly directed twoards a situation like I mentioned above. The danger amid something like that is projecting stress and frustration that, as a worship leader, can only detract from worship as a whole. I certainly agree with you that there are times for us to show our vulnerability as pastors, to walk through “the Valley of the shadow of death” with our people if need be. Have you read ‘The Wounded Healer’ by Nouwen?

  3. Yes, I have. But it’s been a while.

    Thanks for your clarification. This kind of vulnerability you speak of in your comment is on my mind because I just walked through a really scary time with a family. I was frightened just as they were.

    Peace to you.

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