I almost didn’t answer the phone.
It was early 2013 and, for a myriad of reasons, I hadn’t attended Commerce Community Church for a few months.
I was working at the Banner then and, returning to work from lunch one day, I was about to open the door to the newsroom when my phone rang. My pastor, David, was calling and I didn’t want to pick up.
I wasn’t doing too well in the summer of 2013. Many of my plans for marriage, career, and for life in general hadn’t panned out. I was tired and wanted to be alone and away from community and accountability. I had hoped to simply sneak away from the church and everything in the shadows to sulk and complain about how everything was going wrong with my life.
In the dark night of my soul I wanted to camp out there, surrounded by the bitter cold nothingness, hoping it eventually numb to the pain, rather than packing it up and coming home. Going back meant opening up about the hard things, answering well-meaning questions about a planned wedding that never came, and other of my life’s broken dreams at the time; hopes dashed against the harsh rocks of reality and strewn along the shore. Going back meant painstakingly picking them all up, piece by piece. Going back meant, hard, difficult, painful work.
I thought no one would notice me if I simply slipped away.
I was wrong.
“Hey man,” David said after I answered. “Just checking up on you to see how you’re doing. Missed you the past few weeks.”
During college I had lost sight of what it meant to be a pastor. Slowly, after hopping from church to church, discussing and debating with friends about theology and apologetics – I began to rely more and more on celebrity pastors on YouTube than the ones I sat under in the pew. My view of the pastor’s job description had stunted into someone who got up and preached once or twice a week, then was silent for the rest of it.
A pastor was simply a man who got up to preach, teaching men and women what the Bible meant, all from the safe confines of the pulpit.
I was so wrapped up in the pastor as preacher that I forgot of the pastor as shepherd: the man who cares for the souls of God’s flock. Caring for souls includes the Sunday sermon, but it also includes weddings and funerals, counseling and disciplining, and sitting with someone as they pour out their life – their sin, guilt, and shame – who need to be shown, by teaching and example, how to apply the word of God to their daily lives.
David’s phone call that day pulled me from self-loathing and despair. He reminded me there is a tomorrow; this too shall pass. Without that call, I would have slid further apart from the church, and ended up God only knows where. However, I do know this: if not for that call, it wouldn’t have been C3.
But he did call. My pastor took the time for me. That call made me realize that David wasn’t just the preacher I listened to every Sunday morning; he became my pastor: Christ’s “sheep with a role” as David often says. There to guide Christ’s flock, cultivating growth and caring for the souls of this local body of believers. In that moment, I realized that the man who got up to preach every week knew my name. And not only that, he cared. He cared enough to notice when I wasn’t there. He cared enough to call, and in doing so, he called me home.
He walked with me, and so did my other elders. Together, they cared for my soul through conversations and Bible studies, guiding my heart and mind back to trusting God in the midst of this difficult circumstance. Through the elders of C3, who led me in love, I returned. Though some discussions were awkward and difficult, and at times I was tempted to retreat into the back, God preserved me through it all, as I trust He still preserves me now.
Praise God for elders such as the ones at my church, who understand that being a pastor and an elder is so much more than preaching or having ready-made answers to every theological question. They know it is also about the care of souls. It includes the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s word. But it also includes more. It includes phone calls and hospital visits, the mundane, every day conversations and the conversations with one having a crisis of faith. It includes birthday celebrations and graveside services, graduation ceremonies and walking with a member after they receive a grim diagnosis.
If you are a member of a church, please take a moment to praise God for these men who care for our souls. And while you’re at it, pray for them to persevere. Pray that God would continue to strengthen their resolve to faithfully preach and teach His word, and their daily love for the members God has placed under their care.
They care for you on Sunday.
They care for you every other day.
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3)
He can be reached at email@example.com