I may be wrong about this (about ALL of this), but I’m going to take a stab at it anyway. If for no other reason than to try and organize my thoughts.
It feels to me like there are some professions where it’s appropriate/good-practice/wise to chase down your customers if you haven’t heard from them in a while, and some professions where it’s not. (And yes, I fully realize that trying to make such clear, black and white distinctions, is impossible. Bear with me.)
In other words, here’s the scenario: You are in a “business-relationship” with someone (perhaps not the best term, but again, just roll with it) where there is a relatively regular sense of interaction, or consuming of your goods and services, or whatever it is your profession offers. You’ve established a personal connection with them, but they also function as a consumer of your goods/services.
But then, one day, you notice that you have not seen or heard from that person in a while.
What do you do next?
Do you reach out to that person? Whether it’s just to check-in, or whether it’s to reengage their interest or consumption of your services…
Or do you not reach out? And instead simply make yourself available if they want to reconnect with you.
To simplify: are there professions where you actively pursue noticeably absent clients, and then professions where you don’t?
I’m asking because it feels like in the church world, we (pastors and church leaders) are constantly struggling to engage this dynamic in a healthy and helpful way.
On one end of the spectrum (if there is one) seems to be sort of like the “salesmen” approach of, “hey, it’s been a few months since we got an order from you. Just wanted to check in and see if you need anything?”
And on the other end seems to be more like a therapist or a chiropractor, who understand that they are there to help you if and when you are ready to be helped.
My therapist makes herself available for me whenever I need it, but if she doesn’t hear from me in a number of weeks she doesn’t reach out and say, “Hey Colby, I haven’t heard from you in a while. Just checking in…”
It feels like there’s an awareness, in the therapeutic world, that understands their role as “being present and available to help,” but not forcing their services on anyone, because therapy isn’t effective if the person isn’t ready, willing, or open to it.
There are a lot of people who come through our church each week/month/year. And for those that stick around long enough to make some connections with people, to build some sense of relationships, but then disappear, I always feel this impulse to reach out. To see where they went. To ask if everything is okay.
And I know that there is something in that impulse that feels good… it feels like it shows that I/the church cares, that we notice their absence, that we are there for them.
But there’s also something in that impulse that feels less-good… like I’m chasing people down to get more sales, or that I’m overly anxious about trying to please all people and figure out why people left and try and convince them otherwise.
And I know some pastors who, by rule of thumb, simply do not chase after people. For years I didn’t understand that. It felt cold, detached, uncaring.
But now, entering my 13th year of full time ministry, I’m starting to get it.
In many church settings, people come and go and come and go. And inevitably, it gets pretty painful to build relationships and then watch them disappear or dissolve. 90% of the time with zero explanation. No joke, people just stop coming, and rarely will ever say so (let alone say why).
So it seems like, in order to be a healthy and sane minister, you have to stay detached enough from people so that your heart isn’t ripped out every time they leave your church, or they make you feel like you’re not meeting all their needs or doing things the way they want.
But it seems like, in order to be an effective and present minister, you have to connect with people, and open up your heart to them, and care for them, and love them.
Detached, but connected.
Maintain some distance, but also share life together.
Not trying to convince people to stay, but showing them that you care if they leave.
(If you’ve ever been a minister, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then you might struggle to truly grasp the difficult dynamic I’m describing.)
To return to my original query, I’m wondering if being a Pastor might be better served if done like a therapist or chiropractor.
In other words, I am here to help. To listen. To love. To give guidance and direction and assist in the deep spiritual wonderings of the universe. I am here to help you connect with God and connect with yourself. I am here to help you care for your Soul (and personally, I really do care for and about your soul).
But I cannot force you in that journey. I cannot make you come to church. I cannot make you connect with the Divine. I cannot coerce you to care for your soul. If you stop coming to church, I may not reach out to you, but it’s not because I don’t care. I care immensely. Rather, it’s because my job is not to convince you of the merits of a faith community, or to convince you of the importance of nurturing your spiritual life. I’m more like a mid-wife, standing by your side, cheering you on, loving you through the pain, and ensuring you that you’re not alone.
Or at least, that’s how I’m thinking about it these days…