Let us go out to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.
A really pivotal scene unfolds at the end of the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. After an intense day of preaching and teaching the crowds and healing the sick, Jesus goes off by himself to a deserted place for prayer. Peter and the others seek him out and urge him to return to the village. “Everyone is looking for you!” Peter pleads. The expectation about how he should spend his time and who he should be serving is clear.
And Jesus said no.
Jesus didn’t live for the whims of the crowd, he lived for an audience of one. He connected with his heavenly Father on a daily basis and it was God’s plan and purpose that drove Jesus’ actions and agenda.
If you think about it, this is really a pivotal moment. If Jesus had only listened to the crowd, his ministry would have been confined to that one little town of Capernaum. He would have been a big fish for sure, but in a very small pond. But because he lived for an audience of one his mission changed the world.
When I first came to this parish, as a first-time pastor, there were many people who had fixed ideas about what I should be doing. Here’s a short list of some of those expectations:
- stand at the front door and greet parishioners before and after weekend and weekday Masses
- serve as celebrant at all weddings and funerals
- visit every parishioner in the hospital, however brief their stay; be on call 24/7 for “emergencies”
- see anyone who wanted an appointment with me about anything
- be available for unscheduled walk-ins and readily available for telephone calls.
- be the go-to person on staff for all complaints
I accepted these expectations without question, at first. But I did began to question them when I came to realize that in fact I was really only serving about 200 people in my parish in this extensive way. That’s all any pastor has time for if they’re offering total access. And that’s why the average size church in this country is under 200.
At a certain point, I started saying no. And that was difficult because it feels good to give people what they want, and always be the go to guy (and sometimes the hero). It was also especially difficult given the negative reaction a “no” did (and still does) elicit. I’ve had plenty of people get angry with me and accuse me of not doing my job, and that criticism hurts. But I say no anyway, so that I can serve the whole parish, and the larger community, in the ways only I can serve in my role as pastor, which I have come refer to as “leading and feeding.”
By saying no, I’ve given our member ministers the opportunity to serve others by standing at the front door and greeting guests.