Today we joined a friend at his church for his farewell service. It was a lovely Jesus-centred service, followed by a delicious lunch, lots of memories, many smiles and a tearful goodbye from my friend.
Being a Church of England church, the last part of the proceedings involved the Church Wardens accompanying our friend and his family off the church premises.
It really was time to say goodbye.
My friend has served this church faithfully for 17 years as a careful preacher of God’s word, a compassionate pastor, and a diligent leader.
Yet what struck me most was how what seemed to stick in people’s minds was that he had shared his life with the congregation. This was not a ministry that was exercised at a distance, but one that was up close and personal.
I am always rather puzzled by those who suggest that church leaders should not have close friends in their church. How odd. It is almost as if there is a strange expectation for a church leader to be a little less of a person than everybody else.
If we are to take our model of Christian leadership from Jesus, it becomes clear that a keep-them-at-a-distance model of leadership is not the best one.
Jesus chose twelve men to accompany him for three years. He took three of them, Peter, James and John to be with him on special occasions, and he cultivated special friendships with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha.
A person needs to feel secure about themselves if they are willing to let other people into their lives, to let them see them live, laugh and cry. Older generations grew up being told to hide their feelings because big boys don’t cry. I don’t think I have ever thought less of another person because they have cried in public.
Yet we do need to remember that becoming vulnerable does carry with it certain risks. Leaders need to be aware of this if they are to avoid fostering unhealthy voyeurism, attachments and dependence.
I knew one preacher who said he needed to pull back from too much self-disclosure in his sermons because some people were beginning to have an unhealthy interest.
I guess being an open person is rather like walking a tightrope. It requires wisdom, skill and balance.
For preachers this means learning to be a fully paid up member of the human race.
Preachers share the joys of their fellow human beings. There are things that make us smile, bring us delight, and cause our heart to sing.
Preachers also share the sorrows of their fellow human beings. There are things that disappoint us, sadden us and make us cry.
Paul writes to the Romans about the church, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
When my friend smiled today as he remembered shared joys and cried when he finally said goodbye I felt that I was witnessing a partnership between a preacher and a people that made the heart of God glad.