Recently, a friend of mine had a family member pass away suddenly. Planning funerals are almost always arduous experiences. Not many are readily prepared with complete logistics in order at the time of death of a loved one, but unfortunately often, a common difficulty is determining where the service of a loved one should be held. That was one issue that caused a bit of strain on my friend’s family as they prepared to lay her uncle to rest, as he was not a member of local church.
Now some may read that and say, “So what?” But there’s a lot that goes along with that disconnection to the church. As mentioned, it was hard finding a church to hold the services, being that her uncle was not really connected to any. My friend’s family had to rely on their own associations to churches to find pastors and facilities that would be available. Again, maybe another “So what?” moment, but not for me. The idea of having someone stand over me and present my eulogy, without knowing me personally, or even a little bit, is a disconcerting feeling. What would they say? How could they speak to the life I lived? Did they know any of my aspirations? My joys and sorrows?
These are thoughts that I myself, having grown up in church, didn’t even think about until the combination of this recent passing, and the growing relationship with my current pastor here in DC. Just a couple weeks before the death in my friend’s family, I’d emailed and asked if I could meet with my pastor to talk through a few recent changes in life and upcoming big decisions. This was a request that even a year ago, would’ve been weird to think about asking, but attending a church under the leadership of a shepherd that deeply and clearly cares for the well-being of his flock, has made a world of difference. My pastor quickly responded, agreeing to the request, and a few days later I was at his home, sharing tea (the actual beverage) and cares with him and his lovely wife, soaking up guidance and encouragement from them both.
A couple weeks later, I was back home in Memphis visiting, and went to my old church. I walked by my former pastor, and he didn’t know who I was. (Still thinking "So what", huh?) I’d gone to that church for about two years, had a face to face membership interview with him, and even served in the media ministry, but I was a total stranger to him. This is no shade to him as a person, as he is a phenomenal teacher, organizer and leader, but the difference was glaring. If he didn’t know who I was, he likely didn’t know I’d been gone for for two years, and likely hadn’t been praying for me. Again, this wouldn’t have mattered much to me before experiencing the level of intentional church community I now enjoy.
Actual footage of me running into the pastor at my old church:
I don’t write this to evoke shame in any way, but the contrast here was significant to me. From experience, I can attest, that once you encounter real, church community, you absolutely feel it when you don’t.
The relationship between a church goer, and a pastor is an important one. Hebrews 13:17 tells us to “Obey your spiritual leaders...for they are keeping watch over your souls and continually guarding your spiritual welfare as those who will give an account of their stewardship of you…”
What a grand responsibility as a pastor! To lovingly keep up with me and to be accountable to God for it. The pastor of your church is tasked with literally watching over your soul! The imagery in my mind after reading that verse was, if I have a major spiritual setback, God’s gonna look at my Pastor like “daaaang, bro, what happened?” Idk about you, but that alone makes me want to always be connected to a church, especially with a pastor who understands this great accountability.
The weight that a pastoral relationship carries is unfortunately seen when they aren’t holding this authority responsibly also. I know of one too many people who have turned away from faith altogether, due to hurt they’ve experienced directly from their pastors. My heart aches for anyone reading this that can identify with that. I pray that you can heal from whatever pain still lingers, and not let it continue to keep you away from such a beautiful faith, misrepresented by a flawed person.
Now, if you go to a really large church where an intimate relationship with the leader may be difficult, or if you’re “in between churches” (lol), and still looking for a home, I’d recommend seeking out people to disciple you in your journey as well- a spiritual mentor, if you will. There’s an older woman at my church who came to me and asked if she could disciple me. She asked if we could dedicate time regularly, to meeting to talk, read, write, catch up, and whatever else. “I want to be involved in your life,” she said.
My first thought was...
I was very hesitant to oblige, but I'm glad I did. Often times in our chats, she’s just asking what’s up with me. “How can I pray for you this week?” or “Are you struggling with anything?” (When I saw Killmonger in Black Panther, the answer to that was a resounding yes). I’m out here, in this new-ish city, away from family, and here someone is, just wanting to love and encourage me. I’m clear that she too, is voluntarily keeping watch over my soul. It’s kinda lit, and makes me teary eyed at this display of God’s love for me through people. Whew.
Although she asked me this time, I know that I’ll never again go without this kind of relationship, and will actively seek a similar or additional one, should I one day relocate from DC. And I believe this is important at any age. One reason I trust the woman who’s discipling me, is because I know she has someone discipling her, and that’s exactly how it should be. That also tells me that you never outgrow the need for this relationship model. I’m also learning how important this type of counsel is in dating or general relationship building. You can learn a lot about someone by learning who pours into them.
Fellowship with other believers is worked into God’s design for the local church. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25. It’s part of His plan for us to be all up in through each other’s lives. Keeping up with one another. Bearing each other’s burdens. I’m learning more and more, that being a part of a church is an important part of this.
Anyway, I encourage anyone that has stopped on this page to ask yourself the question of who’s keeping watch over your soul? Do you have anyone checking on your spiritual state? Helping you to sin a little less (lol), gently pushing you closer to God? If the answer is no, thank God there’s still time to change that.