On winter storms, priority, and the Pastoral Ministry

Since we are hosting the Super Bowl this weekend, the nation’s attention has been turned to the wintry weather goings-on in Dallas this past week.

Most of the country will look at an ice storm and then some snow and think “so what?” But friends, down here in Texas, there aren’t many plows, they barely salt the roads (and even then only the major ones), and nobody goes out. In other words, for the last four days Dallas-Fort Worth has been shut down, and travel has been extremely difficult.

All this being said, the situation has prompted some thoughts on the prioritizing necessary in pastoral care.

Let’s think about the task, and need, for the modern-day pastor to become adept at quickly making priority judgements. For well over half a century the telephone has seen widespread use. The pastor, sitting in his office at the church or in his home, would be reachable for his counsel and care. But if the pastor went out and about, he was now incommunicado, at least for an indeterminate amount of time. Life and death still happen, whether he’s reachable or not.

I’m sure you can guess where we’re headed next. Nowadays most pastors carry a cell phone with them. In fact, the vast majority of adults own a cell phone at this point, and statistics show that landlines are quickly going the way of the Dodo, being replaced by wireless plans instead. With the convenience of the cell phone for the pastor (and they are awfully convenient, especially when they start with the letter “i”) comes the flip-side of the coin. The pastor, so long as the phone has a charge and signal, is always available. Add to that email, Facebook, etc. and the signal-to-noise ratio goes way, way up.Inevitably, the pastor has to begin prioritizing. If he has a fairly complete contact list on his phone, he can see who is calling from the moment the phone rings. Take the call or not? If he takes it, a conversation will ensue. As information is gathered, the pastor now has to determine whether this is a situation needing immediate attention. In other words, life or death, or not?

“What does this have to do with the winter storm?” you’re probably wondering. I was reflecting on the fact that the winter storm has highlighted the reverse aspect of this whole attention-prioritizing situation. This week I was stuck at home (for the most part). Was there still work to be done? Certainly. Did some individuals in the congregation still need care? Yep. But because of the constraint put on my ability to  travel, and on my time because of the difficulty of said traveling, I was forced to prioritize. What’s most important? Who’s most in need of attention right now? It was a refreshing reminder of just what essentially the pastor needs to be doing. Studying the word, proclaiming it (or writing towards that end), praying for his congregation, thinking about all sorts of things like teaching and preaching and theology, being still and “unbusy” and faithful to his calling.

The payoff of all this is that we pastors need to treat every week as if it’s a winter storm week. Not that we sit around our house and don’t go anywhere, but that we ensure that we’re prioritizing what we do and how we do it, to the end of bringing Christ and Him crucified to our people.

And in the event that we do end up stuck at home for several days straight, technology sure is great for keeping tabs on people whom it’s difficult to physically get to at the moment.