Tag Archives: servant leadership

Irreplaceable: When a Mary, a Martha, or a Dorcas Goes Home

You probably didn’t notice a wobble in the earth’s rotation, a split-second tilt in its axis, a brief cosmic stutter last Wednesday. Neither did I.

But when I learned later that a sweet lady in Amarillo named Melba Joy had passed away suddenly that day, I immediately felt an emptiness in my soul, a pain in my heart, and a deep sense of loss. And I confess to being irrationally surprised that this planet could sustain that kind of loss and keep spinning as the solar system carried on business as usual.

I suppose that an unbeliever, an agnostic or atheist, but a skeptic of a kind sort, would feel compassion for anyone in grief, even if the bottom line in the skeptic’s life philosophy is that we’re all accidents anyway and the planet/universe can’t be expected to notice, much less, mourn, our loss.

Rationally, though I’m a Christian believer—and one who doesn’t believe for a second that belief negates rational thought—I know that the universe is impersonal and cannot mourn. But I believe its Creator is God, not an impersonal force or capricious pagan deity, but the Father who loves his children with an intensity we cannot begin to fathom, who, as Christ has told us, numbers even the hairs on our heads.

I believe the Creator of the universe not only noticed when Melba Joy passed away last Wednesday, I believe he welcomed her with an inexpressible love and, yes, joy. I believe that our Father not only loves every one of his children, I believe that he loves us as if there was only one to love. And, though I believe that the Father rejoiced to receive her truly Home, I also believe that he feels the loss and grief of those who loved her.

Obviously, my words come from the perspective of a believer. They are also coming from a small-church pastor. If you’ve not known and loved life, and the lives, the folks with faces, in a small church family, a real family in every sense, I doubt you can begin to understand the loss the folks in the little but lovely Anna Street Church in Amarillo are feeling right now. (It’s been my privilege to know and love them for lots of years, and my brother is their pastor.)

They love all of their folks, but for over 60 years, Melba, a “charter member,” has been integral in the life of that church family. For much of that time, she served as their church “hostess” and was later also recognized officially as what she had long been, a sweet deaconess. If it was warm, beautiful, well-organized, tasty, filled with joy, you can be very sure Melba Joy had a serious hand in it.

Sweet, talented, filled with joy to match her name, and beautiful in every way, Melba died at 93 (and could have easily passed for 73). When my younger brother heard of her passing, he wrote, “How sad! But didn’t she show us how to serve right up until the finish line? What a remarkable ‘Martha’ who had a big helping of the heart of ‘Mary’!” (Mary and Martha were Jesus’ dear friends). Yes, and what a “Dorcas” (Acts 9) whose passing the ancient church mourned so deeply.

Irreplaceable. That’s the word that keeps coming to mind. For small churches who lose such a lady, irreplaceable has a name. It’s Melba Joy. It’s June Conway. It’s Robin Taylor. It’s ______; fill in the name. If you’re a genuine part of a small church family, you know it. Speak the name. Thank God for her. And when she goes Home, ask the Father to help you honor him as you also honor her by being part of the small army you’ll find it will take to try to even begin to do what she did so wonderfully with so much selfless and soul-warming love.

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Advertisements

“Would You Speak About ‘Ministry Today’?”

 

ministry

“Would you be willing to speak briefly to my seminary students?”

In the weeks since one of my best friends and most capable colleagues made that request of me, along with eight or nine other ministers, a fine group whose quality I can only dilute, I’ve been pondering what to say about “Ministry Today.”

The first challenge is relatively minor. He said “brief.”

The second is that my only real qualification to give such a speech is that I feel incredibly unqualified to give such speech. That, by the way, will be one point: Never trust any minister who claims to know all about “doing” ministry.

I’m pretty sure that my task is more than simply to mention how many pastors in “ministry today” need anti-anxiety medication. I doubt my friend wants me just to discuss various pharmaceutical options.

One major point might be that ministry today brings with it some challenges somewhat unique, but that in most ways ministry today is hard because real ministry has always been hard on any day.

Still, as is historically true, prosperity brings challenges more threatening to deep faith than hard times and persecution ever bring. We “swim in a sea of selfishness.” The consumer religion approach—“Have It Your Way,” looking for the best value in “religious goods and services”—which fits our culture like a glove rather than transforming it, is as deadly as it is tempting.

To the ministry students, I will probably say, you need to ponder often and deeply what real “success” in God’s kingdom looks like. The church needs pastors, not religious rock stars. It is very difficult to be a real pastor to a flock so large that you don’t know the faces and names of the sheep. A large church can be a great blessing, but so can a small one. And let’s be honest: Most large churches in our land aren’t large because they’re good at bringing unbelievers to Christ; they’re large predominantly because they’re good at making small churches smaller.

I’ll probably also (ironically, I’m afraid) tell the students to guard their hearts against cynicism.

I’ll warn them against the idea propounded by church growth seminars that most churches are just one amazing program or one big change away from explosive growth, an idea that invariably produces explosions and hurts most the very sheep who least deserve the wounds.

I’ll tell them to look at Moses and his faithful leadership. I’ll also tell them to think about, pray about, and take steps to avoid,  the mistake even Moses made by allowing weariness and frustration to lead him to “strike the rock” (Numbers 20). It’s every tired pastor’s temptation.

I’ll tell them, don’t forget whose kingdom it is you’re giving your life to help build. (Clue: It’s not yours.)

I’ll urge them, love the Lord. Love the flock, real people with real faces, joys, and sorrows. Never dishonor them and demean your calling by using them to feed your ego, as if they are simply a stepping stone on your career path. Remember that these are God’s people whom you’re privileged and called to walk beside as you make this journey together, learning each day to live in faith, in grace, following the Lord.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


%d bloggers like this: