Issue #39 : The Work of a Shepherd
Last weekend, my wife and daughter went to Indiana to visit family. I stayed behind to work. It was 10 pm, I was eating cold pizza and watching 3:10 to Yuma. After a long day, it was nice to finally relax.
Then I received a text message from a church member named Ruth. “Brandon, call me asap.” Apparently, she tried to call, but my phone wasn’t working. My first thought, “Oh man! I am tired. I will call her in the morning.” It then occurred to me; this must be an emergency. I’d been conversing with Ruth all week. Her husband wasn’t doing well, but we certainly didn’t think he was critical. So, I made the call. When she answered, Ruth was hysterical. “Brandon, Tom’s unconscious. The EMT’s are working on him.” “I’ll be right there” I told her.
I got up from the couch, put on my jeans and made it to Ruth’s house in 15 minutes. When I arrived, paramedic, police and firetrucks filled the street. I could see their lights from blocks away. Neighbors were outside on the sidewalk looking on with curiosity.
I parked my car and walked up to house. As I approached the driveway, EMT’s were wheeling Ruth’s husband, Tom, out on a stretcher performing CPR. This did not look good. I went into the home, and trash from the EMT’s medical equipment was all over the floor. They clearly worked hard to save Tom’s life.
Then I see Ruth. She’s a mess. I hug her and we agree that we need to get to the hospital. We pray before we leave and head to the ER.
I got there around the same time Tom arrived in the ambulance. He hadn’t even been checked into their system. Moments later, Ruth and her daughters make their way into the waiting room. We probably waited for twenty minutes before doctors summoned us back. It must have seemed like an eternity for Ruth. A thought kept coming to my mind. “There’s grace in the waiting.”
Finally, the ER Supervisor invited us to a private room. We sat down and waited for the doctor to come. Finally, he came. The doctor asked what happened at the home. It seemed like maybe he was going to tell us Tom was not doing well but in stable condition. After Ruth told him what happened at the house, the doctor said, “Well, unfortunately I have bad news. Tom has passed. He’s died.” It was so odd. Why not come out with the news right away? I am not a doctor or trained in these matters per se, but it didn’t feel right.
Once again, Ruth was inconsolable. Tom just left the hospital. He was discharged at 4:30 pm. He died five hours later. Ruth was devastated that they sent him home. From a human perspective, Tom may have lived if he was under medical care when his health failed at home. All I could do was pray with Ruth and remind her of the promises of God. Feelings of powerlessness in this moment are overwhelming. As a pastor, and a man, I want to fix things, but I can’t.
We then went back to see Tom. It was another difficult moment. The entire night was one traumatic experience after another. Ruth laid on her deceased husband’s body crying, telling him how sorry she was (for what I am not sure; maybe how everything happened so suddenly, but it wasn’t her fault). She kissed him, sobbed, and talked to him as if he were still there. I will never forget that moment.
I haven’t been a pastor long, but it hasn’t been a short time either. This ranks in my top five hardest ministry experiences, and here’s why I share it with you. This is the work we’ve been called to. We’re called to shepherd Christ’s people. We’re called to walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps more than any other time in their lives, we must be there for our people when death comes.
Brother pastor, ministry is not about building big budgets, attendance, and platforms. Ministry is about serving people during the best and worst times. We’re called to share their burdens and joys. We’re called to walk with them as if we were Christ Himself. So, brother pastor, keep shepherding your people. Continue walking with them in the good times and bad—all for the joy of your Master.