Author's Note: I wrote this post in the summer of 2014. Been sitting on it awhile. Hope it's an encouragement to someone.
Not too long ago I sat down to lunch with a friend who was just concluding his second year of being a senior pastor. My friend shared with me he had recently experienced his first instance of a family leaving his church for no apparent reason. Calls and emails to this family went unanswered, and my friend was left to wonder "Why?" Admittedly, this really bothered him, even to the point that he was losing sleep over it. Our conversation reminded me of a phrase I heard sometime back that captured his angst well. The phrase was "pastoring the parade." In my 15 years of ministry, this is a phrase with which I've come to identify and appreciate.
The meaning of the phrase is simply that many of the people you pastor will only be under your watchcare for a short time. Maybe a few months. Maybe a few years. And then they're gone. They parade into and out of your life, only to be followed by new names and faces you'll come to love as well. The new names and faces never replace the old ones. They merely follow them in the parade.
Some die and go to Heaven. (The longer you're in one place, the harder the funerals become.) Some break your heart by moving away. Some, tragically, fall away from the faith and pursue a lifestyle of sin and rebellion. Some are called out to another place of service. And, yes, some leave as a result of conflict.
Ultimately, the reason why doesn't really matter that much. Because you love them all, and most of them take a little piece of your heart with them. (Some more than others.) Sometimes in quiet moments I reflect back on the faces in the parade and it makes me sad. But that's life, and if there's anything life teaches us, it's that the parade marches on.
What's the lesson in this for pastors? Many of our people we will only have for a season. Understand that, accept it, and make the most of it. Care for them. Disciple them. And thank God for the time you have them.
One day the parade will end at the gates of pearl, and all of God's Church will be together for eternity. No more coming. No more going. Until then, love 'em while you got 'em.