One of your most vital roles as a minister has nothing to do with where your church is located or the size of your congregation.
There are times when human beings desperately need God. And often their minister is a tangible part of knowing He is truly there. They can feel the presence of Jesus Christ. They can touch, they can see, and they can hear you.
I remember well a couple who were close friends of my parents. The wife had cancer, and her physician sent her to a large hospital in New York City that specialized in treating her type of cancer.
While she was spending hours under going tests, her husband tried to pass the time. He drank coffee in the cafeteria. He looked at magazines he couldn't bring himself to read. And finally he sought comfort in the hospital chapel.
This man had tried to hold back his tears. He felt as if he were going to explode. And then he felt a strong hand on his shoulder. He knew, somehow he knew, it was the chaplain. And suddenly he cried. Sobs racked his body. The chaplain simply stood by him, the strength of his hand bringing strength to the man. Later they talked. But it was those moments of just having a minister with him that gave this man the courage to go on.
At age 20, a college student, and already selling some of my writing, I found myself in love. Tom was a postgraduate student. What a future he had. He could write both poetry and serious short stories. He composed classical music and was an accomplished pianist. He had exhibited some of his art and taught art to mentally handicapped children in a regional center. Because we had much in common and belonged to the same church, I anticipated sharing our lives together and in our happiness bringing joy to others. How wonderful the future looked!
Tom's severe headaches made me think he was overworking, using his eyes too much. I asked him to do less. He did, but the headaches became worse. Finally he went to a doctor. The medication helped only briefly. He entered the hospital for tests that resulted in an operation to remove a growth.
Tom recovered, but he had lost some of his coordination. If this discouraged him, he didn't let it show. He became a full-time teacher at the regional center, using art forms to help the children and youth. The future still looked bright until the headaches returned. Tom returned to the hospital.
Tom's mother broke the news to me. He had a few weeks to live. I held myself together until I left the hospital. I drove home, but instead of going into the house, I ran into the woods behind our property. For a while, I turned against God and everything else. I ran until the pain in my chest prevented me from continuing. Then I hit my hands against an old grandfather tree until blood actually ran down my arms. And at last, too exhausted to do anything else, I slid down to the ground, my body shaking.
Then someone sat on the ground beside me. He didn't speak. He pulled a large white handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped it around the hand that was bleeding the most. Then he pulled my head to his shoulder while I vented my emotion. When my body finally became still, he gently picked me up and carried me out of the woods. It was my pastor. He listened when I wanted to talk. And he talked when I was ready to listen. Until then, he was simply there. Thank God he was there.
Every situation does not have to be so dramatic. The young couple just starting their life together needs to know their pastor is there if they need him. The troubled person may find it easier to understand that he is not forsaken if his pastor is behind him. The family who has just lost someone takes comfort in knowing their minister is with them. The child just starting to know Jesus feels encouraged because there's a minister near him who is flesh and blood just like his daddy.
A pastor recently told me about some middle-of-the-night calls from a young man. During the day this man could handle the knowledge that he had AIDS. Night, however, was different. He lay awake, tossing and turning. He tried prayer but couldn't pray. So he called a minister he didn't know and who would never know him. The minister listened. And the night came when the young man called to tell his listener that he had finally been able to pray. The minister never heard from the young man again. Several months later a woman telephoned the minister. She was the mother of the young man. She had found the pastor's number in a diary along with some notes about those calls.
"Thanks be to God, you were there for my son when he needed you," the saddened mother said.
A minister plays many roles. Among the most important is knowing how to listen and just being there.