Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 25, 2010


Never feel sorry for a preacher


          Never feel sorry for a preacher. Preachers have more fun than anybody. There is never a dull day in the life of a preacher. One reason is that those of us who are “clergy” never know what we will be doing next.

One day we share the joy of parents celebrating the birth of a baby. The proud daddy wants us to agree that the handsome boy looks just like him. We smile and say, “Why sure he does; he is the spitting image of his daddy.” But we never risk saying what we are thinking -- that this baby looks about like the last fifty newborns we have seen. No matter, it is fun to share with young parents the thrill of holding a healthy new son or daughter.

That same day we may visit a person who is dying. Beside the bed is a beloved spouse whose wrinkled brow betrays the fear that death is knocking on the door. We speak softly and listen mostly. A family member whispers, “The doctor told us this morning that it is only a matter of hours now.” No one speaks the word “die,” but everyone understands that the sick one has only a few hours to live.

Where is the fun in a moment like that? Fun is probably not the right word. It is more like meaningful joy, the incredible feeling that somehow by being there you are making a difference. Despite the hurt and the sorrow you share with those who are grieving, your own little life is dignified by the awareness that in the hour of death, when you were needed, you were there. There are few things in life more wonderful.

Most of us preachers don’t know quite what to say at such times. The seminaries provide us little training for that. But eventually we learn that we don’t really have to say anything. Our words are seldom remembered. It is our presence that counts.

When my father was dying, a dear pastor and colleague was by my side. I don’t remember a word he said. I do remember that he put his arm around me. That I will never forget. I can only hope that somehow my arm, and my presence, has made that same difference for some of my own people.

Most preachers have a daily “to do” list. But there are days when we never get time to do anything on the list. Without warning our day may be interrupted by a phone call that makes the needs of others a higher priority. We may find ourselves sitting for hours in a courtroom, hoping to comfort parents who are waiting for a judge to drop the hammer on a wayward teenager. Or we may shuffle our plans around so we can meet with a couple whose marriage is on the rocks.

Hours later we may be meeting with a young man and a young woman who have fallen in love. They have honored us by inviting us to counsel them and perform the wedding.  Planning a wedding, of course, is always more fun when the couple allows plenty of time for the counseling so important for a lasting marriage. It is sad but true that some people spend more time studying for a driver’s license than they do preparing for their marriage. So it is little wonder that many marriages fail.

I do not consider the hours spent in counseling with a couple as drudgery. It is actually fun to believe that you are helping a man and a woman prepare well, not simply for a lovely wedding, but for a solid marriage that lasts a lifetime.

Some years ago I did learn something helpful from another pastor. I was in the habit of meeting at night to offer premarital counseling for couples. That meant many nights at the office, especially when counseling with three or four couples during the same time period. My friend asked me, “Why don’t you ask each couple to meet you during the day?”

My answer was that both the man and woman worked and did not get off until 5 or 6 o’clock. He asked me two rather penetrating questions: “Because they work, does their doctor meet with them at night?” The answer was obvious. No, they get off work to go to the doctor.

The second question was this:  “Is the counseling you are doing as important as what their doctor does for them?” Again the answer was obvious. The counseling is at least equally as important as the doctor’s counsel for their physical needs. So for many years I have had fun explaining that to couples who came to me for counseling. Most of the time they find a way to get off work to see me.

Preaching is fun and never a chore. If it ever becomes a chore, I will quit. But preaching is such a great privilege. People are discouraged and many are without hope. Many are whipped down by the hardships of life. And Sunday after Sunday I have the honor of reminding them that God loves them and that when they turn to him he will put his arms around them and give them hope and healing.

Now and then someone will tell me, “God spoke to me today and met my need.” Someone who had little hope now feels loved by God. That is when fun turns into pure joy! Preachers do not want to hear that they preached a “sweet” sermon but that while they were preaching someone listening heard from God. It really does not get much better than that. 

So if you want to have some fun, let the Lord know you are willing to be called to the ministry. Preachers have more fun than anybody. I should know. I have been doing it for almost 60 years, and it keeps getting funnier by the day! + + +