Just Show Up!

How important is it to “just show up”???

 I remember it like it was yesterday.  Three years of formal seminary training and the countless hours reading and researching about how to be a pastor could not have better prepared me for pastoral ministry than what I learned that day.  It was a Monday morning during September 2003 as I walked into First United Methodist Church in Opelika for my first class.  Dr. Tim Thompson was the Senior Pastor and the Facilitator of a course entitled “Teaching Parrish” for seminary students that were serving a local church. (Little did we know that one day we would serve together at Frazer UMC in Montgomery)

I took my seat with 6-8 other student pastors around a table.  In walked Dr. Thompson dressed in a suit and looking the part of a polished “First Church” pastor.  I was impressed to say the least.  Also, I was worried.  I was worried that I would never be a good pastor for people.  Could I ever be able to pastor a church like this?  Would I be any good?  Would people respond?  I was worried that I wouldn’t measure up to the likes of Dr. Tim Thompson, Dr. Karl Stegall, and certainly not to the stature of Bishop Paul Duffey.  These men loomed large in my presence, almost too much for a young, know-nothing, rookie, green, wannabe pastor like myself.

The class began and Dr. Thompson started sharing about ministry in a folksy, humorous, story-telling manner that put you instantly at peace in his presence.  For the life of me I couldn’t tell you one of the stories he shared or the jokes he told from that day, but I will never forget one key phrase Dr. Thompson said: “Just show up!”

That truth has been retold by every great mentor I’ve had since beginning ministry in 2002.  However, Dr. Thompson made it crystal clear that day.  “Just show up!”  Just show up for your people.  Be there with them in their highest highs and their lowest lows.  Just show up.  At the hospital, the nursing home, and in their homes. Just show up.  Gather for worship, praise, pray, and pass the peace. Just show up. As Dr. Stegall shared on numerous occasions with me, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Recently, I came across an article that merely confirmed what most pastors are already experiencing every Sunday in their churches.  People are not showing up.  They may be church members. Some may be tithers.  Some may be Sunday school teachers and small group leaders.  Some may be doing fantastic work in the mission field.  Some may be volunteering in service to the church.

But…many of these same people are not showing up for worship on a regular basis. I am not going to speculate what the faithful are doing, but whatever it is they are not worshipping consistently with their church family on Sunday.  They are not showing up, at least not as regularly as previous generations.  They are not showing up, and worship services in many of our local churches are suffering because of it.

Every week, visitors, skeptics, atheists, agnostics show up to our worship services.  Every week the broken, downtrodden, depressed, and lonely show up wondering if they are missing something in their life.  Many wonder, “Maybe this church will have the answer I am looking for? Maybe this church will accept me the way I am? Maybe this church can point me in the right direction?”  The only problem is “the church” is not showing up!  Into our worship services walks this visitor hoping to see something worthy of their time.  They come not so much for the music, the message, the coffee, or the printed materials.  They are coming for community, for belonging, for acceptance.  And when the church fails to show up, these people leave failing to experience what many of us already have – Christian community.

If we continue down this road, it won’t be long before we find ourselves in places of spiritual darkness. I don’t know how good the message will be this Sunday from your preacher.  I can’t guarantee the music will be much better.  The coffee may be bitter, but all of us (the Church) can gather in Jesus’ name to worship, praise, pray, and pass the peace.  We can allow God to fill us up and use us to fill others up too.

Dr. Tim Thompson was right. I am privileged to call him my friend today.  Just show up!  The world still needs the church.  Who is the church?  I am. You are.  See you Sunday! Let’s show up!

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

One thought on “Just Show Up!

  1. This is so full of wisdom and I am going to flip it back on you. I am the executive team chair at my church and I do show up. Let me provide a disclaimer that I have shared with the leadership team at my church. Pastors don’t impress me. I do not hold them in a place of esteem. My older brother is a pastor and he can be one of the biggest “butts” at times so I allow pastors to be human and accept that they are not all-knowing and perfect. But on the other hand, pastors seem to be hard-headed and when things go south on them a bit, rather than listen to others who have a good handle on people and why they do or do not “show up,” they fall into an untouchable zone and refuse to change and say; “just have faith.” I am sick to death of hearing just have faith and things will work out!

    Pastors are shepherds – simple and easy to understand. I grew up on a farm, have a BS in animal science. God’s Word refers to us as sheep. It makes sense to refer to pastors as shepherds – those who look after the sheep. Sheep are crazy – just like us. You can put a stick in a pasture and if one of the flock jumps the stick, the others will follow along and jump the stick. Get a single sheep to go through a gate and the others will flow through like water running from a gutter.

    Pastors, especially lead or senior pastors – those who somehow conjure up the idea that they are church CEOs, are often guilty of transitioning the flock to a corporation. And, as the CEO of a corporation, these guys aren’t “showing up.” They cease to be shepherds. They seek to transition from one who cares for the flock to one who provides the organizational structure and leadership to others who aren’t lead or senior pastors so these others are responsible for caring for the flock. And us sheep really do see what is going on. This leads to sheep straying from the flock, being picked off by predators, suffering from sickness and other physical and mental issues while the CEO is too busy meeting and strategizing to recognize that he/she should be attending to the sheep. The CEO has ceased to be the shepherd and ceased “showing up.” Showing up is the most important thing. Wisdom pours from the advise you received. Now send it to the CEOs and remind them that they are shepherds. Have faith that God will provide the necessary CEO stuff if they will just shepherd the flock. And if God blesses and multiplies the flock they must become a more effective shepherd rather than transitioning to a CEO because sheep don’t need a CEO, we need shepherds. Shepherds are always in-tune with the flock. They know both the flock and the individuals who make up the flock. Shepherds know all about the flock – strengths and weaknesses of individual sheep, which sheep are leaders and those who are followers. Shepherds know their flock well enough to recognize when one is not well. CEOs have direct reports who are responsible for this sort of thing. Shepherds are always around and this provides comfort to the sheep, a place where they flourish and want to “show up.” As individual sheep, we feel safe and know we will be fed and watered and protected rather than treated as a piece of data, a number, not a personal relationship. CEOs assign shepherding duties to others because the jobs of strategizing, program development, delegation, reporting to the board (church hierarchy) are more important. This is why a lot of the flock is not “showing up.” The shepherds have become CEO and worship is now a corporate experience rather than a personal experience. Because you know: although sheep are crazy animals, we aren’t stupid. We know the difference between being shepherded and CEOed. And believe me; from personal experience the two are nothing alike.

    As I said I grew up on a farm and got a BS in animal science. Later I got an MBA and a Doctorate in Strategic Management. I know the difference between a shepherd and a CEO and it is huge to us sheep. It is the difference between showing up and not showing up. Get the lead pastors to show up as shepherds rather than CEOs and you will see the flocks return to health.

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