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Small Work

Weekly Devotional for Preachers
Small Work
Image: Cyndi Monaghan / Getty´╗┐

My Dear Shepherds,

When I was in my twenties I was unemployed for a few months. I felt the responsible thing to do was to take the first job I was offered but I often prayed, “Lord, please give me work that will matter in a hundred years.” Let’s file that under “answered prayer.”

Of all the enduring duties we pastors have, I’ve always had a kind of uneasy relationship with one-on-one shepherding. It’s rarely been my favorite part of the job; that would be preaching. Frankly, I also enjoy creating and organizing things more than I enjoy pastoral care.

But pastoral care is like the writing I do. When people ask me if I like writing I always say what other writers have said, I like to have written. Pastoral care is often like that. I like to have pastored. Sometimes I dread the grim story I know I’m going to hear, the weeping that I know is coming, the anger that may erupt before me. I wish I didn’t have to talk to the new widow or call the guy who has skipped church for three months. But when it is done, even when things aren’t resolved, I know that in this I was a good shepherd.

Nothing in all the pastoral work I do gives me such a sharp, clear sense of being a good shepherd as having done pastoral care. Even more than preaching, I’m most truly aware of being the pastor in those one-on-one moments of care and prayer, of wisdom and grace.

It’s the vulnerability, I think, the face-to-face love of a shepherd for their sheep. There can be a certain comfortable distance in preaching or leading larger ministries. But when I sat with Soni, wan and weary from cancer, and heard her love for Jesus, when I read Psalm 86 and we sang “Blessed Assurance” together, when I prayed the promises of heaven over her—well, that was the very heart of shepherding. It will matter a hundred years from now.

One thing I value about pastoral care is how it tones up our Christology. You say goodbye to your counselee or drive home from the hospital and sometimes Jesus was so present there that what you’ve read in the Bible came to life.

Pastoring is often such small work. A pastor friend writes a birthday card to every person in his church. Small work. Another quietly prays through their church directory. Small work. We call on people and no one ever hears about it. We chit-chat with someone while trying not to worry about our unfinished sermon. Small work. We pray for a 10th grader’s audition or a 45-year-old’s job interview. We take a newcomer to lunch or help arrange some funds for a sister with a need. Small work.

I can think of few Christians who have more opportunities to get rich slowly than pastors. When we trudge down hospital corridors or go back to the church for evening counseling, when we squeeze in a visit to a shut-in or meet with a 17-year-old just to talk about school, we bring food to hungry hearts. We invite in strangers. We clothe people—maybe in garments of white. We go into prisons with unseen bars and jingle the keys of life. It is all so ordinary, so small, but look where it gets us.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt. 25:40)

Small work perhaps, but it will matter in a hundred years!

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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