Pastoral Peripheral Vision

Most pastoral leadership material encourages pastors to pour a majority of their time and effort into the lay leaders and potential lay leaders of the church. These leaders, when well discipled and trained, are to, in turn, do much of the ministry with the rest of the congregation. I would argue, however, that while we should have a focus on leaders and potential leaders, we should also utilize our peripheral vision and see the value of our ministry as pastors to the peripheral people!

Pastors who believe they should focus almost exclusively on leading leaders find the basis for this approach in Jesus’ example. Jesus, especially toward the end of His ministry on earth, spent a majority of his time with His disciples who, in turn, would reach others.

But there’s another side to Jesus’ ministry. The early part of His ministry not only included spending time with His disciples but also reaching out to the peripheral people. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, a prime example of a peripheral person. Note that her encounter with Jesus takes up the entire fourth chapter of the Gospel of John; this peripheral person was pretty important! Unless we have a premonition of our own ensuing arrest and crucifixion, perhaps we should also embrace Jesus’ early model of ministry to peripheral people!

Jesus frequently and habitually reached out to the marginalized people of His day, the peripheral people, and He did so to such an extent that He was criticized by the “religious leaders” of His day for doing so! Ministering in the name of Jesus, therefore, certainly must include giving significant attention to those in our church who are not mature spiritually or active in ministry, the marginalized, the peripheral people.

During my nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry I conducted an every other week men’s breakfast and/or luncheon that consisted primarily of men who were not in leadership, were not potential leaders, and weren’t active in any ministry. Most, by my estimation, were not very mature in their faith, though some had been church attenders a majority of their lives. In all honesty, they were more interested in the camaraderie over a meal than in the short Bible study that I brought to the table. That was okay by me. After all, many of the people drawn to Jesus wanted a healing more than a Word of the Lord, and He obliged them.

We pastors aim for offering college level studies in the church, perhaps even seminary level courses, with ourselves being the professor. In our church I found myself the adult nursery attendant taking care of the infants in the Lord, the crawlers in Christ, and the toddlers in the Truth.

I would bring with me to the restaurant pocket New Testaments, hand them out, and give the page number of the Biblical text which we were to study. I doubt most could have found the Gospel of Matthew without resorting to the table of contents. If I had asked them to bring Bibles I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone showed up with a white gift Bible still stored in a polished cedar wooden box!

But these were good times with these guys! On rare occasions one of them offered to give thanks after the server brought us our food (I never put anyone on the spot to pray, read the text or answer a question). It usually was a beautifully simple, child-like, and honest prayer. The pray-er had not yet “learned” how to intone a long pastoral-type prayer with “thees” and “thous” peppered throughout.

None of these men were the student type nor would they likely ever be, it just wasn’t in their DNA. You would not have caught a single one of them with a three-ring binder taking notes of a sermon or Bible study. Some had difficulty comprehending what they read, so they didn’t read much. Yet, I saw growth in them, a warming to the Lord, a grasping of the things of God that up until our restaurant rendezvous had eluded them.

As I reflect back on these men, I can’t recall any of them giving me any hassle as their pastor. Ironically, though I would have loved to have seen them blossom into leaders and sacrificial participants in the church’s programs, I found they caused me far less grief than the leaders and sacrificial participants in our church!

Yes, I have fond memories of meeting with these men and am sobered by how many have gone into eternity. My prayer is that all of them are with the Lord; we certainly talked about how to be assured that that happens.

Back to the training of leaders to lead the rest of our people: how can we as pastors train our leaders to connect with the marginal and peripheral people, seeking to move them along in their faith, when we ourselves are not regularly doing so? We can’t teach and model what we don’t do.

As much as we pastors need to focus on leadership development, let’s also be aware of what is in our peripheral vision! Those peripheral people are a blessing in disguise! Let’s embrace them!

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