The term pastoral is often used to describe the rural world of a shepherd a place of lush fields and quiet streams, content cattle and village chatter. Imagine placing a church pew right there near the shepherd’s home on the edge of the village (where he has more room for his sheep). You’d have to get up really early to watch him start his day, and then like clockwork his disciplined routine would start: getting ready . . . packing lunch . . . calling out the sheep . . . leading them to feed and rest, and eventually returning them to shelter for safety through the night.
The word pastor also comes from the same root as pastoral, and the pastoral pew is any place from which one is privileged to watch and learn from the Pastor’s life. It is a mobile ‘pew,’ not fixed in a single spot or cued to a particular time, so it could be, figuratively speaking, a ‘path’ or a ‘tree,’ or even a ‘passing cloud.’ Such ‘pews’ offer unnoticed but accurate vantage points on that solitary figure leading his flock. From these places you can hear the pastor speak his private thoughts and compare them to his ‘village boastings.’ These spots offer great angles for candid camera shots.
Not many find pastoral pews. You have to seek them out, and if you expect it always to be that place in which you sit every Sunday at church, you’ve missed it. You need to keep your eyes open and your body willing to follow.
In the twenty years that I have been with Bethel Baptist Church, I’ve found many pastoral pews those places from which I have observed and experienced the lives of the few shepherds our church has had. I’ve zoomed in both at their working and their playing . . . and almost always the pictures turn out clear and crisp: godly character etched in glorious color. These men have held fast to God and his word, and they have loved their people as Christ has loved his church.
If you are a city-dweller and have learnt how to swim, you have probably learned in a pool: chlorine blue, safe handrails, clear water. Imagine my anxiety when I once accompanied Pastor Ken on a 2+ km swim/float down the Cauvery river. The water was alive and grey, and often I floated feet first trying to feel the rocks hidden under the surface. At one point we even had to go ashore to detour around a particularly rough patch. All the time I was keeping one confident eye on my pastor a little ahead of me and another not-so-confident eye peeled for crocodiles we suspected might lurk along the shore.
We made it safely, and in that there is a spiritual lesson to be learned. Pushing out from a safe shore can be risky, but under the care of a good guide it can be very rewarding. It helps you grow. It helps you learn that you are being taught, for sometimes you discover a pastoral pew in the middle of a river alive with possibilities.
Like me, I pray that you will search out pastoral pews. Entrust yourself to your pastors and learn from them. Involve yourself in the work of the church so that you may catch glimpses of these solitary figures that lead you. Develop the pictures you take and discover a glorious portrait of Christ. It’s rare that they will carry you, but as you walk with them you’ll find yourself growing up and taking longer steps, steadily and confidently. They lead us in a world that is not so much lush and quiet and content as it is rough and grey. But they lead from the front, and they lead to serve.
Praise the Lord for BBC’s pastoral pews!