This week I was contacted by multiple people about a gentleman, Robert Taylor, who is in hospice, asking to speak with a pastor. I don’t know Mr. Taylor so I looked at his original post to find out what I could before I reached out to speak with him. What I found surprised me, and left me intrigued by the whole situation.
The exponential reach potential of social media
As I clicked through to Mr. Taylor’s Facebook page, I was immediately struck by how widespread his post had been shared. Almost 50,000 shares and hundreds of comments revealed that his message had reached more people that he probably ever could have imagined. Hundreds, if not thousands of pastors had, like me, been tagged hoping that someone might reach out to him and pray with him. Multiple comments revealed that he had been contacted by phone and by Facebook with offers to pray.
Every year it becomes easier and easier to take for granted how incredibly connected we are. Imagine this scenario… on Tuesday evening an elderly man in hospice types a simple message, from his bed, and hits, “post”. Within hours thousands of people all over the world have received the message, responded to the message, and have attempted to make contact with him directly. Even within my relatively short lifetime, this degree of interconnectivity was once inconceivable. Though social media brings many potential dangers and pitfalls, one thing is inescapably clear…we have the opportunity to connect with more people and connect with them more quickly than at any time in human history.
Your online impact is an extension of your personal impact. Though sharing your faith online does not substitute for personal evangelism, it does provide a platform to reach hundreds or even thousands of people very quickly. Use it wisely. The things you post reflect your character.
Social media is a tool, it can be used to build or to destroy. Build up others and reach out in love when you have the chance.
The willingness of God’s people to care for a stranger
As a pastor, one of the most encouraging things I have been able to experience is to see the people of God come together in a difficult situation. In tragedy and trial I have seen my church rise up to serve, love, pray for, give to, and otherwise be present for those in need. It is a testament to the common grace of God’s goodness that people do this for each other, even without faith. But the impact of the body of Christ being the hands and feet of Christ is infinitely more valuable.
In the case of Mr. Taylor, God’s people did the most important thing they could: they went to the creator and sustainer of the universe, the one who first breathed life into humanity. Ultimately, only the peace of Jesus can supply what he is looking for, but many thousands of Christians were moved with compassion to bring Mr. Taylor to God in their prayers. Others have reached out to make that compassion tangible. Others, I’m sure, have tried to make in-person contact with him. All of this for a man none of them has ever met, and all of this within minutes or hours of hearing about his need.
The feet of the church can run swiftly with mercy. Let that always be true of us.
The heartache of being without a church home at the end of life
It’s not unusual for someone I don’t know to make contact with me asking for prayer. I have spent time in the ICU praying for an unconscious man. I have prayed over the phone with a lady so upset that I could barely understand her through her tears. I have welcomed complete strangers into my office to share their pain with me and then pray with them. I have also led many funerals for people I had never met. I try to do this whenever I am able.
When I do a funeral for a stranger, I have to learn as much as I can about them from their family. I ask about their faith, their hobbies, and their joys among other things. I try my best to craft a narrative that can trigger memories for the family to carry with them after the funeral. But at the end of the day, there is pain beyond the grief of losing a loved one. This loved one had no pastor, no spiritual advisor, no faith family to call on during one of the most consequential moments of their life…the end. If they were atheist or had some disdain for the church there would be no concern to have a pastor conduct the service.
Yet, the call I receive is for a person who realized too late that having spiritual community is important. They want a baptist pastor, an evangelical pastor, or just any pastor at all, but they don’t know one. The directionlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness are palpable. It’s an opportunity for me to love and share God’s love with a family that may not have ever experienced it. Mr. Taylor, it appears, does not have a pastor, deacon, elder, Sunday School teacher or any other church family to be present with him at this time. So he is looking for someone, anyone, who can take the time to provide some guidance, comfort, and peace as he approaches the end of his life. No one I’ve ever known who is invested in a faith family feels that kind of desperation at the end of their life.
Never underestimate the importance of fellowship and community.
The importance of understanding that all Christians are ministers and in ministry
I became a pastor later in life than most. I was 28 when I took my first church job. One of the most surprising phenomena of the transition from laity to clergy was how people reacted and related differently to me upon learning what my profession is. “What do I call you? Reverend? Pastor? Brother? Father?” Well, my name is Josh, so… “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that in front of a preacher, guess I’m going to hell now.” Yeah, whether or not you are going to hell has nothing to do with what you just said to/around me. In fact, I’ve probably said the same or worse at some point in my life. I’ve definitely thought enough things to send me to hell. That’s the awesome thing about what Jesus did. Can I tell you about Him? (See what I did there?) “My friend/dad/mom/sister/hairdresser/etc is having problems, can you go pray with them? I would, but it would mean more coming from a pastor.” I really don’t mind, but you do know there is nothing special about my prayers, right? And it may actually mean more coming from someone they know and trust instead of a stranger.
I’m afraid most Christians have a wrong understanding of priesthood. Most evangelicals would never admit it, but many treat pastors as though we are Catholic priests. They come to us from prayer, instead of a friend of fellow small group member. They ask us to visit someone in the hospital and pray for them in addition to the prayer they’ve already prayed. The thing is, if you are a believer YOU are a minister of the gospel! In 1 Peter 2:5, Peter calls his fellow believers a “holy priesthood”. Yes, my “job” in the faith is different than most. I am more visible and I have different responsibilities, but, in the end, my job is to equip the church to do the work of service (read Ephesians 4). My prayers carry no more weight than yours. Truthfully, there are many days when my faith is weak and my prayers carry profoundly LESS weight.
Never sell yourself short! YOU have been called to minister to those in need. YOU have been called to share your faith with others. YOU have been called to leverage the gifts and abilities God has given you for the sake of the gospel. If you feel inadequately equipped, I’d love to give of my time and resources to help.
Pawning that off on a pastor lessens the impact of the church and stunts your own growth.
I don’t know what will become of the last days of Mr. Taylor. Some have posted that he already passed, others say that’s not true. I don’t know the status of his salvation and I don’t really know how close he is to his family and friends. But I do know there are lessons to be learned from his life. And this brief spectacle of a man asking for prayer can have a lasting impact…if we learn those lessons.
Blessings – Josh