“That which is sweetest when we meet face to face is afforded by the impress of a friend’s hand upon his letter.”
-Seneca, 1st century Roman Philosopher
Most of you know I have spent the past 4 years doing doctoral studies and examining the role of the pastor in spiritual growth down through the centuries. I won’t bore you with my research now, but I have been pondering and probing the past for how best to shepherd a flock, pastor souls and lead people toward greater spiritual growth.
My project is coming to a close and I am getting feedback on my season of pastoral letter writing. I’m very pleased with the results and the power of letters to be a vehicle for “embodied wisdom in an age of disembodied ministry.” I will be sharing excerpts from my thesis in coming days, no doubt. But first a reminder of the personal burden behind this project.
Here’s a letter of explanation I wrote to our church six months ago, after a long and isolating spring and summer of ministry during the pandemic. This shares some of my personal hopes and desires behind my letters. Moving ahead, I hope to generate more two-way back and forth correspondences.
AUGUST 21, 2020
I’m a contemplative pastor in a pragmatic society. I love to mine the depths of Scriptural truth and ancient wisdom, and find ways to share these transformative insights with others. The Sunday sermon has become the main way a pastor shares biblical truth with their people, but is it the only way? Is it the most effective way these days? Is it the most personal and pastorally sensitive?
Have you ever imagined yourself into the shoes of a pastor who desires to have just the right word for every single person sitting in the pew every Sunday? This is impossible, of course, because each person has their own set of challenges and life circumstances they are currently facing. But many of us have had those moments when a pastor’s words seemed to speak directly to us, the perfect word at just the right time. We walk away feeling like someone has put words to a deep groan in our heart; someone understands what we’re going through; and we are blessed by the reminder that God still speaks to his people today through His servants.
I love words. I especially love when God stoops down and kisses us through another’s words. The Word becomes flesh again and makes His presence known through a thoughtful card from a friend, or an encouraging chat over coffee, or a personal letter from a pastor. My deep desire as a pastor is to use my gift of words—written and spoken—to shine light into others’ darkness, and to help set people free from invisible shackles known and unknown to us.
But I desire to speak to each of your hearts more in- timately and personally than is possible through the one-way monologue of a sermon. I long for a soul-to-soul relationship with the people of MainStreet. I miss you and I love you.
This Fall we will not have typical Sunday services and I will not be preaching conventional weekly sermons to “the congregation.” Instead, I will be writing a number of “sermons” each week in the form of personalized pastoral letters to many of you. As part of my doctoral thesis project, I will be pouring my heart and biblical insights into letters I hope will touch many of you in ways that are more profound and impactful than a sermon spoken to the masses.
Many of you have told me you enjoy my sermons, and its one of the things that led you (or has kept) you at MainStreet through the years. I appreciate that very much. Sermons are one of my favorite aspects of being a pastor as well. But I need to pursue a season of experimentation with my teaching, writing and pastoring. Simply put: I desire more one-to-one personal engagement as a pastor than is fostered by a sermon-based pastoral ministry. I’m burned out preach- ing at you; I long to journey side by side and talk “soul to soul” with you.
I’ve spent much of this summer reading collections of spiritual letters from pastors to eager disciples, and I have seen the beautiful conversations and warm-hearted pastoral guidance that can be offered through this more personal medium. I can’t wait to begin writing letters to MainStreeters who welcome it!
Part of my repeated burnouts and depressions are due, in part, to a sense of isolation I feel as pastor of MainStreet. I’m eager to know the state of your soul and meet you where you’re at, but does MainStreet really want to have a pastor who is also a stumbling spiritual pilgrim on his own spiritual journey? Well, that’s what you have in me. I am not the same Jeremy who started MainStreet ten years ago. Would you like to be part of my journey, as much as I desire to be part of your journey?
My soul shriveled up this spring, as our world was rocked with this pandemic and we stopped gathering. I spent a few months (March-June) pouring my heart into creating video “sparks” of encouragement and video sermons and services. For months I shared sermons and content, but didn’t have any meaningful interaction with any of you. I never knew if my words were helpful, if they were even watched or heard.
I despaired and lost all joy in preaching into the vast emptiness and deafening silence. It was the most awful, soul-draining months as a pastor ever. I’m not blaming anyone; I’m just sharing how soul-crushing creating video sermons and services were for me without any feedback or meaningful interaction. I felt like Paul who wrote to a church saying, “I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again” (2 Tim 1:4).
Every pastor experiences a bit of that horrible silence every Monday morning, as the Enemy’s voice whispers, “Do you really think that sermon yesterday accomplished any- thing?” Well, I’m not sure about sermons, but I know that when I write personal letters to those I love and know, they reach into the heart and don’t return void. “I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (Isaiah 55:11).
So, beloved, please don’t think I’m giving up on sermons this year. If anything, I am “upping my game” and hope to have the time to write a handful of “soul-to-soul sermons” each week.
For now, I just want to say I love you and I want to be the kind of pastor who knows you deeply, and can speak God’s truth directly to your heart. I want to be a spiritual guide and fellow soul pilgrim with you. I hope you can embrace that kind of pastor as well. Sadly, it’s not what most churches want from a pastor. But I hope MainStreet is, again, a bit different.
Grace and peace,