What are the marks of a good church pastor? I think most people would talk about a foundation of knowledge in the scripture, and hopefully a commitment to the Gospel. These are great answers, and those qualities will make themselves apparent from the pulpit in each and every sermon. A pastor is often called to minister, however, at other times than 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. That’s when the rubber meets the road and we really need more than a good public speaker.
In 2003, my mother suffered a major heart attack. She had been smoking for over 40 years, and one Saturday morning Dad drove her to the hospital displaying all the classic symptoms. In the ER she went into full cardiac arrest. Once they got her heart started again (after 4 shocks from the defibrillator) we learned that she would need a total of 4 bypasses. Before even driving to the hospital, I called my church pastor to start the prayer chain. Each person on the list calls the next person and so on, so that with only one call everyone can join in prayer during a crisis. I talked to him briefly, then called again when Mom went into surgery to give him an update. I expected him to pray, make a few calls, and that I would see him again Sunday morning.
I was surprised when my pastor, Mike Jones, came into the waiting room. He spent four hours on a Saturday afternoon just sitting around with my family. I remember him playing Uno with us, and we actually shared a few laughs. (I look for a sense of humor as a good quality of any person.) When they came out to say the surgery was over and we could see her soon, Pastor Mike decided it was time for him to go. He ministered to us during the waiting. That visit made an indelible impression on me. Years later another pastor would stay with us during my wife’s emergency c-section. When my mother and Teresa’s parents saw Johannah for the first time, our church pastor was right there with us. He didn’t send an email or even stop by the house the next day. He was in the hospital room bowing his head and holding our hands. When I think about what a church pastor is and what he does, I keep both of these occasions in mind.
Mike Jones, pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church from 2001 to 2011, passed away this morning. He retired at an early age last fall because of declining health. His condition deteriorated rapidly in a way no one expected. He was a husband, a father and a grandfather. But I knew him as pastor; I not only listened to him preach but went on mission trips with him. We watched the Super Bowl at his house, we ate together at IHOP. He presided at my ordination service, first as a deacon and later into the ministry. It takes heart to be a good pastor, and Pastor Mike was one of the best I’ve ever known.