Dancing Over Your Pastor

Extending appreciation and delight

It comes over me unexpectedly, with no apparent trigger or pattern. Suddenly, the waters of my delight burst over the walls of decorum: I sweep one of my kids into my arms and dance.

It once came over you, too. You danced on toddler tiptoes at the window as your daddy turned his car into the driveway after a business trip. You danced in sneakers after making that shot at the buzzer, or in slippers after putting down the phone when Mr. Perfect asked you to the prom. It comes over you less, now that you are older. But I've seen you break into the dance now and then — there in the bleachers, high-fiving total strangers; there in the pew, arms extended to Abba Father. You can still dance.

Good for you. We need to dance more.

Did you know that God the Father dances? Consider His own words in Zephaniah. For three chapters you hear Him stomp and kick furniture around in wall-to-wall indignation over the behavior of His incorrigible kids. Then, suddenly, the stomping turns to rhythmic tapping and the shouting to joyful singing as the Father dances and sings over His children (3:17). I don't think He can help Himself.

Everyone needs to be danced over. Even Jesus needed to be danced over.

Everyone needs to be danced over. Even Jesus needed to be danced over. True, Jesus was God, and God doesn't need anything. True, Scripture either states or implies that Jesus had a clear identity and sense of calling, a sinless nature, continuous fellowship with the Father, the fullness of the Spirit with all the accompanying fruit, and an abundance of abilities. With a resumé like that, who needs to be danced over?

Jesus did. How else can you explain three incidents in the Gospels when, after 400 years of divine, quiet decorum, God the Father's delight splashes over the levies of Heaven and into our world in a shocking way?

The Father dances at Jesus' baptism. "You are My Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased!" (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). Public validation? Maybe. Divine delight? Without a doubt.

The Father dances on the Mount of Transfiguration, just before Jesus' resolute journey to the cross. "This is My Son, the beloved one, in whom I am well pleased! Listen to Him!" (Matthew 17:5). Peter, James and John are the ones directly addressed, but the Father intentionally allows Jesus to eavesdrop. (Have you ever experienced the soul-bathing wholeness of overhearing someone proclaim his unbridled delight in you?)

The Father breaks into dance again during Passion Week. Jesus is deeply troubled at His looming crucifixion. Eavesdrop with me: "My soul has become troubled! Father, save Me from this hour! But for this purpose, I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name." Again came the voice: "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." (John 12:27,28). His past, present and future — a glory to God the Father.

If Jesus, the Good Shepherd, needed to be danced over — to experience the unbridled delight and affirmation of the Father (and, one could argue, even the delight of devoted followers such as Mary, with her shocking breech of decorum with perfume and tears and hair) — then how much more does your local undershepherd need the same?

I hope you dance.

To dance well over your pastor — that is, to show delight and affirmation — you need to know something about the unique perils of his vocation. Consider three word pictures of his call.

He's the bus driver traveling through the fog. Most church leaders and laymen expect their pastor to be the driver behind the wheel of ministry vision, knowing the path and the destination and steering with steady confidence. In those quiet moments, as he looks out the ministry windshield down the road ahead, many pastors see only deep, dark fog. Should it be otherwise? Following Jesus is a journey of faith. Have you driven at night in deep fog — in a blanket so thick that the only way you know you are on the road at all is the faint white line at your right bumper?

To drive alone in these conditions is unnerving. But when you are responsible for dozens, hundreds or thousands of passengers, a journey in these conditions can be paralyzing.

Dancing over your pastor means slipping beside him in the passenger seat so he's not alone; assuring him that the fog of faith's journey is essential, so he's not afraid; and urging him to relax his white-knuckle grip, so he's not stripped of the joy of the journey that God promised to successfully complete (Philippians 1:6).

He's Odysseus at the helm. On his treacherous voyage back to Troy, Odysseus and his crew sailed by islands inhabited by the Sirens. These maidens sang and played the flute and lyre with such beauty that passing mariners were lured to their destruction. Having been warned of the Sirens, Odysseus packed beeswax into the ears of each crewman, giving strict orders to cinch him to the mast of his ship and maintain course despite Odysseus' pleas, orders or threats to the contrary.

Daily, sirens in the form of suggestions, seminars and superstars summon your pastor to change course. To stay tied to the mast — staying the course of methodical, inch-by-inch progress in spiritual formation — is agonizing when there are so many alluring voices summoning him to change course. That he is traveling in the fog only make these beautiful, confident voices all the more alluring. Sure, your church could use some course correction, and your pastor some skill sharpening. But maybe it's time to dance — to pack the beeswax of contentment into your soul, to begin ignoring the enticing shortcuts and ministry divas, and to embrace the slow, short-cut-free voyage of spiritual formation as a loyal member of his crew.

He's the hockey goalie in the net. Very few fans care about or remember the many shots on goal that the goalie stops. But pity the goalie when he misses one. At my alma mater, a rabid hockey university, fans were ruthless when a puck slipped through. The fans would toss every description of strainers out on the ice, taunting, "Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!" As one NHL goalie whimpered, "How'd you like a job where every time you make a mistake, a big red light comes on and crowds begin to boo?"

Like the goalie, a pastor's mistakes (both on and off the ice, as it were) affect the whole team. Unlike the goalie, the shots that slip through your pastor's hands may have devastating, even eternal, consequences. Few church leaders and laymen acknowledge the daily, faithful plodding. Many appear poised to throw sieves. Dancing over your pastor means applauding the many mundane saves he makes, and granting grace — sometimes lavish grace — when an occasional shot slips through his hands.

I hope you dance.

I may never grab my pastor and twirl him around the narthex, but I'm learning how to dance. After church a few weeks ago, I broke into dance over one of my pastors, though frankly, my dance was pretty lame: a very brief e-mail thanking him for his mundane labors, affirming his call and celebrating his heart. A few weeks later, I continued the dance over coffee. Between sips, he told me he had forwarded my e-mail to a pastor-friend across the country, who e-mailed back, suggesting he frame it and hang it in his office.

Its value came from its rarity.

According to recent statistics, the average tenure of a pastor is three years (two years for youth pastors). In other words, the odds are just slightly better than a coin toss that this time next year your pastor will still be your pastor. Should you be surprised? The fog is thick, the siren voices many and enticing, the fans fickle. We dare not wait until the last verse of the last song. Let's take a cue from the Father. . . .

It's time to dance!

Article copyright © 2006, Tim Nelson.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

This article first appeared in EFCA Today, Fall 2006.

Tim Nelson planted and pastored an Evangelical Free Church in southeast Pennsylvania from 1993 to 2005.