Over the course of my time serving in vocational ministry, which is nearing the twenty year mark, would you care to guess what one of the most difficult tasks I have found to be?
Remembering people’s names.
Seriously, even though I can memorize dozens of pages of musical lyrics in various foreign languages (Russian, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Hebrew, etc.), it is difficult for me to remember folks’ names. Now, when I’m memorizing musical lyrics, I am sitting with those pages of music for many hours each and every day. Yet, as typical with church attendance, most folks don’t attend church each and every Sunday. Statistically speaking, it’s usually two out of four Sundays a month. So, that adds to the challenge of remembering names. Not to mention, most pastors have multiple hundreds of names to remember (if not multiple thousands). It may not be popular to admit this, but even in trying to do my best, I make mistakes and have “brain farts“. And don’t tell me you don’t occasionally have them, too! Because if you did, we’d have to talk about lying then, wouldn’t we?!
In all sincerity, I am STILL learning folks’ names at the church where I am on pastoral staff, and I have been working there for two years (and this is my second stint at this very church, so there are a few carry overs from my previous tenure). However, I am trying to show myself some grace, and hoping others will do the same. As a church shifts and changes during staff transitions and, especially, when a church is growing (and praise God our church is!), it takes time for pastors to get to know folks. And, it’s all the more difficult when folks dart out quickly after service. On those occasions, we hardly have time to say, “Good morning!” much less engage in an actual conversation and make polite introductions. Then, of course, there’s football season, when pastors around the country wonder, “Where’s my congregation? Did I miss the rapture and get left behind?”
Between preaching and/or leading worship, putting out fires or filling in for the volunteer who didn’t show up, managing emergencies that arise (sometimes, church-related, but other times family-related, because pastors don’t cease to be parents on Sundays), praying for people (which we absolutely love and live to do) and, then, engaging in a bazillion and one conversations in between services, please know that we, pastors, sincerely do our best to remember each and every detail–including your name, your spouse’s name, and all of your children’s names and ages, too. Seriously, we are trying. But, sometimes….it’s just not there. And we wonder where it went, because we can recall every other random detail or unnecessary fact that’s rolling around in our brain. But your name, for whatever reason, is gone. It’s like a system failure, and we have no clue when it’s going to happen. It’s just like POOF!
Unfortunately, it all comes back to one very real, but annoying fact: We are human. Shocking, I am sure. But pastors are not and never will be super-human. Instead, we are simply run-of-the-mill-boringly-ordinary-nothing-special-about-us human beings. As such, we have limited brain capacities, especially on Sundays. Which, as a reminder, happens to be our fullest and most fatiguing workday of the entire week. And, sometimes, we are simply tired. Occasionally, those of us pastors with kids haven’t gotten one single wink of sleep the night before church due to sick children (Three cheers for dual-pastor families!). Or because we may be dealing with aging and elderly parents ourselves. Or, perhaps, we were at the hospital all night long with a grieving family. Or we may have been tossing and turning throughout the night in fitful sleep; finally giving up on it and, instead, begin to fight a spiritual battle through prayer on behalf of someone (or several someones) in our congregation.
Yet, we are up bright and early on Sunday mornings, because it’s our job to show up, to serve you, to share God’s Word, to pray with and for you. And we take all those things ever so seriously. But the brain farts continue to happen. It’s like they are uncontrollable, unstoppable, undeniable. They are unexpected and unbelievably annoying. And, sometimes, they cause pastors to forget names. (Heck! Sometimes, brain farts cause me to forget my own kids’ names! What’s up with that, huh?)
So, might I make a humble request, dear church member, regular attender, or cherished guest: Please, oh please, if we are talking with you at church, or if you happen to run into us while out and about in the community, and you can tell that we can’t quite recall or remember your name, please don’t be offended (or leave the church). Instead, would you be ever so kind to show us some grace and, perhaps, even remind us of your name? It would really help us out a lot.
It may come as a surprise, but most pastors have already figured out that we are not perfect, we make mistakes, we (occasionally) say stupid stuff, and we forget things. (Sometimes, we forget our kids at church. True story!) And we put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to get things right, to serve you well, to represent God in a worthy manner. So, a simple, but gentle reminder, would be absolutely amazing. And if you forget my name? Well, just make one up! Tommy or George, Sally or Sam, doesn’t matter to me. I am sure I have been called worse!
With many thanks and much grace,
A Pastor, who dearly loves her congregation