“I Will Stand by the Door” Pastoral Ministry and Shaking Hands

Shaking HandsIn this political season we are in, I have been watching the news on television and seeing a lot of hand shaking. As I watched, the other day, I thought of a particular moment in my ministry. It happened as an elder of our church observed me greeting folk at the front door of our sanctuary on Sunday. He rested his hand on my shoulder and jokingly told me, “Mike you are just like a politician, always taking your place to grease the palms of all of the people!” I must say that I wasn’t exactly encouraged by his remark, but I took it as a joke. But the truth is, being available to greet the people at the front door of the church (or wherever the majority of the worshippers exit) is no joke. It is, in fact, some of the most meaningful ministry you will ever have. Since 1993 I have I have recessed about 50 times per year and taken my place at the front door of a church. My wife has been there, as has my son, for most of those times. Recently I even added an intern, who was there to take notes for the large downtown church where I was pastor. The great Episcopal rector of Calvary Church in Pittsburg wrote a great poem entitled “I Will Stand by the Door. He was talking about one thing and I am going to be talking about another, but I like the title. As pastor, as preacher, I will stand by the door. And I will tell you why it is such great ministry.First, greeting the people after a sermon serves as an opportunity for response.  In certain churches, an invitation system allows the people to respond to the message and relate to the messenger who brought “a Word from Another World”  that moved convicted them, convinced them, or converted them. In the churches I have served, we had no such invitation system (that subject is another blog yet to be written). So the time at the front door became very important. The people could vocalize their responses to me, albeit briefly. But this time allowed me to see how God was connecting to His people. This response is a time for impromptu pastoral counseling. How sacred in my memory are the times of counsel over painful memories, troubled marriages, prodigal children, and urgent decisions. I bless God for those moments. For there, at the front door, leaning in to the ear of a businessman or a student or even a child, I have fulfilled Christ’s call to share the Gospel, one on one. You will have few greater opportunities for pastoral counseling.Second, greeting the people after a sermon serves as an opportunity for prayer. I have no problem in just “shutting the line down” while I pray with someone. Martin Luther is supposed to have warned the Protestant churches that throwing out the confessional system would be detrimental to the work of the ministry. I will not engage in that debate. But I will say that one man has his confessional booth and one man has his front door! During these sacred moments together at the front door, I would often draw the person close to me, allow them to whisper their soul moving words into my ear. And then I would wrap my arms around their shoulders or just put my hand on them, and ask God to help them, heal them, free them, forgive them, and renew them. I believe that these are some of the most pastoral times in my ministry. And speaking of pastoral times, let me offer a third reason.Greeting the people after a sermon serves as an opportunity for pastoral care. And this gets at why I always keep an intern, a volunteer, my wife, or someone next to me at the front door of the church. If I am giving praying, hearing “confessions,” and offering counsel, I am filling my soul with the burdens and joys of human beings. And after preaching, your brain can only handle so much! So if Miss Sally is going into the hospital on Thursday, and little Billy is going to have his tonsils out on Friday, and that new college student whose name you can’t remember asks you to pray for him about his English Lit test on Wednesday (and they will tell you if you are approachable), then you need help! Well, if you have a smaller parish then you may not need it. But one thing is for sure: if you have preached the Word of God with the unction of the Holy Spirit, and people have heard it amidst the singing of Psalms, and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, and after affirming their faith and offering their worship, then their hearts have been cultivated to welcome God’s messenger. No. They demand God’s messenger! They want your presence, and they crave your prayers.John Donne, in one place, reflected the pastor’s natural inclination for his location after preaching:”After the sermon, I will steal in to my cloak room, and pray that my good purposes may be well accepted, and my defects graciously pardoned.”[1]My experience is that I want to do that too; but only after completing the work of the sermon at the front door: Shaking hands. And I really believe that John Donne would agree with that too. For that is not the work of a politician, but of a pastor.


[1] Donne, John, and Evelyn Mary Spearing Simpson. John Donne’s Sermons on the Psalms and Gospels : With a Selection of Prayers and Meditations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963, 13.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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