When I was a kid, Saturday morning was chore day. My dad would say, "C'mon, kid," and I'd hop in the station wagon, and we would drive down the street to Hooper Wolfe's hardware store.
Hooper Wolfe's had an old wooden door, painted white—except where the paint was worn off near the handle. Walk in, and you could hardly move. Two narrow aisles, counters filled with merchandise, shelves overflowing, stuff hanging from the ceiling: You'd think, No way am I going to find anything in here.
But you didn't need to. As soon as you walked in, Clarence from behind the counter would say, "Help you today?"
My dad would say something like, "I want to hang a light out back."
Clarence would emerge from behind the counter.
"Where ya gonna to hang it? Over the patio? Well then …" And he would start rummaging through shelves until he found just the right light—"you want a light like this. And don't use these bolts here; they're good for indoor stuff, but for outdoor, you want galvanized."
"Your wall is brick, isn't it?" Clarence asked. (Though our town was small, I was impressed he knew what our house was made of). "Well, to run the conduit through there, you want a masonry drill bit at least ¾ of an inch. If we don't have that in stock, you can get one over at Miller's Lumberyard."
Then Clarence would pull a flat carpenter's pencil off his ear and get out a little piece of paper and sketch it all out. "The conduit goes here … and make sure you don't mount the light too close to the soffit."
Today, when I do chores on Saturday, I head to Home Depot. Unlike Hooper Wolfe's, where you had to parallel park on the street, I pull into an ocean of parking. Inside, the Home Depot holds 80 times the inventory of Hooper Wolfe's. It sparkles under bright, halide lights.
There's a guy in an orange apron—half a block away. If you can get to him, he's likely to say, "Sorry, I usually work in paints. I'm just covering in electrical because someone called in sick." So you're pretty much on your own.
A similar thing has happened in the American church. We can offer programs with Disney-level quality and technological sophistication. But something's missing: Clarence. We all need a Clarence, someone who knows more than we do and who will guide us toward our next growth step in Christ.
At least this is what people in my church keep telling me. A steady stream of 20-somethings and 30-somethings come to my office; sometimes even they aren't sure why. What they really want, it turns out, is a mentor, a spiritual director—well, a pastor. They are hungry for a wiser, mature adult to help guide them in faith and in life.
Sure, they have scores of digital "friends," but what's missing is analog—a slow, listening, face-to-face presence. Our church boasts small groups and classes, but many were asking for one-on-one. Something primal inside me rose to this: This is why I became a pastor. But my mind immediately protested: You don't possibly have time for regular meetings with more than a few people.
Suddenly, I knew why most churches no longer offer Clarence.
There are only two ways to solve this problem of scale: "larger and larger venues" and/or "more and more shepherds." The New Testament seems to support both solutions but emphasizes more shepherds—what the New Testament calls "elders" or "undershepherds" (1 Peter 5), "fathers" (1 John 2), or "older women" (Titus 2). Yes, my pastoral ministry is limited by my sorely limited time—but I can multiply the number of shepherds (whether lay or ordained and whatever they're called) who can do this kind of work.