I think one of the biggest challenges of being a pastor is being there for your parishioners in a way that fulfills their needs, not necessarily our needs.
Now depending on how you read that sentence you either elicited a "duh." or a "wha?" - here is what I mean on a larger scale:
Parishioner Couple have been in a car accident and Spouse A is having emergency surgey. The pastor waltzes in, storms towards Spouse B, hugs, reads Scripture, begins to pray fervently and loudly for the well-being of Spouse A. At first glance this might not seem too bad, but is this what Spouse B needs and wants at this time? Maybe Spouse B just wants to know you are there. Maybe Spouse B needs someone to pick up the children. Maybe Spouse B needs a little space.
The question the pastor needs to ask themselves is: Am I doing these actions because it makes me feel needed, feel like a better person/pastor, look like I am doing my job...
or am I doing these things because that is what Spouse B needs at this time?
Here is another example on a smaller scale. If a parishioner is going into the hospital for surgery I always ask them if they would like me to come in and pray with them before they go in. Some say no. Why? Some would rather not be seen in that flimsy gown... some would rather not be seen 'in that state'... some who come from a different religious background equate a preacher's presence in the hospital to the giving of last rites and understandably want nothing to do with that!
God hears my prayers for them from home just as well as God would from the hospital, so if I force my presence on them is it for their benefit... or for mine?
Recently a well-respected and beloved minister in the Presbyterian church in a nearby town died suddenly and unexpectedly. The Memorial service was not until a few weeks later in order to get arrangements made... including travel arrangements for the many people she had touched from all over the world.
I had maybe spoken with her three times and was about to begin some committee work with her but at the point of her death 'acquaintance' was definitely how you would describe the relationship.
So, you go to the service to show your respect for her and her family, right? Well, I really struggled with this. Was I going for me (colleagues see me pay respects, able to remark on service in get togethers with others, etc...) or was I going for her and her family (respects). I knew it was going to be VERY full; should I - who barely knew her - take the seat of someone who needed that opportunity to grieve their friend?
When I told my friends of my struggles they understood; when I opened up this can of worms to a fellow colleague - only because she overheard me - she looked at me with total disgust. (She by the way immediately called the widower when she heard the news despite the fact that she is only their acquaintance as well. I mean really, who was she doing that for, him, or her own need to be there in an emergency to make her feel like a better pastor?)
I know I have an issue with cynicism. And I admit that definitely comes into play when I judge the actions of others (pretty sure you are NOT supposed to do that). However, when it comes to my own actions it is not cyncism as much as the desire to be genuine.
By the way, I did go to the Memorial Service to pay my respects. We sat in the third overflow area and watched it on the big screen. It really was a beautiful service... oh yeah, and it was 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 4 seconds (I couldn't resist).