God in the storm
I once went camping with my wife when we were still dating. I have little in the way of camping skills, but one thing I can do is summon rain on demand any time I plan to pitch a tent. True to form we hiked into the camp site, set up the tent at dusk, and shortly thereafter it rained.
Then the lightening started and the thunder too. Thunderstorms aren’t too bad when you’re tucked in your bed, under a roof and away from tall objects.
Let’s just say that a tent doesn’t offer a whole lot of defense against the shock and awe of a southern thunder storm. Every minute the tent lighted up like daylight. Then came the crack of thunder which rolled down the valleys like a boulders being tossed by a giant in a game of bowls.
It was intense.
Pastoring can be intense too–like being in a tent in the middle of a thunderstorm, naked and vulnerable.
No one told me that becoming a pastor would break my heart.
The cost of pastoring
I’ve been in ministry for a long time, more than fourteen years. Most of that time I’ve been in what we presbyterians call “specialized ministry.”
Specialized ministries usually mean chaplaincy, faculty, or denominational work. Of course, all ministry is specialized–none more than the work of parish Pastor.
I’ve found that specialized ministry can sometimes be shorthand for a boondoggle–a sweet employment gig that doesn’t involve weddings, funerals, sermons, or sessions, and comes with a tax-exempt housing allowance.
If you’re going into ministry I recommend you go for a specialized ministry (preferably something with the word ‘executive’ in it) because serving a congregation will break your heart.
Pastoral ministry is a wilderness and if you’re not prepared for that, you’ll probably become a casualty.
Its like a marathon. Ever see anyone sprint across the finish line of a marathon?
Ever see someone do that and then do some pushups, jumping jacks, and then get on with their day?
Me either. Most people look pretty bad when they’re finishing a marathon. That’s because running a marathon exacts a toll; so does being a pastor.
You are weak
My first pastoral call ended in a most Pauline fashion. In 2 Corinthians 11:33 Paul recounts his departure from Damascus: “I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his [the governor’s] hands.”
The basket I escaped in was my wife’s editorial job in another city. It let me sneak out of the walled city and away from the conflict.
I left the church in turmoil behind me.
I was weak. I am weak.
I didn’t have a job to go to. I felt like a failure. It broke my heart.
When I was younger I expected that my vocational path would take me from glory to glory. Some of my friends have picture-perfect career progressions.
Mine, not so much.
Life is full of seasons
Ecclesiastes tells us that our lives are marked by seasons. The seasons don’t define us, but they do shape and affect us in deep ways.
I’m still a pastor and I’m still in ministry. I hope to serve a church again in the future. For this season, I’m enjoying God’s good gift of lying fallow.