The facial expressions of the married couple indicated nerves. His suit and tie appeared the right size for a guy a little slimmer. Her new dress and extra makeup, her forced smile and a hand refusing to let go of her husband, her shaking fingers and a stare toward the bishop—yes, very nervous.
This week’s spiritual discipline is mentoring. This blog is from the book Pause for Pastors.
Three men stood beside those two—one nearing retirement age, one in his twenties, one in his second year of college—carrying their own inner luggage onto the stage. Mental questions seemed to show up, or maybe I was imagining it all. Were they asking, “Why am I doing this?” or “What if they really knew me?” Were they thinking, “I’m gonna change this world” or “Surely one of these in attendance will hire me?”
I thought back to my own ordination service three decades before, and I hoped these five who were receiving their ministry credentials were a little nervous, a little hesitant, a little anxious. Oh, I hoped they held dreams and courage and confidence. I hoped they believed in their God and their calling. But I hoped they were a little unsure and much afraid. I hoped they weren’t just smiling with pride, glancing toward a world they were about to rescue. I hoped they were reaching out for the hands of a Heavenly Father to hold them and carry them each step on this journey of ministry.
I hoped they’d found a closet on their way to Narnia.
My in-a-hurry brain hit rewind, rushing me through my many years of ministry since I once stood and shook like they were standing and shaking. My problem as I looked back? I didn’t know enough about what I was getting into—which was probably best, I guess.
My other problem? I wasn’t nervous enough.
I didn’t know that ministry would be a storm. One long storm—violent and unexpected lightning bolts, frightening drum roles from thunder’s mood, rain refusing to slow her pace, calmness visiting in the hurricane’s eye, clouds appearing as faces staring and daring us to stare back, more calmness while waiting for the storm’s next outburst, shelters feeling not as stable as we’d hoped, seeking safety, hearing vicious throbbing, beauty and awe and wonder amid the war—including various episodes during its voyage.
Yes, I loved the storm. And hated it.
Yes, I endured it. As of now.
I am fortunate. I had a few mentors to warn me early, while not telling me too much. Two men met me, stood in my way, and told me what I never learned in the classroom. They cautioned me and I’m grateful their words refused to leave me.
I am also fortunate to see mistakes made by a few of the pastors I first worked for. One of them told me, just before he died, to not do ministry the way he did. Though sometimes I did, I appreciated his warning of the storm.
And, I am fortunate to have family and friends to endure the storms of ministry with me. We sat together, enduring. We stood together, enjoying. We bowed together, much afraid.
As I now work with students who are entering the ministry and meet with pastors of various church structures, I see their hope to enjoy and their desire to endure. I see they are much afraid. I want us all to find this healthy balance of living both accountable and free.
Accountable. Who is asking us the difficult questions? Who will challenge our rehearsed answers? Who cares enough to stand in our way and love us through whatever segment of the storm we might be facing?
Free. How can we be sure that accountability is not forced control? How can we work hard to be sure life is about much more than hard work? How can we find proper, unfathomable, valuable freedom in a religious culture controlled by stats and numbers?
As pastors, we need to be held accountable.
As pastors, we need to be set free.
Not either or. But both and.