Archives For Best Things about Being a Pastor

priest_collarOkay, so some of you give me crap about always being snarky, sarcastic and cynical. So, I thought I’d do a decidedly uncynical series of posts: Top Ten Things About Being A Pastor.

#1: Grace Happens

Before I graduated from Princeton, Dr Robert Dyksta, my theological Jedi master, lamented that I was about to serve in a denomination whose system of appointing pastors ‘contradicts everything we know about psychology.’

I asked what he meant and he replied by explaining how it’s a given that people in congregations wear masks, keep up pretenses and are reluctant to let others see what’s behind the curtain of the self they show others.

He then offered me this wisdom: ‘If you’re going to stay a Methodist, then you should tell your bishop you’ll serve wherever they send you so long as they’re willing to leave you there for at least seven years. It takes that long for people to reveal who they are behind their masks, warts and all.’

In other words, it takes time and patience to see notice grace at work in people’s lives.

But seen it I have and that, by a long shot and then some, is the best thing about ministry.

I could tell you about the woman whom I’ve known these past 7 1/2 years, who seems a completely different person these last few years than the  one I knew the previous years. To be honest, our relationship back then was often marked by mutual frustration. Today I think of her as something of a cross between a friend and a surrogate grandmother. What accounts for the change in her? She credits it with a spiritual discipline she started practicing a couple of years ago, intentionally praying the shema every day and daily committing herself to loving Christ and through him, others.

Grace has changed her.

Maybe that doesn’t strike you as a Road to Damascus type of story but it’s real and it’s just one example of many I could give.

I could tell you about the woman who, having been cared for tenderly by a black nurse, at the end of her life confessed and repented of her racism.

I could tell you about husbands and wives who, after much painful work, have forgiven one another of adultery, abuse, addiction. You name it.

I could tell you about prodigals who’ve come home, mothers and fathers who’ve worked at welcoming them and elder brothers who’ve looked themselves in the mirror to finally confront the nasty self-righteousness in them.

I could tell you about people who’ve come to faith by dirtying their hands serving the poor, and I can tell you about individuals who’ve given over hundreds of thousands of dollars for the poor because God Christ has been generous to them.

I could tell you about people who’ve lost a child.

And lost their faith.

And found it again.

Even then I’d only be scratching the surface of what I could tell you.

Not only was Dr Dykstra right. His point has turned out to be the best thing about being a pastor. If you give it time, you get to see.

I can’t prove God exists, and there are those dark days and dark moods when I wrestle with my doubts and fear I’ve given my life to a fool’s errand.

But what I can prove, what I can point to and say ‘See, there it is,’ what I know without ever a day of doubt, is that grace is real.

It happens.

 

 

 

priest_collarOkay, so some of you give me crap about always being snarky, sarcastic and cynical. So, I thought I’d do a decidedly uncynical series of posts: Top Ten Things About Being A Pastor.

#2: Creativity

I know what you’re thinking.

Other than ‘physical fitness,’ ‘cool,’ ‘relevant,’ and ‘risk-taking,’ creativity is probably the last assemblage of consonants and vowels you’d word-associate with the ministry.

After all, pastors must walk the tight-rope of being liked, being accepted, and not upsetting the status quo one iota. Pastors are boxed in by the ancient Christian tradition on one side and antiquated congregational traditions on the other. Pavlovian pastors must navigate their way through the winding rat maze of dysfunctional denominational bureaucracy where ‘process for process sake’ is but an unspoken paraphrase of the Gospel.

None of which, it would appear, lend themselves to the virtue of creativity.

And yet…and perhaps its only for my own mental sanity and soul survival, one of the best things about being a pastor is that every day I get to creatively engage my faith and the scripture that enlivens it.

What every Christian should get the opportunity to do, I actually get paid to do. 

I mean, what other job would allow me to collaborate on a song about Isaiah’s prophetic nudity, set to the tune of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ entitled ‘Yahweh?’ In what other job could I creatively tackle a talking ass (Numbers), 100 foreskins (1 Samuel) or a she-bear who breaks bad on little kids for making fun of a bald guy (Kings).

Where else could I teach a children’s sermon on the atonement using a live goat, borrowed from a Muslim family (scandal, I know) and ladies lingerie worn by a Navy Captain?

And where else could I design a Sunday School curriculum around the Book of Leviticus?

Those are just extreme examples of a more general job perk. Whether it’s the regular routine of writing a sermon, planning an adult class, developing mission team devotionals or designing a worship experience, one of the best things about being a pastor is that I get to be creative.

Every day I get to stick my hands way down deep in the sandbox of scripture and lift out something surprising that, if I only find an engaging way, can speak a Word to someone. 

Ministry affords me the freedom to be creative, trusting that if its attempted in good faith it will be received graciously- which is itself an act of loving faith too on both my part and my congregation’s.

Which brings up the actual, theological point.

One the one hand, creativity can be seen as taking a risk. On the other hand, seen with the eye of faith, creativity isn’t taking a risk so much as betting that the Holy Spirit is real, at work in and through us, and will show up to bless, further and perfect our efforts. 

priest_collarOkay, so some of you give me crap about always being snarky, sarcastic and cynical. So, I thought I’d do a decidedly uncynical series of posts: Top Ten Things About Being A Pastor.

#3: Doubt

Guess what? People have it. People of ‘faith’ struggle with it, and, as a pastor, I get a front row seat to the wrestling match.

One of my favorite moments in ministry is when students go off to college with a teenager’s faith and come home with doubts and questions, a sort of second naiveté born out of new discoveries and experiences. I love their authenticity and urgent frankness when they’re not quite sure if what they’d once believed can still be believed or if it can still be held in faith not quite sure how it integrates with the rest of their life.

The experience of college students is just a white-hot, concentrated version of what every Christian experiences at points in their lives. I think its easy sometimes to sit in church and assume you’re the only person there who doesn’t have it figured out, whose faith- and life- is basically a mess held together by sheer determination and not a little grace.

As easy as that assumption comes to us, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The stereotype of Christians as a bunch of people parroting propositions and keeping up the pretense of rock solid certainty is just that, a stereotype.

One of the best things about being a pastor is I get to know for a fact that stereotype isn’t true; I’m glad I know it’s not true because otherwise I’d be a mess myself and wouldn’t step foot in a church.

Sure, I imagine you could find churches where questions and doubt are unwelcome and discouraged. I’m sure there are churches where there are certain questions that shouldn’t be asked and everyone knows not to raise them. But I don’t have any experience with that kind of church- and, more importantly, I wouldn’t want to pastor that kind of church.

For the most part, the people I know and pastor struggle with their faith. And why shouldn’t they?

God taking flesh in a first century Jewish carpenter? God dying on a cross for_________, because of_____________, in order to __________…..what exactly? Did God really defeat Death at Easter? If so, why is it (not to mention Sin) still very much a part of our world? And speaking of world, what does this have to do with me and my life when you get down to it?

Like it or not, the way God has chosen to deal with us is in paradox and so there’s no other way around it. We’re a part of the paradox; therefore, genuine faith will always be equal parts doubt. To me, there is no more honest, faithful statement than ‘I believe, Lord, but help my unbelief.’

For every college student who realizes what they learned in 6th grade confirmation won’t sustain them through the next part of their life, I can point you to a white-haired, life-long church goer still trying to sort out this business about incarnation.

And here’s why that’s not just genuine but beautiful: to struggle, to wrestle, to question- those are all active verbs. Without doubt, ‘faith’ is just a staid affair. There’s no journey, no quest, no exploring and grasping after God, truth and a beautiful life.

So one of my favorite things about being a pastor is getting to sit ringside as people wrestle with their doubt. Because, just like Jacob by the Jabbok River, you can bet the house it’s in the wrestling that God is to be found. 

And blessing too.

priest_collarOkay, so some of you give me crap about always being snarky, sarcastic and cynical. So, I thought I’d do a decidedly uncynical series of posts: Top Ten Things About Being A Pastor.

#5: The Power of Suggestion.

Admittedly, being a pastor comes with very little cache, authority, status or privilege outside of church. Christendom is dead and Leave It to Beaver has been off the air for decades. I don’t know what town Seventh Heaven takes place in, but it’s not any community I’ve ever visited. The days of the pastor having social status and power are behind us- and, frankly, I think that’s a good thing.

However…

Within the church, being a pastor still has some cred.

For example, there are certain people in churches who because they’re faithful and sincere Christians, who because they fear Yahweh and respect the office of minister they are simply INCAPABLE of saying no to me- especially if my suggestion is in the slightest bit ‘religious’ sounding.

I give you a ‘for instance.’ Advent, on a mountaintop in Guatemala, celebrating eucharist after a week of mission. Pastor says: ‘Mark, you and John should sing ‘Infant Holy, Infant Lowly’ opera style. I think it would be a powerful spiritual experience for the group.’

He couldn’t say no. It’s a hymn after all. It’s almost Christmas, and I’m a pastor.

priest_collarOkay, so some of you give me crap about always being snarky, sarcastic and cynical. So, I thought I’d do a decidedly uncynical series of posts: Top Ten Things About Being A Pastor.

#6:

???????????????????????????????This sitting atop a camel in the Holy Land is Charlotte Rexroad (who is now mortified I’ve written a blog post featuring her without her permission, the good thing about Charlotte is that she’s forgiving- sorry Charlotte).

What does Charlotte have to do with one of the Top Ten Things about being a Pastor? I’ll explain.

Pastors live in fishbowls. No news there. There’s no distinction between my private and public self and people are alway projecting onto me their assumptions and associations about what a ‘pastor’ is or does.

Sometimes that can feel like a burden, knowing that certain people will never know the ‘real’ me because they treat me like a category instead of a person. Other times it’s discouraging knowing I’ll never be as good, faithful, noble, selfless etc as people assume me to be because of R.E.V. some insist on putting in front of my name.

But then there are other times and people, people like Charlotte, who, because they’re good, humble followers of Jesus, assume the best about me- not because I fit into a category called ‘pastor’ but because they love Jesus and so, as Jesus would, they always treat me like I’m the best version of myself.

And here’s my point and why this is one of the best things about being a pastor.

The way Charlotte treats me makes me want to be the sort of person she assumes me to be.

Her character calls out more character in me. That, my friends, is about the best damn experience in the world.

And, don’t miss this: that’s how discipleship is meant to work.

priest_collarOkay, so some of you give me crap about always being snarky, sarcastic and cynical. So, I thought I’d do a decidedly uncynical series of posts: Top Ten Things About Being A Pastor.

#7: Take a look at this mug.

imagesNo, that’s not Raymond Burr. It’s the Rev. Dr. Dennis Wayne Perry, my colleague, friend and partner in theological chaos.

Dennis is ______ years old. His AARP card is in transit as I type. In fact, he’s so old he’s wearing a red Cosby sweater as I type.

He’s old.

But here’s the GREAT thing about ministry. Even as old as he is, Dennis is still considered ‘young’ and ‘innovative.’ It’s true and born out by attending any clergy meeting or conference where you’ll see a sea of white hair and members only jackets.

I know you think I’m exaggerating but its fact. Well over half of all United Methodist clergy are between the ages of 55 and 72. 72! The median age of a UM clergy person is 55- the highest that number has ever been.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over how the United Methodist Church is an aging denomination, with an average age near 60 in the pews.

But Dennis points out the upside of these trends. Compared to other clergy and to congregants, I will be considered ‘young’ for a very long time, even when I am old. And that’s got to be one of the best things about being a pastor.

priest_collarOkay, so some of you give me crap about always being snarky, sarcastic and cynical. So, I thought I’d do a decidedly uncynical series of posts: Top Ten Things About Being A Pastor.

#9: This is what I wear to work 3/5 days of the week. Not what I wear when I work from home. This is what I wear at work. By work, I mean church. How great is that? It’s become something of a persona, the pastor in the shorty-shorts. Church people like to joke to their friends that their pastor wears tights AND folks in the hospital love thinking I interrupted my long run to come see them.

Win, win. Got to love the ministry.

photo

priest_collarOkay, so some of you give me crap about always being snarky, sarcastic and cynical. So, I thought I’d do a decidedly uncynical series of posts: Top Ten Things About Being A Pastor.

#10: Though I hate weddings and say no to most requests, they do give me a front row seat to what no one else but the bride and groom get to see- not the annoying photographers, not the bridal party nor the front rowed family members.

One of the best things about being a pastor is getting to see the absolute, unfiltered joy, breathless-are-we-really-doing-this-fear, love and nervousness in a couple’s eyes as they look at each other and vow ‘…and with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you…in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’

That look in their eyes with those words on their lips, if you want a good working definition/image of what an act of faith is there you go.