Sunday, January 28, 2007

Last night's epiphany

I don't necessarily come by this naturally, but 22 years in journalism teaches you to test the veracity of almost everything. Seek information or observe life and then ask questions.

My natural wiring is quite different. I absorb information, experience, emotions, stimuli of the six senses (five plus intuition). Then, without my doing much at all, my brain or my gut or my heart synthesizes the information in sometimes surprising ways and I just know things. It's how I could know the answers to geometry questions in high school without necessarily knowing how to provide the required proofs. Sometimes an experience or even a smell from decades ago can combine with an emotion or sound from today and make unexpected connections.

I have been exploring the reality of my call to and experience of ministry using my journalism model rather than my natural wiring. And that became clear to me last night.

For the past year, I have been experiencing some of the reality of ministry in the local church working in pastoral care and worship. I have experienced many joys, but I have also experienced some difficult realities.

So, over the past year, I have observed or experienced those difficult realities and then presented them in conversation with a variety of mentors and peers. To a one, they have confirmed my observations and often provided even more difficult examples than those I bring.

Often, in conversations with other professionals, you can present a downside and expect to get the response: It's really not that bad. That didn't happen with these pastors. I might have hoped I would present my concerns and they would dismiss or diminish them. Instead they affirmed my observations and said: It can be that difficult and worse.

Me: Ministry can be isolating and lonely.
Them: Yes, absolutely. I got no denials.

Me: The church world is small, so minor problems or problem people can loom large.
Them: Again, confirmation.

Me (whining): And there is so much a minister must deal with alone.
Them: Yes, again. Though covenant groups, friends from seminary, friends outside the denomination, and professional counselors or spiritual directors can all help.

Me: Many pastors are gifted leaders but fewer are good managers, so minor problems can grow larger than they merit.
Them: I've really only talked about this with three pastors with lots of experience, but, to a one, they concur again (one actually took notes from me on a troublesome office situation s/he faced).

Me: Pastors are vulnerable. And that vulnerability carries both joy and risk.
Them: No argument.

Each one was able, in differing categories, to add to my view of the difficult reality by describing experiences they had endured (and survived). One even referred to her two worst experiences as bringing on, for a time, the death of her soul.

My epiphany, once I let go of all the information-gathering and let the bits of information and experience and emotion ping around in my brain and gut and heart and soul was this:

Each of these ministers confirmed that what I had experienced and felt was true. They did not try to suggest it was isolated to my situation or my limited experience. They acknowledged that all of these observations and experiences were part of the reality of ministering -- though rarely all on the same day.

I was marveling in the consistency of that message, realizing that no one had tried to sugar-coat the truth.

And then the epiphany: They all still minister. They know these realities to be true, yet they all still minister. Many of them joyously.

The undiminished reality does not deter their call whether it is to service, to preaching, to worship, to kingdom building.

They all still minister in the name of God by the grace of Jesus through the glorious movements of the Holy Spirit. They all still minister.

May I have that courage. May I have that faith.

May it be so for me.



RevErikaG said...

Great is hard, but because of God's grace, we go on. No denying, no fooling.
Thanks for your pastoral presence with me this past week. It has been a true gift.

molly said...

And there's some really, really good stuff, too.

Makes me think of that Sweet Honey in the Rock song where the singer riffs on how it isn't good "times" we're promised, but "good news." Sometimes it's hard times, but it's still good news.

(Bernice Johnson Reagon says it more convincingly that I just typed it.)