A Ministry of Contrasts

mountainsI held the hands of a couple married for 60 years as the wife was dying and the “until death do us part” of their marriage vows were being fulfilled. Less than four hours later I held the hands of a young couple in a prayer of blessing as I concluded the ceremony that began their marriage.

I’ve traveled across town from visiting a family making plans at a funeral home to visiting a young couple and their new addition on the maternity ward of a hospital. I thought about it and decided to make the two visits in that order, so I could end my pastoral calls that day on a joyous note.

When I get to feeling sorry for myself because of some of the things I feel I get stuck having to deal with in pastoral ministry, I think about my ministry of contrasts. I join God’s people in their mountaintop experiences and I walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death.

What a ministry, this ministry of contrasts! The fried chicken may be the same, but it somehow tastes different at a funeral dinner than it does at a wedding reception.

Whether the climate of the circumstance calls for a sprinkling of water, rice, or dirt, we, as pastors of the people, are there. We hold the babies, hug the newlyweds, and let our shoulders get wet with the tears of the one who mourns. It’s all sacred ground, a holy calling to be with God’s people in the best of times, the worst of times and, thankfully, the many ordinary in-between times too!

The Busy Pastor

A neighbor of our daughter and her family
in Mexico shepherding his flock

I have had to learn again and again that to be about my Heavenly Father’s business means I must not be too busy. My busyness and His business are often not the same work!

Eugene Peterson writes, “A sense of hurry in pastoral work disqualifies one for the work of conversation and prayer that develops relationships that meet personal needs. There are heavy demands put upon pastoral work, true; there is difficult work to be engaged in, yes. But the pastor must not be ‘busy.’… there must be a wide margin of leisure.”

Peterson then quotes Henri Nouwen. “Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs.” (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson, pp. 61-62, Eerdmans, 1980)

I have had the opportunity on various occasions to watch a shepherd tend his flock of sheep. I don’t ever recall seeing shepherds rush about. They tend to walk slowly; mostly they just stand. Why, as the shepherd of God’s flock of people, do I feel prompted to always be rushing, giving the impression I must be somewhere else other than where I am? Lord, wherever you have me be today, help me to be all there for as long as you want.

My Main Job at The Church

John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Church in Menlo Park, California, wrote a good article in Leadership Magazine, Summer 2011. Here’s a brief reference in the article that struck a chord with me.

“Last fall I asked a friend, ‘What’s the main thing I need to be doing for our church to be a place where lives are being transformed?’ He said, ‘Your primary job is to experience deep contentment and joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.’

Now I have that on a sign that hangs above the door of my office. It reminds me, before I write sermons or lead meetings or do planning, that my main job at the church is to live in deep contentment, joy, and confidence in my everyday walk with God.”

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