I’ve know a lot of pastors. I’ve seen them happy and sad, fresh and broken. I’ve seen a good number of them towards the end of their ministries quietly happy to be done with leading churches and caring for people. I remember one pastor telling me how he made sure he son didn’t go into the ministry. He didn’t want him making THAT mistake. I was glad I wasn’t his son.
My father is in the picture above. The longer he was in ministry the more he loved it. It wasn’t that he had easy churches. Paterson was anything but easy. It wasn’t that he had “successful” ministries. None of the churches he pastored ever grew large or received a lot of recognition or reward. He didn’t make much money doing what he did, but he didn’t worry either. He did it because he loved people, he wanted to help people, and he believed that in the end God would do good things and he often saw it happen.
Part of this my father wasn’t necessarily responsible for. He saw plenty of suffering. You can read about it in his book. He had a strange innocence and optimism about people. Part of this was simply who he was. That was God’s gift to him.
I think the key to the fact that ministry didn’t grind my father down was that he along the way learned that Christian ministry is finally God’s work, we just get to walk along and lend a hand from time to time. He could pray. He could weep. He could cheer. He could encourage. He couldn’t save.
What Working In Dark Places Teaches You
If you go to places where there is real need, terrible hardship, desperate conditions, you will have to learn that there is not always a lot you can do.
If you look at this world you should see that the whole world is in a deep mess. We all die. We all fail. We all hurt one another. All of the effort of all of human history has not put an end to this. Sometimes we can hold it back for a while. Often great joy and pleasure can be found in fleeting, elusive moments, but the end comes to us all and to those we love.
Into this darkness comes the light. If the Christian story is not true, then there really isn’t much to be done. We will die and our place will remember us no more. If the story is true, then all of this crushing loss will be with us but a little while and a glorious new world will replace this broken, decaying one. This is a very hopeful thought.
All ministry is really just handing out band-aids, but in the light of the resurrection even our sufferings can refine us and will be with us just a short while.
The New Testament was written by martyrs and sufferers. The main quality they strove for was patient endurance. Because the resurrection had begun all they really needed to do was wait out the age of decay, or the death of their own bodies, and the rest was covered. What they could do in the mean time was to spend what time they had the way Jesus did. Sometimes there would be miracles that would give samples of the age to come in the midst of the age of decay, most of the time they just suffered loss. Faith, hope and love was what moved them forward.
I think one of the greatest gifts my father gave me was simply how he was with God. He was not anxious. He simply believed. That belief gave him an optimism and a capacity to endure. He didn’t know how long he would have to endure. Turned out he didn’t need to endure as long has he probably imagined. Even his death was his good fortune. We’ll see if my optimism can be as buoyant as his as I continue on the path that God has for me.