The Reward

I told someone at the beginning of this year that my goal for 2019 was to write one blog post a month—not because the world needs to hear my voice or because I have really important thoughts to share—but because I need a creative outlet outside of writing sermons and Bible lessons.  I need space and time to write for writing’s sake.

And now here I am, January 31, and I haven’t followed through.  I haven’t taken the time to write creatively.  I could say that I’ve been busy or tired, but that would only be partially true.  I’ve also been watching lots of basketball, so I’ve had time.  And that’s not all bad.  I need the outlet of enjoying basketball as much as I need the outlet of creative writing.  But I also need balance.

I did, however, follow through on a different goal I’d mentioned for this year.  In my last blog post, I said that I wanted to re-read the book The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen at some point this year.  It was a book I had read in one of my pastoral classes in college, and I remembered it being helpful.  I didn’t remember why it was helpful, but I had this inkling that I could still use whatever help it offered.  And so I read it again.

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What I read this month was the most honest and real and beautiful description of the life of the pastor that I’ve ever read.  I connected with it in ways that would have been impossible in college because I had not yet experienced pastoral life.  Now I’ve been there.  When Hansen talks about praying as a pastor or making friends as a pastor, I get it. I’ve said those prayers (or I need to). I’ve made those friendships (or I’m trying to).

There is something really special about reading a book or watching a movie that speaks to the experience of your soul.  Last year I watched the PBS Masterpiece show Grantchester, a show about a 1950s Anglican vicar named Sydney Chambers who solves murders on the side. (He’s also young, unmarried, redheaded, and a runner, so I related to his character on multiple levels.)  I was absolutely delighted by the show’s portrayal of ministry life in the first few episodes.  There must have been an experienced pastor involved in the writing.

Most movies and television shows give shallow portrayals of pastors and pastoral life.  The pastor says kind, shallow platitudes from the pulpit, but does little else.  These pastors are usually far too innocent or too greasy to be believable.

Grantchester showed something different.  It showed the vicar patching a hole in the church wall and mowing the church lawn.  I do those things.  It showed people changing how they talk when the vicar’s around.  I sense people doing that all the time around me, whether subconsciously or not.

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At one point, Sydney shows up late at a dinner party.  The response: “Oh good, the vicar’s here.  Now someone can say grace for the meal.”

Those are the real things that make up ministry.  The awkward interactions with people who don’t quite know how to balance our religious vocation with our personhood… The challenge of balancing personal friendships with pastoral charges… The work that goes unnoticed through the week…

You don’t understand these things until you’ve experienced them.  And so that’s why I love books like The Art of Pastoring and shows like Grantchester.  They get me. They let me know I’m not crazy and not alone. Somewhere out there are people who would hear my stories and nod their heads to say, “I’ve been there.”

If I could, I’d quote most of The Art of Pastoring to you here, because it’s so much truer than anything I can write here. Instead, I’ll quote just one section from the final chapter that talks about the reward of ministry.  There is a reward in this indefinable, indescribable job.  There is a reward in this job that no one fully understands unless they’ve felt it too.

I didn’t feel it the first time I read this book in college.  I couldn’t.  But now I feel it, and I know this reward is real.

“Here is the reward of pastoral ministry: being with people and bringing the love of Christ to them… Being with brothers and sisters in Christ, and with them feeling and knowing and experiencing and trusting God’s loving presence: that is the reward the pastor receives.

“When I leave a church, it doesn’t owe me anything.  I’m not its employee; it doesn’t owe me a gold watch.  Looking back, I feel like I owe them.  I owe them for giving me the opportunity to be their pastor.  They provided for my family’s needs so that I could wander around praying, visiting with people, studying the Bible, teaching it and preaching the Word of God.  They allowed me to serve them.  They allowed me to be with them in the deepest moments of their lives.  I have become their friend… We will be friends on a level that is unobtainable to other people—certainly unobtainable to professionals, whether medical or psychological…

“We need to face the fact that in a world where people invent and reward themselves, we pastors can never account for much.  In this world we can never be important professionally. Most of our parishioners don’t know what we do.  Many of them wonder if what we do is worth a whole lot.  Even we aren’t sure if what we do amounts to a hill of beans.”

He’s right.  I don’t know if what I do amounts to a hill of beans. But I’ll take that hill of beans over all other rewards any day.

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