I injured myself a few days ago while running. I needed to take a week off in order to heal up. I HATED it. All I could think about was getting back to running. My body and spirit languished. I found myself spending more time trying to keep myself from running, than any of the other training and therapy I put myself through. Just today, Sunday of all days, I was able to take my first proper run. But instead of just running on a sidewalk through a neighborhood like many of us do each day, I decided to do something a bit special. I stopped on my way home from church and ran through the fields and trails of Appomattox Court House National Park. I ran through the grassy fields, the same where hundreds and thousands of soldiers ran and marched over 150 years ago during the final days of the Civil War. I ran, not to keep a certain pace, or even to pay attention to my form or breathing; I just ran out of joy. Joy that my body was healed once again. Joy with the beauty of morning worship and now true re-creation. It was the happiest I have felt running in a long time. I was so happy to get back to the source of the joy for a sport I have come to know and love. This got me thinking about getting back to the source of my joy in ministry as well. Preaching, teaching, pastoral care; these three things are at the heart of the pastoral call.
When I was in college long ago I wondered what type of work I might be doing, thinking if God was calling me into professional ministry. I was working with youth at the time at summer camps, and during the school year at a local YMCA. I said to myself, ‘Man, if I could just work with young people for my career, then I’d be happy.’
A few years later I found myself working with a
group called ‘A Christian Ministry in the National Parks’ at Glacier National Park in Montana. I had gradua
ted college just a few days before leaving for Montana, and now I was working as a maintenance guy during the weekdays, and a volunteer preacher during the evenings and weekends. My friends and I hiked our hearts out, but always were
awake early on Sundays to lead worship. I had the best time ever, and more and more and I saw that I could possibly do this whole preaching thing as well. I said to myself, ‘Man, if I could just work with young people and the church in the outdoors, then I’ve got myself a career.’
A few years went by. I worked at my first full-time salaried job as a youth minister with the
Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville. I asked my boss, the Head of Staff at the time, if she thought I was being called to seminary. She said, ‘Yes. I think you’d do very well.’
I would eventually pack my bags and head to McCormick Theological Seminary, where my first year advisor suggested that I explore as many ministry opportunities as possible. She said, ‘think outside the box.’ That first sem
ester one of our assigned readings was MLK’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’, and after reading this letter I wrote in my next paper that I felt called to congregational ministry (sorry for not getting ‘outside the box’!). Why congregational ministry? Because God moves in the local church. Yes, MLK would change the world with his leadership, political organizing, and speeches. But before any of those media covered events, he was a preacher. Preaching. Teaching. Pastoral Care.
I wonder sometimes if we, as pastors, lose sight of this too often. I wonder if church members lose sight of this when we review budgets, membership numbers, and ‘bigger and better’ churches being built just a few miles down the road from many of our congregations that have been in existence for decades, if not centuries. Sometimes we need to be reminded to get back to the basics.
Preaching. Teaching. Pastoral Care. These are the basics of the pastoral call. When all of ministry life seems to get in the way, drag you down, perhaps even lead to injury or some much needed time off for recovery, I remember these three components as the reason I feel called to pastoral ministry. It is one thing to write a blog or record a video, but sharing God’s Word with a congregation on Sunday morning is life-giving. I feel enlivened by conversations with individuals when I have the opportunity to teach in a church classroom setting, or even explain Reformed Theology at the local pub. And ministry goes from ‘meaningful’ to ‘fulfilling’ when I have the opportunity to sit, pray, and be present with individuals and families who seek God’s presence in their lives. This is what I live for. This is what gives me life. This is what gives me joy. These are the things that get us pastors through things like ordination exams, presbytery meetings, email complaints, and budget reviews. Preaching, teaching, and pastoral care, are why we sign up for this calling in the first place. Sometimes I guess a small thing like a running injury is all we need to be reminded of such a wonderful gift as God’s calling.