The Higher Calling on a Nondescript Wednesday in September
I am sitting at my desk, at work, and it’s 8:05AM on a Wednesday. I’ve been sitting at this desk since I began on September 17, 2006. Thirteen years is certainly long enough that I have seen wonderful things in my work, and I have had really hard, bad days at work. Sometimes, my work thrills me. Sometimes it feels like a real slog.
Some readers would find it off-putting for me to talk about what I do as a “job” and to discuss my job as “work.” I am a church pastor. Lay persons (non-clergy) may find the idea of a pastor to be mysterious or inaccessible. What does he do all day during the week when we are all at work doing real jobs? Pray? Well, yes, I do pray during weekdays. I would suggest all Christians do that.
Other non-clergy might think of the pastorate as a “higher calling” or as “holy work” not to be compared to more mundane employment. It certainly is a high calling. Pastors are called to holiness. My understanding of 1 Peter 2:9 is that every Christian has a high calling. Everyone who wants to be identified with Jesus is called to holiness.
There’s no question, professional ministry is unique work. We pastors have a different work week than most who do Monday-Friday, 9-5, or some version thereof. We have 50, 60, 70-hour weeks sometimes. Some weeks, we work less than 40 (well, I do). We do enter into extreme human discomfort when we sit with a wife as her husband of 40 years slowly, agonizingly dies. We get caught in thankless, ugly work when we try to convince two people headed for divorce to stay together or try to help an addict change his life trajectory. We embrace what is always at the top of the phobias lists - public speaking.
It’s work I love. I absolutely believe I am called by God to do it, so I would do some version of pastoring for free if I didn’t have church paying me. I am really glad I have a church paying me.
Pastors do the same things after a bad day (or a bad week or a bad year) at work that others do during hard times. We complain about our jobs. We think about changing (as in pastoring a different church). We think more about changing (as in doing something other than being a pastor). We look into other possibilities. But, because of the public nature of our work, we try to be surreptitious about it.
Isn’t unseemly for a pastor to be surreptitious? Is it unseemly for anyone to be surreptitious? What does surreptitious mean, anyway?
Sorry, I digress. Pastors often do.
Where was I? Oh yeah, pastoring when it’s a tough day (or week or month or year)! If a pastor is wise, she or he will pray like crazy, pray until going crazy, and then do what God says to do. If the pastor loves the church, but God tells her to move, she puts her resume out and tries to discern where to go. If a pastor hates his situation, but God tells him to stay, he stays.
But he doesn’t just stay and grumble, “Fine God, have it your way! I’ll be miserable.” That would be a martyr complex. It’s pathetic. The pastor stays and determines to do his pastoring work with joy no matter how hard it is or how unappreciated he feels. What way other than joy is there to represent the risen Lord Jesus Christ who calls all of us to resurrection and eternal life in the Kingdom of God? When you think about it in those terms, that a pastor’s job is to represent God, then it is obviously the best job in the world.
So, 2018-2019 has been the toughest stretch of my ministry career for a variety of reasons. I’ve already mentioned what pastors do when the work is hard; the same thing everyone else does when the work is hard. Still I am right here, right where I was on this same day in 2006 when everything was bright and new. I am still optimistic. My optimism has some rough edges time always brings. But the optimism is still here and am I am too.
What’s next? It’s a Wednesday in the life of a pastor. I have to study 1 Corinthians 12. I have a bunch of people to email. I have three ministry meetings to be ready for between now and Sunday. And I have to pray so that I’ll be ready when the unpredictable happens. In ministry, the unpredictable always happens.
I keep stepping forward, not toward a finish line. No, when the journey is with God, it doesn’t end; not with retirement, not in death, not ever. It just keeps moving onto new ground or into new space. It’s always new, even when you sit at the same desk for 13 years (and counting).