Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thinking Back On Being Called To Ministry

People decide to become teachers, lawyers, engineers, and such -- but when we talk about ministers we talk about how we are "called by God." Sometimes it sounds a bit arrogant, but it shouldn't be. We should all feel that what we are doing is what we have been called to do.

So how does God call ministers?

I was in youth group one day -- so many years ago that I was actually one of the youth. Rev. Keith told us about when he was called by God.

"Well, there I was," he said in his deep Southern accent. "My Daddy was making me and my brothers work in the fields. We were digging and plowing and I was workin' the soil with this hoe. And it was a hot day. Man it was hot. So hot that when you looked out yonder on the horizon, the heat was just a shimmering. I set my hoe down in the sun and took a sip of water from the well, and when I picked up the hoe it was so hot that it burned my hand.

"I looked at the hoe. I looked at the shimmerin' horizon. I looked at my Daddy and said, 'I think the Lord's done called me to preach.'"

We all rolled with laughter.

A year or so later, when I told my pastor that I wanted to be a minister, his reaction was not quite what I had expected. Rev. Keith looked at me and asked, "What the hell you want to do a stupid thing like that for? This is a hell of a job! All day long people come into your office and bitch, bitch, bitch!"

I was shocked! I thought he would say something piously profound. A simple "Praise the Lord, my son," was the least I expected.

Perhaps Mr Keith was trying to be honest with me. The ministry is a more difficult, and very different type of job than most people believe. No one really knows what any job is like until they do it, and the ministry is no exception.

As a high school senior, I thought I knew what the ministry was like. It was writing sermons, leading worship, counseling, and saying to young men who wanted to enter the ministry, "Praise the Lord, my son."

How wrong I was!

Recently I had a severe muscle spasm followed by two weeks of lingering pain in my neck. I finally made an appointment with a massage therapist. While the therapist worked on my neck, he asked that routine question, "what do you do for a living?"

"I'm a minister," I answered. I could feel his fingers stop for an instant.

"Well," he said, "I guess even ministers feel stress."

I wanted to tell him, "Of course we do, you idiot! Don't you know that the ministry is a hell of a job. All day long you have to listen to people bitch, bitch, bitch." But instead I simply said, "Occasionally."

The ministry does have a great deal of stress in it. You deal with families in crisis, terminal illness, death, administering the business affairs of a church, and of course, Sunday is always on its way and you have to come up with another sermon.

When I was in high school and made my visit to my pastor, I don't think I ever thought about what it would REALLY be like to sit in the hospital with a family waiting for someone to die. I don't think it crossed my mind that I would have to bury children. It didn't occur to me that an argument about whether to paint the church library white or blue would be a major theological debate.

I did think about counseling alcoholics and drug addicts and those who were depressed, but all of that seemed to be part of an adventure yet to be. I never really thought about how I would feel to see a parishioner come into my office and point a gun at his head. What made me think that I could do this job?

"If I knew then what I know now" is a game some people play. I don't usually play. But IF I did know back then in Rev. Keith's office what I know now, when he told me that the ministry was a hell of a job, I'd probably say, "Brother, that's not the half of it!"

And yet, I've never thought of leaving the ministry.

In fact, there are times when I have caught myself thinking about how unfortunate it is for those who are not in the ministry. I can't imagine life being as fulfilling for the laity as it is for me.

The Dean of my seminary once told us that no other profession touches the whole spectrum of a person's life as the ministry does. The family doctor comes close, but doesn't quite make it.

The minister stands before a couple and pronounces them husband and wife.

The minister holds the infant born of that marriage and with water, baptizes the child.

The minister sleeps with the youth at sleep-ins and at church camps.

The minister visits the people in their homes, in the nursing homes, in jail, or in the hospital.

The minister holds the hand of the dying.

The doctor is with a person from birth to death, but the minister is also, and for even longer. When death comes, the doctor closes the medical bag and leaves, but the minister remains. No other profession has the opportunities to touch the whole span of a person's life.

The ministry is a great life, and I am grateful that God has called me into this way of life.

I used to ask my son from time to time, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" When my son was five years old, he looked up at me and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up!

"Retired," I said, thinking back to Rev. Keith, who had warned me that the ministry was a hell of a job. But in all honesty, I don't look forward to retirement. I look forward to the next day. I still want to be a minister when I grow up.


Blogger Gannet Girl said...

Thank you for writing this -- I think. I am struggling with the question of call and I thought I had myself pretty well talked out of it, and now you've reminded me of all that it encompasses. Perhaps surprisingly to you, it's not so different from the call of a family lawyer, which I have been in my life, until I had to acknowledge that the adversarial nature of the legal system is not in my blood.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Purechristianithink said...

Reminds me of the time a church where I was an associate hired a new church secretary. She quick in shock and horror after a few weeks. She told the Sr. Pastor she had taken the job because she thought working in a church would be peaceful and uplifting. With great relief, she returned to the business world.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Preacher Mom said...

I think Rev. Keith's job description is the most accurate I have ever heard. So why is it that I love what I do so much? I think you said it well.

3:29 PM  

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