God's Own Fool

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Weary Pastors
I’ve known 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 his son didn’t go into the ministry. He didn’t want him making THAT mistake. I was glad I wasn’t his son.

My Dad
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 are a 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 efforts 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.

Band-Aids
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 meantime 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 were 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 as he probably imagined. Even his death was his good fortune. We’ll see my optimism can be as buoyant as his as I continue on the path that God has for me.

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These current Network posts are an encouragement to me.  Rod Hugen wrote about his mother, who sounds very much like my mother, and you wrote about your father, who sounds a lot like my father.  His relationship to God, his dependence on God and his trust in God were deep and constant. His optimism about the future had everything to do with who he believed God to be and what God's purposes are and he considered it a really big privilege to be able to join God in what he was doing.  My dad died on New Years Day three years ago.  I join you in thanking God for such fathers as we were blessed with.

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Thanks Joel. pvk

Thanks for reminding us of our fathers and fatherhood.  I too told my kids not to consider ministry unless they could do nothing else.  It is a huge challenge and it sure helps if you know that the Lord has called you to do only this.  We all enjoyed being missionaries for CRWM and CRHM for 35 years.  The kids have all been missionaries and church leaders.  They too have enjoyed the challenges.  Their challenges as "faith" missionaries have many times been greater than ours; we had the full support of the CRC behind us financially, administratively and in prayer.  They lived in Haiti many times in chaos before, during and after the earthquake.  Some were evacuated again like they were as children.  They are qualified by their experiences as MKs for service in the Kingdom of God.  It's great seeing them grown and with children of their own to disciple now.  Usually the best discipleship happens at home.  Hopefully we will continue to lead by example until the Lord calls us home too.  Thank you Dad and thank you Father!  Wayne

When my pastor friend retired last June, I asked him about his view of the church. He replied that he loved the body of Christ more dearly than ever, but hated the church more. I got it. I'm only a few years from retirement and have been reflecting on the church, its relevance and so forth. For the last three years I've been a hospital chaplain. So after  34 years in the pulpit, I now sit in the pew.

I've been reflecting on Paul Vanderklay's article and have this observation to share. I think the men and women who went into ministry to shepherd God's people, to be a pastor who cares for the flock and suffers with the people will probably leave ministry feeling quite sanguine about it.  Yes, they'll have their bruises and their brokeness, but as lovers of people, they will be loved in return and will reflect on years of caring with satisfaction.

In contrast, those who entered the ministry to lead the people of God in accomlishing the mission of God, who were vision and goal driven, who like myself wanted to see the world change through the local church will be much more disillusioned and broken. We entered ministry thinking that God's people wanted to see lives and communities transformed and were willing to do it. We beleived that the right combination of team work, expertese and accountability would mobilize the church into the community of God which impacts our societies. We loved and cared for our people, but our priorities lay elsewhere.

We missed a key point: Congregations have two overwhelming core values. They want comfort and control. Shepherds and chaplains of congregations do two things well: they comfort and gladly surrender control. In contrast, pastoral,transformational leaders thrive on planned change, which is uncomfortable. And transformational leaders develop and implement mission/goal activities, which usually means the control of the process is given to leaders and committees/task forces. With a lack of comfortableness and a lack of control, congregations will often punish those pastors who take that away.

Since the 70's we've come through a lot of changes. We've come through the personal renewal process, the churrch growth and church health movements, the worship wars,the  female ordination wars,the evolution vs creation disputes,and are currently in the spiritual formation trend. They've left a lot of people scarred  and injured. Many pastors are hurting and will retire bitter and cynical because they sought to lead into God's mission and were not able to do so. God have mercy on them as they heal and nurture their wounded spirits. And along with Paul Vanderkly I rejoice with those who had the capacity to shepherd their people, to be there with with the hurting having no agendas except to walk with anyone in any situation of life.

An excellent book along these lines is Andrew Purves' The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering our Ambitions To the Service of Christ. He makes the point that our ambitions, however noble, may be in the way of what Jesus the true pastor of our church may want us to do.

Thanks for this article, Paul.

Sounds to me like previous responders may be on the older side of life.  I'm on the younger or middle side at age 41, but resonate very much with the article and the responders' comments.  I wonder whether Evert is on to something - I'm less the visionary type and get plenty of bruises and, on the whole, feel optimistic about God's church and about being a pastor in it.  I'm about to start preaching on the Sermon on the Mount and the article and responses remind me of Jesus' opening blessings.

Peace,

Dave Vroege

Halifax, NS

Community Builder

Thanks for the comments. In pondering both the online and offline feedback I wrote this. Hope its helpful. pvk