This post is inspired by a column I read today at,
The chap there (Rev. Storms) has been in the Ministry for nearly 40 years. I’ve only been in this calling for 25. So, with 15 fewer years, take this for what it is worth.
1.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary how to help someone die. There has been nothing more difficult in the 25 years I’ve been in the ministry then to minister to the dying. No matter how often I step into this role as a midwife of the soul’s entry into the presence of God I always walk away from the committal service wondering if I had read enough scripture with the now deceased. Had I given enough comfort to them? Had I prayed long enough with them? Had I laughed enough with them or played enough of their favorite games with them on their good days? Had I pointed them towards Christ enough?
There is nothing more humbling about the ministry then the sense of inadequacy that washes over a minister after the time worn gruel of seeing death have its short term victory. Seldom has faith had to so tenaciously engage then upon the long jagged death of a well loved parishioner. I can only hope to die as well as those I’ve been honored to shepherd.
2.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary how much fighting would have to be done for orthodoxy. Maybe they didn’t know. Maybe it is not seemly for a Seminary Professor to talk about how the life of a minister who cares would be characterized by one conflict after another in the setting of local Church, the denomination, the refereeing of congregational family dust ups, or local meetings among the clergy in the community where one is ministering. Maybe Seminary Professors had themselves learned that it is better to go along to get along and so figured that they would, by their silence, teach us to go along to get along as well. They didn’t tell me in Seminary how the Church is the problem as much as it is the solution.
3.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary how to deal with the sense of betrayal that arises when people, who you’ve long been close to, leave the Church. They didn’t teach me how to put off the bitterness and hurt. They didn’t teach how to fake before everyone else in the Church and act like the departure of loved people doesn’t hurt. All this said, quite admitting that when people leave they leave for reasons they believe to be absolutely legitimate.
4.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary how ill equipped any man is to be a minister of the Gospel. It would have been good for us to have drilled in our heads how the position of Minister is way beyond the capacity of any one man. They should have told us that a sense of inadequacy is a something that a minister daily lives with and they should have told us that the constant sense of inadequacy would be better for us to live with then the sense of thinking ourselves perfectly adequate unto the position.
5.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary how strange I am and neither did they tell me in Seminary how strange other people were becoming. My Father-in-law entered the ministry in 1956. He used to tell me, when he was winding down from the ministry in the late 90’s, how odd people had become compared to when he first started. Twenty-five years later for me now, I can say that people are odder now then they were when I started. Worldviews have consequences and the stranger a culture becomes in its worldview, the odder the individuals in that culture become. In Seminary I graduated with an emphasis on Culture. We examined cultures and probed as to how they worked. Nothing though could have prepared me for how strange our own culture has become.
6.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary that Ministers should not take themselves too seriously. Ministers, like myself, have a terrible habit of self-importance. We would have been well served to have been told early on to get over ourselves.
7.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary that it was acceptable as a minister to just blow people off when they need to be blown off. If we are not supposed to take ourselves too seriously then it is perfectly acceptable not to take non serious people seriously. Ministers have a tendency to want to please and satisfy people, (it’s part of the reason why they went into ministry) and as such Ministers tend to compromise themselves by trying to satisfy people who should not be satisfied.
8.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary that it was alright to be a failure, or at least they didn’t tell me how to properly measure failure and success.
9.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary how it is normal for most church people, in our accelerated culture, to not have time to meditate, to read, and to think. Of course as people don’t have time for this it makes it next to impossible for a Minister to really help people on a deep permanent level. As such, much of the ministry is, at best, a triage and band-aid routine.
10.) They didn’t tell me in Seminary how generous and kind many people could be. Of course that is something that is easy to learn and appreciate after the fact. It is amazing how the Lord Christ, after some “people encounter gone sour,” will bring into the Minister’s life people who are kind beyond measure.
It is amazing how many of the people I have served over the years have had the virtue of kindness and generosity.