Christian ministry is an interesting thing. There is the idealized vision of what ministry might be and then there is the hard cold reality of what ministry is. As a seminary student I remember dreaming about debating the important theological issues with church elders and deacons. This dream always included a coffee shop with great ambiance. It was during one of my first leadership meetings when we spent hours talking about the church budget that I began to wonder if coffee and theology would ever be a reality.
Then there were the pastoral tasks. When officiating weddings, funerals and baptisms in my dream world I was wise, smart, pastoral and always treated with just the right amount of awe. I forgot to ask the bride and groom to kiss at the first wedding I officiated. A little over a decade ago I officiated at a friend’s funeral; he died at age 29 of leukemia. I did not feel pastoral; as a matter of fact I hardly knew what to say, mostly I was mad at God – not very pastoral. I come from a tradition where we baptize by immersion. A few years ago I was conducting a baptismal service, everything was going smoothly. The last person was on the taller side, as I lowered him into the water I did not account for his height and the shortness of the baptismal tank. At this point it is important to note that that the tank was made of steel. His head bounced loudly off the edge of the tank. It is hard to look dignified and pastoral when you are up to your waist in water knocking someone into unconsciousness. He survived, but the whole death and resurrection symbolism was a lot more real that day.
Added to all of this are life’s temptations. Somehow I thought I would be above the desire to have a nice house, drive a sports car, wear the latest fashions and own the newest gadgets. The truth is I want a nice house, I really like the 2012 Mustang, I find myself spending more time in the expensive department stores and I am hoping God leads me to buy an iPhone. This is nothing compared to the private struggles. I never thought that greed, lust and envy would be regular battles. Aren’t ministers above this? We are supposed to have an extra portion of Godliness. Why would we want what others have? Isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to keep those lustful and impure thoughts in check? How can it be that someone called by God can be envious? After all, I was told we have a higher calling; doesn’t this calling and the work of the Holy Spirit render envy powerless?
This week I finished reading Ellie Roscher’s book, “How Coffee Saved my Life.” Near the end she suggests that ministry begins when we let go of our expectations and embrace reality. I agree. Ministry is not about being super-human; it is about being human, fully human. It is about letting the world know that God loves us when we make mistakes, struggle with budgets, wonder if God knows what God is doing and even when we lust. This my friends is ministry!