November 12, 2009

Is It True?

Several people have expressed concern for me after reading last week's post. (Wow, people really do read this blog!) Let me clarify. "The Pastor's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is a highly fictionalized account of what I was feeling on one particular day. As the story's conclusion points out: "some days are like that." It doesn't matter if you're a pastor or Alexander (the protagonist in Judith Viorst's story, upon which my story is based). It doesn't matter if you're the happiest, richest person in the world. Some days are like that.

How much of my story is actually true? Well, it depends on what one means by true. I'm told that someone once asked Fred Craddock (a prominent Disciples preacher) how many of his stories are true. Supposedly, he replied that all of them are true, because they happen to countless people every day.

In that sense, what I wrote is true. It's true enough that other pastors who read it immediately identified with it. One even told me to submit it for publication to various magazines. The details of the story may not be true for them (many of the details aren't even true for me), and yet the story as a whole is true.

What else is true? It is true that ministry can be, at times, frustrating and depressing. So much of a minister's focus is on the world as it can be: an idealized world, the world as God intends it to be; the "kingdom of God," the beloved community; a world in which there is no more crying, a world where lions and lambs live in peace, a world in which valleys are exalted and hills brought low.

But we still live and do ministry in "the real world," the world as it is. Last week, for example, the news here in Long Beach focused on a high-school honors student who was shot and killed following a homecoming football game. She was an innocent bystander, caught in the crossfire of a gang dispute. Surely the church of Christ is called to respond to such violence in our midst--but how? And why does it seem that it's so hard for us to "make a difference" in the world? After all, we've been trying for 2,000 years.

There are many other reminders of the fact that, even though the kingdom of God is "among us," it is also not yet fully realized. If it were, would we be facing budget crises that are making things so hard for so many, and especially hard for those who had it hard to begin with? Would our members be struggling to find employment? Would our volunteers need to be fingerprinted before working with youth? Would ministry everywhere continue to be weakened by personality conflicts and misplace priorities?

(I say this, fully aware that many of the misplaced priorities are my own.)

However, there are some other things I know to be true.

It is true that the ministry of the church really does make a big difference in the lives of its members, and in the world. It is also true that sometimes the pastor, sitting at his desk on a Monday morning, might--for a moment or two--lose sight of this, and fail to see the wider picture.

It is true, for me at least, that it is the greatest joy in the world to know that, despite my imperfections, I am called by God and by a congregation of God's people to preach the gospel and invite the gathered community to the Lord's Table.

It is true that everyone has a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" now and then. Even in Australia. It is also true that "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days" usually don't last, at least not for most of us. When people do experience seemingly endless days like that, to them God provides strength, and to the rest of us, God provides opportunities for ministry.

Finally, it is true that I am blessed to be where I am; blessed by my family and my church. There's no other place I'd rather be. Not even Australia.

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