charge to a pastor: thoughts for a new year.

from may 7, 2015…

Denise has asked me to deliver the charge to the pastor today, so I’m happy to share with you these thoughts rolling around in my head:

Work hard; in fact, work all the time. Don’t go bowling or see a movie if there is something else more ministry-like that you should be doing. Set goals and don’t stop until they are met. Take failure personally. Let the anger of one person outweigh the joy of 99 (because isn’t there a parable about that?). Set high standards and never let yourself off the hook. Be innovative. Start new traditions. Buck the system. Maintain a high level of righteous indignation. Stay up on the news. Be creative, spiritual, humble, well-loved. Be an excellent preacher. All the time. Seriously, 52 weeks a year, plus festivals. One single mediocre sermon is beneath you and will undo all the good you are trying to accomplish here. Be relevant, empathetic, deep, engaging, confident. And hip with young people.

And for god’s sake, don’t ever have spinach in your teeth.

This is why, when it is time to hear the charge to the pastor, we ask someone else to do it. Because the voices in our own heads can be unreasonable. Insecure. Overwhelming. judgmental.

So, this is what I offer to you, and what I will do my best to hear today as well:

You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. You join a ministry as old as the ages and new everyday. There is some freedom in that.

Believe that God operates through imagination more than intimidation or exhortation. Draw attention to the brokenness of our world and invite folks to see their creative part in mending it. Not just in the congregation, but in the community. We are church for community. It’s the only reason.

Take preaching seriously. An old professor told me once to “Love the people like you’ll be there forever, but preach like you’re leaving tomorrow.” Tell the truth.

“Having a prior commitment” is a good enough reason to say no, sometimes even if it is a commitment to drink wine on your back porch alone or with your partner. And a day off is a day off. My internship supervisor nearly 30 years ago said once “it’s not a day off if I have to shower.” Set your own standard for what that means and honor it.

A multi-dimensional life does more to nourish faithful ministry than a continuing ed course on, well, almost anything. Cross-train. Know how to do stuff. Ministry stuff, maybe, like worship writing or teaching middle schoolers or strategic planning. But other stuff, too, like how to interact with your favorite art or sport or historical period or power tool. Get your hands dirty. Garden. Throw pots, dig through architectural salvage. Keep wet wipes in your car in case you stumble upon something irresistable in a random trash pile.

Honor “process,” but don’t drown in it.

Read. Read the bible, read the news, but more than that. Read beautiful prose and poetry, things that make you laugh and wonder. Things that challenge your assumptions or ignite your passions. Things that take you someplace new.

Pray. Pray for insight, wisdom, grace, energy, patience. Especially patience. Even if you never get any, at least you can say you tried.

Recognize your spiritual gifts. And let others have theirs. Remind others, and yourself, as needed, what I’ve heard before: that martyrdom is a gift you can only use once.
Be kind to yourself. A healthy you is going to be more effective than any other kind. Tend to your body, your spirit, your mind, your emotions. I recommend a counselor, a screened porch, a firepit, a journal. But if you choose a pottery wheel, knitting needles or an animal shelter, I totally get it.

There are a lot of hurting people in the world, people who need more than anything for the church to be the body of Christ, the body of Christ without its collective heel on their throats. Some of them are members of your church. Keep them in mind.

But keep Jesus in your heart. We’re more like him than we know. Practice resurrection, as Wendell Berry has advised. In fact, let Wendell and other modern prophets and poets guide your heart as well. Even if they aren’t religious.
And since we suck at saying all this to ourselves, surround yourself with colleagues and non-church friends who will say it to you.

Serve as long as you are called; then go without apology or regret to the next thing to which God is beckoning. God is still speaking, you know. Even to us.

It is sacred work that can be profane. We are a holy people who can be all too unholy.

Of course the short form of all of this is from a sermon I heard recently: “So be as badass, compassionate and wise as you can. Be empty. Be full. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of being afraid.” You, my dear sister, preached that. To me and scads of other hearers. So I give it back to you.

Do your best. It is enough.