I wrote this column for a minister’s magazine, but it aptly applies to any follower of Christ. (And, yes, that’s me on the bottle!)
Great pastors age like fine wine (except for my denomination where pastors age like fine unfermented grape juice.) These are the men and women who, as St. Paul writes, “comfort those with the comfort they themselves have received from the God of all comfort.”
Sure, there are young men and women, still wet behind the clerical collar, who make good pastors, but it’s like comparing grape Kool-Aid with a fine Cabernet Franc Bordeaux (my Presbyterian pastor friend’s favorite). But to be a sparkling, well-balanced pastor with earthy character and a long, pleasing finish, you’ve gotta get squeezed in the wine press of life.
I have to admit, fresh out of school with ordination certificate in hand, I was not the best at pastoral care: a heady minister with a strong, bitter after-taste.
If someone came into the office complaining of depression, I simply told them they weren’t praying and reading their Bible enough. “Paul warns us to think on those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, so just think on those things and you’ll be fine.” Until, I was diagnosed with clinical depression!
And I had little patience with those “senior saints” who seemed to constantly obsess about their arthritis, cholesterol and colon. Until, I had four surgeries in three hospitals in less than two months!
Plus, every Mothers and Father’s Day, I stressed “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Until my wife and I were cast into parental purgatory with one of our children! (Incidentally, that verse ends with “and when he is OLD, he will not depart from it.” And often, not until!)
Pastors are tread upon by disgruntled members,power-hungry board members and the Enemy himself. Add to that the natural frailties of the flesh, the pressure of raising a family in the public “fishbowl” and the unique temptations of ministry, and pastors get squeezed more than almost any other professional.
And yet, if we allow the God of all comfort to minister to us, we can comfort those in the same discomforts.
So, I made myself a list of things I can now comfort others with, that I had absolutely no experience with fresh out of the classroom. In alphabetical order they are:
• Audit by the IRS
• Building programs
• Eye disease (central sirius retinopathy)
• Financial pressures
• Gas prices
• Harassing phone calls
• India teaching assignment (“The Land Without Toilet Paper”)
• Jury duty
• Kidney stone
• Living in a girls dorm for six years (my wife was R.D.)
• Marital strife
• Nose hair
• Parsonage fire caused by my cooking
• Quotes taken out of context
• Robbery of the parsonage (The burglars must have thought, There’s nothing in here worth fifteen years! and left without taking a thing!)
• Slander by an insubordinate subordinate
• Traveling twelve hours in a van full of junior-high boys—who had just eaten at Taco Bell!
• Unanswered prayer
• Visiting a parishioner in the closed section of a mental hospital and then, before leaving, having to prove I wasn’t a patient
• Worship wars: Hymns v. Choruses, Hymnals v. Video, etc.)
• X-rated temptations
• Youth over-nighters, and
Whew! Hopefully, I’ve aged into a mellow—yet substantial—well-balanced pastor with a full-bodied, comforting style.
Copyright © 2008 James N. Watkins (Originally appeared in my “Irreverent” column in Rev. magazine, January/February 2009)
• From bad to worse . . . to astonishing
• Hope in a hand basket
• “In this world you will have trouble”
• Squeezing good out of bad
• Turn your “shaft” into a mine
• Why? Some thoughts on life’s tough questions
• Why? Why questions, wise quotations
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