To be sure, pastoral ministry has some wonderful perks. After all, a pastor makes their living (or should) in much prayer; laboring over the word and its correct exposition; administering soul care to the flock; and doing their best to do the work of an evangelist in the culture they find themselves in. In addition, if that high calling is done well, the now occasional “Atta boys” can add to the benefit package while also being given the gracious privilege of earning a living from that calling. And to be sure, these are gracious gifts that no pastor can either deny or be truly worthy of. But perhaps what goes unnoticed by most is the reoccurring fact that the myriad of sheep one is called to care for and feed; after being done licking their chops, can also come back to bite the hand that fed them–and often with a “sheep-eating” grin to boot! This is a memory that I recall quite well, and one of whose scars for a long, long time were lined up and down my back and where the sun does not typically shine. The scars are now fully healed, but their lessons have come full circle with nightmarish flashbacks, yet now also with a newfound discernment as to how to both navigate through it while also coming out on the other side equally instructive to the flock in its aftermath.
At the time of this writing, it has been 20 plus years since I too had the “perks”. I never made the living some do in mega-church land, though the educational expectation was the same for the hire. But to be sure the daily sense of calling in the administration of the actual biblical tasks still have not lost both their nostalgia and equal longing in my heart. Yes, even through the multiple back and “back-side” surgeries, I have learned so very much. And yet even through the reeducation of Mark Prince, like a moth forever drawn to the flame, it still beckons me to its promises of fulfillment, holy service and a privilege that comes with gracious honor. And so once again, now having forgiven both myself and the sheep administering the fileting of my back side, that longing has again taken center stage as I contemplate the now informed prospect of again taking up this sacred mantle. As to how in these uncertain times I can even remotely hope to mix both the call and the ability to feed my family still remains a mystery. Even so, the prospect of what God has before me occasionally brightens my dreams often in the prayerful night watches.
Precious Haunting Memories, How They Linger
But perhaps I got a little ahead of myself. You see the fact is, that even after two decades have past, I once again find myself at least as someone who preaches and teaches on a semi-regular occasion, and even serves as an imperfect elder among a local congregation. Yet as you can imagine, and just like most families (which the church is supposed to also be), after the honeymoon is over and the lights are now on, we begin to truly see our beloved–warts and all. And this is of course the gift that keeps on giving the longer we continue to stay as the willing sucker for the inevitable punishment. And the truth is that part of the problem is “you and I”. That’s a given. The box is checked. Sin is not prejudice, and there’s plenty to go around; including that which resides in “yours truly”. Nonetheless, through lots of time and spiritual maturing in the ways of the Lord (much like families and long-term marriages), we learn to stay; admonish; encourage; love, and a lot of times by being willing to disagree agreeably. One can hope at least.
The majority of the problem in American churches is simply the fact that most who attend as they see fit are not on a narrow path to speak of at all. In addition, most are never tired of attending the church buffet line to find out who has the best show in town, enough benefits for the kiddos, and the necessary extra contacts to grow their business, while adding to their resume a little “do-goodism” as some icing on the cake. For this demographic, the teeth that come out and latch hold of us, and then the reason they exit boldly out the front door are due to the fact (and thus proven to be so), that they never were of us to begin with. We get it. The casualties of this war never fail to deliver on that spiritual front.
Others however are not quite as overt. They are those who love the grace of God and have come to rely on it, and yet due to equally taking part of the buffet line that is American Christianity they come as well with their baggage. For after having survived a few “bad-church” experiences themselves, the lack of a daily diet of the good book in their own lives, as well as their fill of teachers having tickled their itching ears for as long as they can remember, they just aren’t so sure who’s actually “on first”. As a result, they too shuffle in and out the multitude of feeding troughs, eternally never finding what they’re actually looking for.
And of course, we mustn’t forget those of us who should and actually do know better, but still refuse to teach the class. Those who are somewhat spiritually mature and who have also been sheep-bitten; yet as a result, they have become “sick and tired” of the feeding frenzy and thus begin to show their teeth as well. And who can blame them. For just like families, the novelty of the familial institution is still there, yet they resign to the fact that no one really enjoys living in an institution anyway, and so the local bar again has an equally attractive and often magnetic pull that often wins the day.
A Sheep With No Name or Teeth
And well, then hopefully there are a few of us left who have been through the stages, now teach the class, keep the bar in close sight just in case; and who finally figure out what we should have always known. We find out that just like real families again (especially our own toxic ones), so is the church. Families full of toxic people being weaned and patiently prodded slowly but surely out of their toxicity with the hope of eventually morphing into the promise of wholeness and healing–though always with a distinctive limp. Families who desire accountability to others and being told what they should probably do about as much as they like root canals! Those prone to wander and always feeling it. And yet also those who finally pull their old teeth, set them on the nightstand for safekeeping, but who finally refuse to graze with the rest of the sheep for too long. Finally deciding to let the grass grow healthy in its proper time, with the weeds inevitably growing right along with it. Once and for all resting in the fact that even when the sheep come back to bite the shepherd that feeds them (as they will inevitably do), he finally remembers he purposefully left his teeth on the nightstand.