The scenario has played itself out so many times I lost count long ago.
“Hi, so what do you do for work – what’s your job?” comes the innocent and overly common small-talk upon first meeting someone new.
“Oh, I’m actually a pastor,” (I started adding “actually” a few years ago to help bridge the conversation since so many people were often left speechless by my surprise career choice).
“Oh . . . that’s great . . . that’s great,” and then they continue on with a story about some distant cousin or great uncle who went to seminary one time for a year, and (if they don’t really go to church) they usually add, “yeah, I used to go to church – I need to get back in the habit.” The response is almost always respectful but equally clueless. Most people aren’t sure what to say after that admission – I can’t imagine how these conversations go for proctologists.
Once we get to know each other a little better, everyone eventually asks the question that’s been burning in their mind since we first met, “So . . . what do you do all week?”
Even after all these years of ministry, I’m still not sure I’ve gotten any better at answering it.
Ministry is just such an odd vocation. For regular church attenders, its an admirable job; for occasional attenders, its akin to sainthood; and for those who have never stepped foot inside a church – it’d downright baffling.
The variety of Christian denominations and the diversity in their approaches to pastoral ministry just makes it more complicated to grasp what pastoral ministry is.
Some days I work as a resident scholar. Other days I work as a spiritual companion and life coach. Sometimes I feel like an evangelist while other times I feel like I’m in charge of marketing. A lot of days are filled with building maintenance responsibilities, and other days I lean more into social work. Some days its sermon prep, other days it’s visitation. Sometimes I’m playing program director and event planner; other days I spend a good deal of time in prayer and asking for discernment. Some days allow for networking with fellow pastors, while other days I spend time with people who are a far cry from pastors.
I’ve come to see ministry like that category that seems to come up in Jeopardy! a couple of times a week: “Potpourri.” Questions in this category come from everywhere – and that, it seems to me, is what ministry is like. Ironically, it’s what makes it so incredibly challenging and immensely rewarding at the same time. Truly, everything I do is ministry.
I led a Bible study this morning and our text was Acts 17 where Paul gets up in the Areopagus in Athens to join in the philosophical bantering of the day. I think that’s what pastors are supposed to do – at least good ones. We have one foot in our theological moorings (through prayer, study, and communal reflection), while our other foot is baptized into our surrounding culture. Like Paul tried to help the Athenians see the deep-seeded desires they had for an “Unknown God” were actually longings for the God of the universe, pastors are really trying to do the same thing. Which brings about a potpourri of tasks.
As I have come to recognize my responsibilities as a kind of “potpourri,” I’ve recently felt a burning desire to reflect on the various vicissitudes of my experiences in ministry. In recent months I’ve been teaching about life in the kingdom through the Sermon the Mount, we’ve connected our entire year’s theme to a television show, I’ve thought a lot about youth sports and its relationship to the Christian faith (which will eventually be a published book – hopefully in only a couple of months), I’ve been reading Stephen King novels and watching how God is often just below the surface of his story lines, and have been reflecting on the way technology continues to effect us all.
As I spend time spread across the various potpourri of responsibilities, I hope to have some time in the coming weeks to reflect more on those responsibilities and how they relate to that old, old Story.