For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. ~Psalm 107:9
As I prepared to apply for seminary, my mentor took me aside and gave me the greatest advice I never followed. He said, “When you get there, go find a job bartending.” Unfortunately, I quickly got inundated with classes, flag football, Lost and over intellectualized conversations that I never got around to bartending. His point, though, was that is where my education would really get tested. Where the theory of the Gospel actually needs to meet the darkness of life…out with the people.
The needs, hurts and questions from real people come quick, out of no where, and in ministry you do not have the opportunity to wikipedia, crossreference, nor often contemplate them fully.
These are real questions I have been asked out of the blue (any other minister has a similar list) and these people needed an immediate promise of the Gospel, the mercies of God, and the grace of forgiveness–not an essay.
- What scriptures can I draw on while I am going through chemotherapy?
- My friend has an eating disorder, what can you do?
- We ended up having sex, will God forgive me? What about my future wife?
- I have struggled with a porn addiction since I was 15 years, why cannot I get free from it?
- I am on the way for an abortion, will God forgive me?
- My brother committed suicide yesterday, will he get into heaven?
- What parts of the Bible do I need to take seriously?
- Well if you are a pastor, why won’t you give me money? Aren’t Christians supposed to help people?
- He left. He walked out. Can you get him back?
In ministry, there is no time to run up into the pastor’s study to search for the right answer, to worry about whether it’s Jesus’ or Jesus’s (yep, that really was a critique on my exam), or to use big words without really saying anything practical.
Ministry is lived; it is breathed. It happens as life bumps into life. As pastors, our responsibility is to bear witness to Jesus Christ in those moments. It is to spend each day in the Bible and in people’s lives.
The role of the pastor is to Love God and Love People. Usually, each of us tilt towards one side of that equation. In preaching, we either love God with theologically accurate sermons, Christ-centered worship, avoiding the trappings of emotional gnosticism or we love people through sermons that are winsome, self-help anecdotes. In pastoral care, we either love God with a treatise on theodicy, or we sit vigil by people’s besides. In youth ministry, we catechize them or hang out with them.
That’s why I should have heeded my mentor’s advice. I could have honed my skills in another service industry in order to sharpen both my love of God and people. As a bartender, though, unlike Brian Flanagan I would not have kept business books behind the bar, but Scripture.*
I love Eugene Peterson’s title in reference to Scripture that we are to Eat this Book. We should be nourishing our souls, devouring our devotions, giving out samples to our neighbors, and gorging on the goodness of God. Like a waiter delivering a culinary masterpiece, we must know in a moment the hunger of the person in front of us, and respond with the Bread of Life who promises that “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
As a church planter, do you tend towards the loving God aspect where you survey the churches in your area and recognize that your brand of theology is better packaged, more accurate, and the truth? Or do you love people so much you want to just gather the people around a potluck dinner table and call it church?