Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Unseen Ministries

"You have such a lovely church building, how could you possibly not feel God's presence here?"

Well, thank you, but the heating system that should have been replaced decades ago finally bit the dust for good, and it's going to cost us several thousand dollars that we can't afford to replace it. Those several thousand dollars could have gone towards ministry--personnel, mission, programs, you name it--but are being plowed right back into overhead instead.

"Your worship band sounds so amazing, God has really blessed you with them!"

They really are a remarkable group of musicians, especially since they are a 100% all-volunteer group. But do you know just how many hours a week they spend rehearsing and perfecting their repertoire, picking new songs to expand that repertoire, and creating the PowerPoint for each Sunday's worship? And did I mention that they're all volunteers?

"That sermon was just exactly what I needed to hear today, Pastor!"

I'm so very glad that it was. What you don't know is that, while it may be what you needed to hear today, it also didn't get finished today, in my head during my morning commute, because I had one too many fires to put out last week and my regular writing day turned out to be a creative bust because of it. I had just enough time to put a thin coat of polish on it between worship and Sunday School before saying a quick prayer and just getting up there because it was 11:00 and worship had to start.

"That eulogy was just perfect, it sounded like you really knew Mr./Mrs. X, Pastor."

Actually, I barely knew him/her at all. I sat with a grieving, crying family and had to very gently pry out those stories with the spiritual equivalent of a crowbar. It is one of the both best and hardest parts of my job.

"Where were you? Your sign says that your office hours started an hour ago!"

I know, but I just came from the long-term rehab facility to visit someone, or from the local Alzheimer's care center, or from the hospital, and this was when I got here. Or, I have an evening appointment/Bible study class/whatever and I know I'm not going to be home until 8 or 9 at night, and I simply have to pace myself. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

"It must be so exciting to be leading the church into a new time!"

Sometimes it definitely is, when there is that feeling of synergy and koinonia, that all of us are on the same page with the mission and vision of our beloved congregation. Other times, it's like trying to steer an aging Boeing 747 on an agility course every day for years on end.

"What a gift to be given such a rich tradition of Christianity for your generation!"

Sure, if you mean a veritable mountain of deferred maintenance, outdated teaching materials, and paradigms that became obsolete decades ago, then yes, what a gift to be given indeed. But much like the one fruitcake that my grampy says gets passed around every single Christmas without fail, it is a gift that need not be given so, erm, joyfully.

The facade of our genuinely lovely Gothic revival church building, the freshly-pressed sheen of my robes and stoles, the truly joyful music of our worship band...all of these outward appearances are both created by and help mask the unseen ministries that take place within and outside our doors.

Jesus exhorts us in the Sermon on the Mount to give of ourselves in secret, and then God who sees in secret will reward us. Without trying to sound too selfish (though I fear I am and will anyways), it sometimes is that need to know that God does indeed see the unseen ministries that keeps me--and a great many other pastors--going as we run our little hamster wheels of ministry.

It is hard sometimes, the temptation to be the Pharisee in Jesus's parable in Luke who stands at the very center of the synagogue and loudly thanks God for making him (the Pharisee) just so gosh-darn awesome. I know it is hard because I see it in all sorts of pastors who do this not just in the middle of their churches, but in their books they write, cloaked with trite moralisms and false humility. You can go to pretty much any large gathering of pastors anywhere, and you'll see more than a handful of walking egos among the bunch.

Yet it is the unseen ministries that often both weigh us down and propel us forward, that build the church up as well as keep it standing. They are often the hardest, in part precisely because they are unseen.

As easy as it is to forget about such ministry (out of sight, out of mind and all that), let us resist that temptation.

Let us honor the unseen in our midst.

After all, we follow a God who is, oftentimes, unseen as well. But that does not mean that God is not there.

Quite the contrary.

Longview, Washington
June 9, 2016

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