Kutter Callaway, Director of Church Relations
A few years ago I was the lead pastor and director of an "emerging/twenty- and thirty-somethings" ministry at a large Evangelical church. On one particular evening, as our community gathered for worship, we corporately sang a popular song that referenced a passage from the book of Job: "Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go?" (cf. Job 36:32). Before we could voice these lyrics in their entirety, a member of our community bolted for the door, her shoulders heaving in sync with her muffled sobs. Because I had recently assumed this new pastoral role, I was completely unaware that, only days before, her sister had died after a two-year struggle with the debilitating effects of being struck by lightning. Unbeknownst to me, while everyone around her joyfully proclaimed a particular conception of the God we were worshipping, she was wrestling with a deep and abiding incongruity between her experience of God's presence and her experience of God's profound absence.
It was in that odd, disjointed space—a space that was spilling over with both despair and hope, both sadness and joy—that I first stumbled upon a realization that most pastors know deep within their very being: ministry is hard. Loving and leading a local faith community can be emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically taxing. It involves so much energy and so much commitment and so much dedication. But what makes ministry uniquely difficult is that it also requires a constant relinquishment of control, even in the midst of these efforts. As we take up the daily task of leading our congregations into the presence of God, we are confronted daily with the reality that our ministries are not our own. Indeed, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6, we are not our own. And so we endeavor to participate in the work of God's Kingdom while, at the very same time, we cede control. That is, in the end, our striving is actually a willful act of surrender.
As I reflect on the difficulty of this task, I am reminded of a particular image from the film Run Lola Run. The premise is simple: Lola, the film's protagonist, has a mere twenty minutes to obtain a large sum of money in order to save the life of her boyfriend Manni. At the point in the film where she finally recognizes the futility of her efforts, she closes her eyes and whispers a refrain: "I'm waiting … I'm waiting … I'm waiting." What is most striking about this scene is not just that she is offering up a kind of postmodern prayer, but that, while voicing this prayer, she never stops sprinting. As the title of the film suggests, Lola certainly runs. She must, for Manni's life is at stake. But she also waits.
Here then is a fitting image of the struggle that a pastor faces every day. I'm running and I'm waiting. I'm striving and I'm surrendering. I'm pressing on and I'm praying. Sometimes, this is a much more difficult task than we could have ever imagined. Yet, at the very same time, for those whom God has called to serve in this capacity, it is also far better than we could have ever imagined. I will never forget the many ways that our community walked alongside the young, grieving woman who had lost her dear friend and sister to a seemingly random event. To be sure, this group of believers took decisive action as they sought to embody the redemptive love of the One who is always already present in the midst of our pain. Yet, this woman's journey from grief to healing could not be reduced or simplified to the product of our own efforts. Rather, it was a long, difficult process in which our community of faith aligned itself with the activity and intentionality of God. In other words, as we waited, prayed, and hoped for God's presence to fill the void in her life, we ran headlong into the abyss created by her pain. And in doing so, we were all transformed.
As Fuller's Director of Church Relations, I want Fuller Seminary to be a resource for you as a pastor … as you run and as you wait. My sincere hope is that we might partner with you in ways that are supportive, refreshing, and encouraging, whether your life and ministry are at their unshakable pinnacle, foundering upon the rocks of exhaustion and never-ending demands, or somewhere in between. Your work is essential to the health and vitality of our world. It also happens to be essential to all those who, like my former congregant, are striving for meaning, purpose, and value in the midst of loss, heartache, and tragedy.
My prayer for you, then, is taken from Fuller's theme for the year: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 6:13-14). May you press on in your ministry journey and be encouraged. May you be blessed … even as you wait restlessly on the Lord.
Kutter Callaway is Fuller Seminary's Director of Church Relations. He has served as a pastor, is a graduate of Fuller's Colorado campus (MAT '06), and in 2010 he received a PhD from Fuller Pasadena with an emphasis in theology and culture. If you would like to contact Kutter he can be reached at 626-584-5683, or firstname.lastname@example.org.