The Next Faithful Step

Earthen Vessels

A Pastor's Reflection

I’m not sure what I would have said if, before taking a position as solo pastor in a small congregation, someone asked me what I thought people might remember of me after my time in ministry there was over. But I do know some things that I would not have said. I would not have said that people would remember how I dealt with angry people and conducted meetings. I would not have said this because these are not areas of any sort of strength for me. To be honest, I am scared of angry people. And I don’t like meetings. I like my people happy and gracious and I enjoy myself most when I don’t have to worry about organizing things. If anyone was going to remember me for dealing with angry people and conducting meetings, it would certainly not be for any good reason.

I do, however, still get people remembering these things to me when I run into folks from that congregation. And, strangely, they remember these things as particular victories during my time with them. This, I believe, is an inexplicable thing that has a very simple explanation.

I remember clearly Linda attempting to stomp out of an evening meeting and Marilyn screaming at another member before herself stomping off to the parking lot after worship one Sunday morning. To me, these are nightmare situations. They are those sorts of situations where everyone looks around for someone else to do something. But when you are the pastor, they are all looking at you and there is no one for you to pass the glance along to.

In these and other similar situations I can clearly recall the simultaneous feelings of fear at being ill equipped and an unmistakable sense of being propelled into the middle of these situations to do something and do it fast. And so I rushed, headlong and ill equipped, into the nightmares.

Running meetings is also something I have never felt particularly gifted at. I much prefer to follow the more organized and administratively gifted. But, the title “solo pastor” means just that and when that is the job title there is no one else to step in. Another bad dream.

Yet I still have people from those days remember these aspects of my time with them as times of particularly effective ministry. Again, it is an inexplicable situation with a simple explanation.

Paul writes to the Corinthian church (2 Cor 4:7), “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” This is it. God does extraordinary things through extraordinarily unlikely agents. Treasure in a clay jar? And the text is clear that this is no accident or coincidence. Paul uses a purpose clause here: so that. We might also say “in order that.” What is clearly meant here is that God means to use unlikely agents for his purposes.

It almost sounds like a dirty trick. God uses unlikely agents in order that it may be emphasized that the agents are just that—unlikely. So I get to have my ill equipped-ness exploited or paraded about so that God will be recognized as the source of the treasure. I get to be pushed into what are for me almost nightmarish situations for which I am unprepared so that, when all turns out well, it is clear that God was doing the good work. Thanks.

Funny, though. I never felt more watched and practically cared for by an active and very present God in ministry than in these exact moments. I guess that is the point.

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