Homework For Pastors
“Hey Dad, can you help me with my homework?”
Let me give you some context for that question. My 14 years old son doesn’t find school easy. So to have him initiate help with homework is a big deal.
“Sure, champ. What is it?”
“I have to write a story.”
My heart rate picks up—stories are my thing. I try and keep my voice steady and not sound too excited.
“Sounds good, what’s the theme?”
Now I’m sure my voice has an audible tremor in it. My mind is racing with a world of possibilities, plots, sub-themes, and character development.
“Ok, mate—let’s have a look. What’s the word count?”
“600—800, with 1000 word max.”
“Great. That’s easy!”
The words had barely left my lips when I realised I’d made a fatal error. I watched his whole frame shrink down, his eyes lower, his shoulders slightly shrugged. Idiot. What was I thinking? Words came easy to me, but not to him. I watched his enthusiasm slowly drain away as I desperately tried to figure a way out of this hole. Strike one.
“Ok, let's just figure out some ideas and go from there. Sound like a plan?”
Over the following two hours we sketched out some ideas. He had some brilliantly creative concepts, but so did I. I found myself saying things like, “but don’t you think it would be better if…” or, “I like that, but…”. The evening ended up with him in silence and me frustrated. Strike two.
The following day I made some time to strike up a conversation about one of his character concepts, mostly as an attempt to redeem the mess of the evening before. Soon enough, my long-suffering son grew excited again at the prospect of fleshing out our story plan.
Sentence by sentence, paragraph after paragraph slowly appeared on the page. A few ideas got cut, mostly his, a few enhancements were added, mostly mine, until we were almost complete my—I mean, his—assignment. And that’s when it hit me, I’m on strike three! I’d missed the point of this, I forgot who’s story it was, actually, I’d missed the point that it wasn’t really about the story at all. It was about something much bigger.
I’d missed that this was a task to assess my son’s learning processes, a set of outcomes that would be assessed against his work. But more than that, bigger than that, my son’s homework had taught me a lesson that went beyond the classroom and had reached into the pastorate. Here are three lessons I learnt about pastoring from my son’s homework.
It’s not easy
No, I don’t mean that pastoring isn’t easy, though I guess that’s true enough. No, I mean exactly what I said, it’s not easy. Countless people pass through our conversations and offices with challenges and obstacles, hurts and hopes, questions and confusion, and how do I often respond? Even if I don’t say the words, I often convey, “This is easy. All you need to do is...” I can leave frustrated after an afternoon of counselling the same person for the same sin, or the same questions, or the same plans, and I often get home and think, Why is this so hard for them to grasp? Why can’t they see what is so obvious?
But it’s not easy. If it was, they probably wouldn’t be asking to come and see me. It’s not easy, and every time I say it is, even if I only imply it, I add weight to their already sagging shoulders. I add shame instead of hope, anguish instead of joy. I know that being a pastor means that I must be willing at times to say hard things to people, but I am convinced that the primary tone of every conversation should be flavoured by gospel infused hope in the grace of God. People’s lives are complex, sin is deceptive, sanctification is often slow—it’s not easy.
Discovering your story is better than being told your story
I know, some people walk through your doors and they just want you to tell them the answers, but if you’ve been around the block a few times, you will have already discovered how short-term those conversations actually are. I must resist the urge to fill in the blanks of each life God entrusts to me. There is a time for point-blank direction, but the longer I’m in ministry the more I realise that those times are few and far between. A wise pastor points and guides, but rarely writes out a turn-by-turn manual for life. I’m discovering how easy it is to be the Messiah for people, ensuring that my congregation runs to my door for direction rather than knocking on the door of heaven and calling to their Father. When people don’t know where to turn when the pastor isn’t there for them, you have a serious problem on your hands. Asking good questions can help people assess their decisions and goal, helping them to discover the wisdom of Christ that has been there all along. Be the pastor who points to Jesus, then walks beside your people as you both journey home.
My identity is not in ministry
It’s far too easy to judge who I am as a follower of Christ by metrics apart from gospel-defined realities. If my identity and worth is tied to the rise and fall of ministry moods, I am to be pitied above all others. The seasons of fruitfulness will ebb and flow over the years, but my identity is as sure as one who redeemed me from my worthless life and transferred me from darkness to light. I am not my ministry. I am a child of God. Before I am a shepherd, I am a sheep. My worth has already been declared and I am eternally displayed as an example of God’s grace; that God alone could redeem my worthless estate and give me an inheritance beyond all imagination, has nothing to do with ‘what numbers I’m running’ or where I’m published. I am in Christ, and that is more than enough.