Maybe it really is just about catching flies with chopsticks.
Often ministry is not what you think it will be.
That’s a fair and probably patently obvious statement. Isn’t it?
I mean, in preparation to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament, one concentrates on some kind of dare I say mastery (limited and obstructed as that may be) of Bible and theology to share and lead a congregation as it’s pastor and teacher. (And well she or he should!) Weekly, in leading the church, minding the wealth of wisdom gathered in liturgy, hymnody, and sacred music, the pastor—I want to say designs or creates but perhaps it is more accurate to say organizes—the worship service and employing the breadth of his or her learning constructs a sermon that truly proclaims the Word. The people of God obviously respond and are renewed or transformed in the experience, with the entirety of this process bathed in prayer and the Holy Spirit.
Then we all go downstairs for coffee and cake.
And it gets real. Or applicable. Church and ministry certainly happens in the sanctuary, but it is in all of life outside of it where it gets more real.
None of this is new. I’ve said so much in worship services many times. But it seems particularly palpably so on those big church moments—funerals, baptisms, weddings. Most especially wedding worship services where I’d remind the couple that the vows they say on this occasion need to be not only remembered but lived into in the days and years to follow, blah, blah, blah… I wonder if that’s how it’s heard.
But this past weekend I viewed it from the other side. Parishioners of mine celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary. A big party took place, a catered event with good food and drink, music and toasts. It was actually a lot of fun. I imagine much could be gleaned from sixty years of marriage, recognition of the vows that were kept, and the role of faith sustaining them. But none of that interest me at this time. What I found impressive, hopeful, and even surprising was the presence of the church—the presence of ministry.
After arriving at the restaurant catering hall I was greeted by the anniversary couple, Reinhard and Margot, and hugs were extended. Hugging the former bride was warm and effusive. Hugging the groom a little less graceful perhaps but meaningful nonetheless, going in for a firm handshake that become a half-sideways-pat-of-the-shoulder-hug that men sometimes do. It was at that moment of contact that I noticed he was wearing the same RCA crest lapel pin on his jacket as I was wearing on mine. He is an elder on the great consistory of our church having served here many years in leadership. It struck me, however, that on the day that friends and family gathered to celebrate the achievement and joy of 60 wedded years, he chose to also wear a symbol of his church and his faith on his person. What also was noticeable to me were the people gathered. Some had come from far away and many were family members and friends form throughout the couple’s life. But the vast majority of the people assembled were their church family.
As a minister I usually envision ministry as those areas that relate to the functioning of the church as institution and organization. I know this isn’t theologically accurate, but it is common parlance. It isn’t all worship and bible studies, outreach programs and mission opportunities. Practically speaking, ministry can deal a lot with building and property maintenance, budgets and business, group dynamics, counseling and psychology, and a goodly amount of community relations. Again, I know this isn’t all its about but it can easily involve much of this, and seem like it’s about this.
Yet there’s something true, that ministry is about all this stuff that we’d like to think it’s not about. But it is.
Margot and Reinhard’s marriage isn’t just about the joy of their wedding but the day in and day out living of their commitments. And too for the church. Those little things of ministry is ministry.
Which brings me back to the chopstick line I begin with. It’s from the first Karate Kid movie. Perhaps you remember the scene when Mr. Miyagi is teaching Daniel karate by using rather menial tasks, “wax on, wax off.” With Hollywood magic, Daniel learns basic steps that leads him to become not only good at karate, but grow more mature in the process. One of the steps of his learning involves being able to catch houseflies with chopsticks. Ministry is kind of like that.
It isn’t about the flies, but learning the ability. And yet it is about the flies. Like Daniel learning karate, ministry isn’t what you think it’s going to be.