Marriage, Death, and Ministers

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A month ago I had a completely new experience as a minister.  I performed a wedding and a funeral on the same weekend.  For the same family.  The mix of emotions, the joy and grief, was overwhelming for the family, and exhausting for me.  But, that is my job, my role, my gift in this community.

Over the years I have had the privilege of performing lots of weddings.  That’s what happens when you live in a town with three universities.  Young people come to school, find their partner, and I get to be a small part of that journey.  It is one of my truly favorite things to do.

I have also done my fair share of funerals.  Most of these have been older people.  Grandmothers and grandfathers.  But far too many have been young.  Babies or young adults cut down well before their time.  While it is always difficult, every funeral I am asked to perform is a great honor.

When I was seventeen and made the decision to become a minister, these moments were not what I imagined I would be doing.  I would preach and teach.  I would study.  I would guide people and give wise counsel.  I would lead a congregation in doing great works for the kingdom.

But, a lot of my time is spent on other things.  Hospital visits.  Planning weddings.  Driving people to the doctor.  Visiting with those who have lost a loved one.  Taking people to job interviews.  Listening to people about their health issues.  Giving rides to and from church events.  Working through people’s financial struggles.

I am a talker, but I spend much more time listening than I thought I would.  I am a doer.  But I spend much more time just sitting with people than I thought I would.  I am a dreamer.  But most of my days are spent dealing with the harsh realities of life, rather than dreaming grand visions for the church.

In our age of professionalism, I know many ministers who spend their days studying and preparing.  That is what their church has asked them to do.  To spend their time almost completely on lesson preparation and congregational direction.  If I am honest, there are moments when I am jealous.

But, I can’t imagine spending my time working for the church, and yet most of that time not spent with the church.  And not simply because part of being a minister is sharing life with people.  I think lessons and sermons and counsel suffer when these activities are not consistently a part of what I do.

Sermons are born out of hospital rooms as much as they are out of study.  Wisdom comes from walking with people through financial difficulties as much as it comes from a book.  Leading a church is as much about how we serve and love as it is what we say and the programs we start.

Too often I can forget what an honor it is for people to share the most intimate and difficult parts of their lives with me.  I am often invited in as the only non-family member.  I see the tears, hear the cries of anguish, witness the leaps of faith.  I am there as a symbol of God’s presence, but it is usually my heart and faith that are uplifted.

Whenever I have the opportunity to speak to a young man or woman who is studying to be a minister, I make sure and describe the job completely.  They need to know that along with the preaching and teaching there are late nights in hospital rooms and phone calls where you have truly have no good advice to share.  I do this not to discourage them. Nor do I tell them because it is the truth.  I do it so they can know the full beauty and amazing grace of the life they are choosing.

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