Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Pastors have been on my mind lately. Pastors and the enormous burden of their call, the weight they carry around with them. I've been privileged to walk alongside several good, humble pastors and know well this weight. Know how they carry it, how stretched they feel by what God has asked of them, by the privilege and responsibility. And the inexorable 'nothing less will do' that comes with a true call. A conversation a few weeks ago with one such pastor friend, made me think of this post I wrote a few years ago. So I hand it over to you again.
I've been reading the Books of Moses lately. Keep coming face to face with both God on the mountain but also with the gritty humans at the base as well. The base humans grumbling and complaining for forty straight years, it seems. Or maybe forty straight thousand years is more like it. Anyway...Numbers, chapter 16 and 17 holds a great story.
There were many among those Israelits who wanted to be like Aaron, who felt they were 'holy' enough to be priest, were certain they had the gifts necessary to serve in the tent that housed God's temple. The mantle of authority would fit their shoulders well, and that staff of power? Their hands were made to wield it. So they complained a little; more than a little. Some of them even went so far as to try to take that power that wasn't theirs to take, authority (to use the proper word) ordained by God. Called by God. And the earth swallowed some of them up alive. And scorched 250 more of them, leaving only the stolen censors of incense, which they'd taken from God's true priests.
So God finally settled it once and for all. He showed the whole nation which tribe was set apart for the priesthood, with all the responsibilities in the temple, and all the privileges as well (getting to eat the sacrificial lamb and go into the holy of holies, not having to fight or do manual labor, to name a few). A good thing God decided to make a public display to reveal this, if you ask me. I mean, up until then, God had told Moses how things would be done, but Moses apparently had some kind of speech impediment, so Aaron was his mouthpiece. Can you imagine the people if Aaron stood before an entire nation and said, "God says that I am to be the priest, and my line--the line of Levi--the priesthood." Sounds a little fishy, and even the most devout among them--namely Caleb and Joshua--might have been skeptical of a so-called God's pronouncement coming from Aaron's own mouth.
So this time, after the scorching of those who'd take it for themselves, God decided to show the truth. He told them to take twelve dry staffs from the tribal leaders from the twelves tribes of Israel. The one that sprouted in the morning will be the line of the priests. The next morning, eleven of those staffs were as dry as kindling but Aaron's not only sprouted, but blossomed, and bore almonds, no less! Case closed.
It occurred to me as I read this that we often have folks going into the priesthood or ministry with dry staffs. I don't necessary understand all the reasons one might hanker for such a job. I mean, it may be the hardest job I know and that's for people who are certain that their staff had sprouted. I mean, that they'd been called. But what if one is to attempt it with no sense of anything other than that this might be a good way to be close to the holy-of-holies, where one can eat the best lambs, live on the tithes and not have to fight. To attempt such a calling with only one's own desire for the mantle of authority and desire for power is a dangerous proposition. The earth probably won't swallow any of them whole nor burn them alive, but metaphorically I think it isn't far off what might happen to a person who tries to pastor a flock without being called to the task.
Maybe if we took this seriously, and really believed that the priesthood/the pastoral ministry was a blooming-staff calling, ala Numbers, we'd be less likely to make the decision ourselves. In fact, we'd do everything we could NOT to be in that position. And--and this is just as important--we'd take better care of those whose calling had come with flowering staffs and almonds. We'd stop running them so ragged that they got wrung out and needed out. Maybe, if we really understood what this blooming ministry call is all about, we'd actually trust in those who wear the mantle of God's authority, and wield the staff of His power. Just imagine the kind of Body life we'd have then. I think we'd all walk more humbly together if we really got this. Because it's really God's authority and God's power I'm talking about. Not a person's. And a pastor who gets this can only wield the tools given for the office by exercising spiritual deep knee-bends,if you know what I mean. That is, spending so much time in prayer he or she gets calloused knees. And the flock's 'job' is to be exercising the same way--praying for their pastor, praying for that holy staff to keep blooming.
Your spiritual health is your pastor's main business. It's what he/she's about. Thinking about it, caring about it, praying for you. So who takes care of him or her? Who prays for your pastor while he/she is praying for you? Do you?