A Noble Task

One of my very first seminary courses was an introduction to the ministry.  The very first lecture in that class was a pep talk of sorts.  The professor elaborated on 1 Timothy 3:1 – “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”  Particularly, his lecture focused on the end of that verse, elaborating and fleshing out what this noble task looks like.  Particularly, he stressed that pastors enjoy a privileged role in the lives of their congregants.  That they are privy to moments of joy and despair.  They function as a sort of extended family member, with many of the rights and privileges – and duties – thereof.  Very few people outside of a family are treated this way.  

I remember agreeing that this is the case, while simultaneously lamenting the fact that it is so.  I believed then – as I believe now – that although pastors naturally inherit this role, it is a role that should be open to other members of the body of Christ.  The pastoral office entitles pastors to being part of a family’s inner circle, but in principle and practice that role of inner-circle member could – and undoubtedly should – be opened to others in the the community of faith.  In other words, it isn’t necessarily something specific to the pastoral office that provides this sort of intimate relationship with others, but rather it’s a privilege that has come to be associated almost exclusively with the pastoral office.  Pastors are often the ones who foster that sort of association, for better or worse.
Yesterday I entered into the grief of a family mourning their mother, who had passed away just minutes before I stopped in.  Later in the day I conveyed this information to the deceased’s husband, who for a variety of complicated reasons was not privy to the information sooner.  In the past week or so I have also been privileged to meet with mothers with newborn babies, and to meet with family members in the midst of family crisis.  I’ve accompanied people to the ER for admitting.  I’ve listened and prayed for people dealing with severe depression and other emotional issues.  
It is a privileged task.  Not one that I have any exclusive right to undertake, but one that my vocation hands to me automatically.  I see part of my role in building up the body of Christ as encouraging others to hand this right to other members of the congregation that they know and love, and to receive this right from others.  It can be an intimidating thing.
Which is partly why I found this blog entry from a first year medical student interesting this morning.  I commend this student for her undertaking to meet with a patient outside of the normal parameters of a doctor-patient relationship.  It’s a positive step that I hope she’ll repeat, although she seems to give ample reason to believe she won’t.   But it also highlights a key difference between Christian community in a person’s life, and the role of other people privileged for various reasons to be privy to the intimate details of someone’s life.
I don’t enter into the specifics of a person’s life in order to fix them.  I enter into the specifics of people’s lives as a witness to a hope and a faith and a trust.  It may be one that they fully share, in which case I encourage, remind, support, and otherwise accompany that person in their issues as people of faith.  Other times they may not fully share the hope and faith and trust I bear witness to, in which case my role might be to explain, advocate, teach, model, and otherwise seek to convey the Good News in a way that facilitates the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart and mind.  
I don’t enter into lives to study.  To make reports on.  As this young student aptly notes, entering into people’s lives requires some level of experience, whether internally or externally, in addressing the issues at play.  I have to be comfortable in my own skin – and with the idea of one day no longer being in my own skin –  in order to give comfort to others.  I don’t have to have all the answers – and rarely do I have any answers of my own! – but I need to be able to face whatever they are struggling with without flinching, willing to stand with them, suffer and rejoice with them, not simply observe them for my own purposes.  
Pastors – and Christian community – don’t have a purpose in standing with one another in the midst of sorrow or grief, other than as a means of helping and encouraging and supporting.  There is no hidden agenda other than seeking to love that other person with the love of Christ as imperfectly dwelling within us and conveyed through us.  We seek through the ministry of presence, through a touch, through a prepared meal or simply sitting quietly with someone to point to the love of Christ that we ourselves have received and must rely completely on.  
I encourage this future doctor to continue meeting with patients as people, not just as problems to be solved.  Doing so will certainly stretch her, force her to come to grips with the realities of life and death as well as defining what it is she is offering to others through her skills, and why she is offering it.  It’s something I pray that more Christians will be encouraged to do with one another as well.  Not because it’s easy, but because it is a noble task and a sacred gift.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s