A few months ago I was given an interesting and intimidating opportunity. My son is in tenth grade at a nearby public school and one of his classes last semester was Civics and Careers. For the second half of the semester the focus was on careers and his teacher put out the call to parents to ask if they would come in and talk about what they do. I was apparently the only parent who replied to the email. And so it was that I found myself standing in front of thirty fifteen-year-olds to tell them about pastoring. (At this point I was just transitioning out of full-time pastoral ministry, but the teacher suggested I still focus on it.)
The vast majority of the students in this neighborhood and school are unchurched—we realized the other day that we have never once seen a neighbor heading to church on a Sunday morning. The Bible Belt this is not! As far as my son knows, there are no other students in his class who profess faith or even attend church. Most have been raised entirely without religion. This, then, was the question that faced me: How could I explain pastoring to people who have never been inside a church, who have never read a word of the Bible, and who know Jesus as only a swear word?
I did not create a full manuscript so don’t have an exact record of what I said. But it went something like this:
We all want to be happy. We all want to experience joy. So as we think about careers we are actually thinking about what will give us a lifetime of satisfaction. That makes a course like this one very worthwhile.
The problem is that we are bad at finding the things that make us truly happy. Just think back to Christmases or birthdays that have gone by. Remember when you were young and you were absolutely sure there was one toy or one game that would make you happy? You opened it on Christmas day and it was a great moment. You were overwhelmed with the joy of having it—for two days. Then you threw it in your closet and never looked at it again. It promised so much but left you empty. You moved on to the next thing.
We see this in careers. A lot of people think power will make them happy so if they can just become president of the company or prime minister of the country they will finally be happy. A lot of people think money will make them happy so if they just have a bit more money (or a lot more!) they will finally be happy. But when they get those things they find that happiness has just slipped out of their grasp. [I believe I used Tom Brady as an example here.]
Happiness is tricky, but I believe we can find it. It’s actually hidden in plain sight. It’s found in other people! There is nothing in all the world more valuable than people. We love animals which is why we have the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; we love the planet which is why we are so concerned about protecting it. These are good things. But we know that nothing is more valuable than people, and this is why our laws dictate higher penalties for hurting a person than hurting the planet or an animal.
The highest joy doesn’t come from seeking our own good, but seeking the good of other people. If you want to find joy in your life and career, live for the good of others. This brings much more joy than living only for your own good. Pastors are in the business of being a blessing to others, of doing their good. A pastor’s work is to care for people. We have doctors to care for our bodies when we’re sick. We have psychologists and counsellors to care for our minds when they are troubled. The job of the pastor is to care for the soul. [There were some uncomfortable looks from the students when I spoke about the soul.] The soul is that part of you that wonders, “Is there anything beyond what I can see? Is there a God? What happens to me after I die? What is life all about?” The pastor cares for people by caring for their souls.
The pastor has some amazing privileges. He gets to be with people at their best and their worst moments. He gets to be with them when they are celebrating and when they are mourning. The pastor comes to visit people when their baby is born—he drives to the hospital to meet the baby and pray with the parents. The pastor is with people when they they receive the news they were dreading—when the doctor tells them that it’s cancer and they have six months to live. The pastor helps people prepare to get married by counseling them and then by saying those words, “By the power vested in me, I pronounce you husband and wife.” The pastor is with people when they die, sometimes sitting right with them when they take their last breath. He is the one who stands at the graveside and says, “We now commit this man to the ground…” The pastor helps people when they are looking for answers, when they are just tired and worn out. It is an amazing privilege to be a pastor.
A pastor has a difficult job to do but he has help in doing it. Your doctor has medical books that help him make a diagnosis and help him establish a treatment. A psychologist has his books that describe all the different mental illnesses and how to treat them. And the pastor has his Bible. [When I said “Bible” several students noticeably scoffed.] The pastor believes that the Bible is a book that was given to us by God. He believes that the Bible is the way God guides us in the world today, that God, who existed before this world and who exists even outside of this world, gave it to us to tell us how to live and how to know him.
The pastor uses the Bible as his manual, using it to teach people and help them to discover answers to their biggest and deepest questions. Ultimately he explains that the Bible is all about Jesus and that Jesus is the answer to what troubles our souls. [When I said “Jesus” several more of the students scoffed and nervously laughed.]
I am thankful to have been a pastor and I am thankful that today I have a pastor. I would not want to go through life without someone who cares for my soul. And as a Christian I don’t have to.
And then my time was up. I answered a few questions, then spent a few minutes talking about Aileen’s decision to be a homemaker and my new emphasis on writing.
Was this the right approach? I have no idea. Part of me wishes I had just thrown out my notes and preached the gospel—”Never mind what you will do for a career! Let’s talk about where you will spend eternity!” Wouldn’t that have been the brave thing to do? Maybe, but I also wanted to show respect to the teacher and for his kindness and courage in inviting me to come. He has been a friend and ally to my son through his first two years at that school and I hope the same for my two other children who will eventually attend his classes. He even invited my son to teach and defend the pro-life position in another class. Either way, I hope I put a proverbial pebble in a few shoes and trust that the Lord can work even through the weakest efforts.