By Paul Koch –
The dull drumming of yet another speaker talking about what the church ought to be doing, how it ought to reach out, or how it might better restructure itself bounces off my stubborn ears as I sip my second cup of coffee. I’ve endured morning devotions with songs I don’t know and longed for a Gospel proclamation that seems to be in short supply. At the annual district pastor’s conference, I sit in the back corner with a few brothers who don’t mind the class clown antics that I’ve carried with me from middle school, and once again I wonder why I’m even here. Why bother when in my arrogance I spend more time criticizing than appreciating? Why go when I’m not being challenged or fed or encouraged?
To be sure, a lot of my colleagues have opted out. Frustrated by the apparent lack of confessional fidelity, or simply seeing it as a waste of limited resources, many are regularly absent. Quite a few are very much like myself and spend most of their time being critical. So as the years roll on they find excuses to not show up. After all there are certainly better things I could do with my time. In fact, I fail to see how my attendance would have any real impact on the people I minister to each week. So I don’t go because it will be transformative to my preaching, catechesis, etc.
So why bother?
A friend once offered a critique of my knee jerk reaction to all things bureaucratic by suggesting that I don’t really dislike bureaucracy, but in fact enjoy bureaucracy so long as it gives me the freedom to always tell them where to go. In other words, perhaps I go because it affords me the pleasure of being the class clown. Perhaps I go because I find a sick pleasure in being the smart-assed critic. It makes me feel important or powerful or rebellious or some such thing.
Now while these things may be true, such reasoning is not part of my conscious decision to go. I go because my brothers in the ministry, my colleagues, are there.
A few of these men I know intimately because we meet together regularly. We trust one another and can actually call each other friends. Some I see less regularly but we share that common experience of leaving our homes and traveling off to the seminary to be “formed” into men ready to be called into the ministry. Some have been doing this for much longer than I have, and with that experience comes wisdom and insight. Some are young and just starting out, looking for men to walk beside them and be willing to get their hands dirty in a common cause.
I go because in the midst of the heavy sarcasm and jokes there is a powerful comradery that forms there that is far more important than the topics of the speakers or the theme of the conference. I go because I remember what it was like to be fresh out of the seminary, to have a whole congregation of God’s children relying on my vocation, and being terrified. I go because from the beginning I had brothers who would stand with me, and so I go to stand with others.
You see, every time I go there are these moments where conversations about church strategies, and evangelism opportunities, and cross-cultural mission planning are simply no longer crucial. And in those moments I meet one or two brothers who see past the agendas and schedules of it all, and we find laughter and honesty and fellowship.
I go because there is strength in relying on that laughter and honesty and fellowship. I go because as much as I like to be a part of it for others, I desperately need it for myself.