Pastoring Is Boring
But it's the best kind of boring
Here in Orlando there is a shrine to “Mary, Queen of the Universe.” That’s a pretty wild title for someone who was once just an ordinary girl trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. Her betrothed, Joseph, was just an ordinary young man who’s well thought out life trajectory was upended by an angel’s unsettling news. And the shepherds were doing ordinary shepherd things, as their ancestors had done for generations, until the sky lit up in an extraordinary spectacle.
At Christmas we turn these people into characters in a story. But in the beginning they were just real, ordinary people living plain, everyday lives. They were, in fact, pretty much like the people we pastor.
And while that’s a pretty awesome thought, I’m afraid we still grow bored with the ordinary. We, at times, desperately want to get out of Bedford Falls.We dream of the spectacular. We want adventure. We covet recognition. We pursue the measurable. At our worst we are dissatisfied junkies looking for the next, more powerful hit. We forget the privilege it is to pastor ordinary people in their everyday lives.
That Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and others displayed extraordinary faith is clear. What’s less clear is where that faith came from. Faith rarely, if ever, shows up in anyone’s life fully formed. Faith in their lives had to have been nurtured and curated in everyday ways by those who taught them and set an example before them. They were prepared for their extraordinary roles through the faith of those around them, through those who acted very much like pastors to them.
Faith in biblical history was not preserved by the kings. While it’s always the powerful whose story gets told, it’s never the whole story. Some of the kings led Israel deep into apostasy, and others oversaw times of refreshing renewal. The times of renewal, while initiated by the king, flourished among the ordinary and faithful men and women because that’s where the faith of Abraham had been preserved. And working to preserve that faith were faithful leaders, elders perhaps acting as lay pastors, who told the stories, sang the songs, and prayed the prayers they had inherited from others. In the darkness there is always a remnant persevering, and there are those who pastor them.
Mary’s “let it be to me according to your word” and the shepherd’s “let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” and Joseph’s noble protection of his beloved are the legacy of ordinary pastors nurturing ordinary faith in ordinary people. That it’s a legacy those pastors never saw is immaterial. It’s still their legacy. It’s ours as well.
The prophet Malachi prepared his readers for a time of darkness before the Messiah’s dawn. He condemned those for whom faith was a mere transaction, those who grumbled, “it is vain to serve God.”But he spoke with deep affection for the unnamed and unnumbered faithful ones.
Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”
This is the heartbeat of God’s covenant people, of the church. It is a community of ordinary people fearing and esteeming the Lord, at times through struggle.
A younger member of my church texted me the other day from her Bible study. She was deeply moved as she heard some older women read from the book of Hebrews. They each were women whose lives had been full of hardship and trial, and as they read about holding fast the confession of faith she longed to follow their example. Such an interaction reflects the reality of Malachi 3. These are people who have no reputation beyond a small circle, and who are making no earth-shattering impact upon the culture at large, but who have a genuine faith. These are those of whom God says, “They shall be mine.”
These are the ones we are privileged to pastor.
Some of those we pastor, of course, may become well known. Eugene Peterson was no doubt once a clever teen in someone’s church. But mostly we pastor those who bake bread and teach algebra and fix cars. They esteem the name of God and are treasured by him. No matter what unsettling events trouble the world as the future unfolds, these everyday people living lives of ordinary faithfulness will be those who preserve the faith of Abraham.
To pastor ordinary people is rarely spectacular, often hard, and sometimes boring.
That’s okay. It’s the best kind of boring.
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If you don’t understand the reference, then sit down tonight with a bowl of popcorn and watch the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Malachi 3:14. It’s these challenging ones who make us want to give up and run. My heart breaks for the many good pastors who have had to leave ministry because of them.
Malachi 3:16, 17