The task of ministry in one image
It will come as no surprise to those who know me, who work with me in the church, or probably most of you who read this column: I have no idea what I'm doing.
Oh, I've got some sense of what others expect of me, and in file drawers are job descriptions for some of the work I do, but in a more visceral, more pragmatic sense, I don't know what I'm doing.
And very soon I will have been writing this column every Saturday for ten years. I've put up a repeat a few times out of the press of life and ministry, but over 500 of these have gone to print (paper & pixels now), inviting the community to think about faith and life in their own experience, which has been a ministry all its own.
"Faith Works" began with a conversation in Michael Shearer's office, but his guidance was general and editorial, and he's never intervened to say "don't talk about that," or "why don't you do more on this subject" even when I've asked. So I knew what I was getting into back in 2004, but I still don't know what I'm doing.
If I had to sum up at this point in my life what ministry & the wider parish work of this column entails, I would have to step aside from the rushing torrent of words and point to an image.
A lighthouse. And perhaps to a lighthouse keeper walking from his house to the door at the foot of the tower.
There are no doubt job descriptions and manuals of conduct for lighthouse keepers. You have certain non-negotiables involved in the task, and they have some very specific issues relating to particular lighthouses. An Atlantic coast lighthouse is different from one on the Great Lakes, or an island and shoals out in the channel would be served differently than a marker at the straits.
But your clear, main, obvious task is simple. Keep the light shining. You could put it on a note card. Keep the light shining.
HOW you do that, though, is complicated. You have to make sure the diesel or the coal or whathaveyou is in supply and fed to the boilers, or you should check the cables that connect your tower to the grid or your own generators. You'd better polish the Fresnel lenses and keep the windows clean so the light is clearly visible out at sea; there's mechanisms to turn the light or flash the beacon or sound the foghorn to maintain.
On the grounds, you watch for encroachment (think of Cape Hatteras) and guard the foundations; the structure itself needs upkeep, paint or tuckpointing not to mention the roof above the tower. You yourself need to stay healthy, fed properly, and get your sleep when you can, because when you have to be up, you'd better be ready to be up as long as it takes, as fast as you can.
Then there's the lower lights to maintain, the street-light sort of beacons there to guide in those unwary travelers who missed or ignored the signs, were wrecked, and are struggling to an uncertain shore. All along your stretch of coast, you might have half a dozen or more . . . but they're not quite as important as the main light up above.
And so on. It can get complicated, and yet it isn't. Keep the light shining.
That's what I think about ministry, both in our congregation where I pastor, and to you, the readers of this column. I still don't really know if I'm getting all the details right, or doing those other tasks in the most efficient ways, but I hope and pray that I'm shining a light for everyone who passes within sight . . . or reading . . . or as my wise old mentor in the faith, Alexander Campbell said, "within the understanding distance."
Within that radius given me, may God's light shine on your path.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him where light shines for you at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.