I’ve spent the last quarter century, minus a year, in a role that no one, least not I, ever would have predicted or chosen for me: the pastorate. Before Jesus accosted me at age 21, I never really knew such creatures existed, and to the extent I did they seemed odd to me, eccentric, fusty, otherworldly. After my conversion, pastors still struck me as a breed apart, though now I saw them as oracular, unerring, heavenly, but still odd. They were sages chastened with holiness, saints burdened with searing vision.
Then I became one. And I found out an awkward truth: most of us are chronically ordinary. Pastors are the lepers who find bread, and have just enough wit or altruism to announce it to the city (see 2 Kings 7:3-16). But otherwise, we battle all the same emotions and temptations everyone else does, but do it in a kind of glass house, which mostly makes it worse and sometimes makes it better. We struggle with anger, fear, loneliness, insecurity. We want to eat too much, sleep too late, be praised beyond what’s wise or warranted. Criticism stings us, and too much embitters us. We feel weak a lot, sometimes theologically sketchy, often spiritually shallow. We don’t pray enough, exercise enough, study enough. We long for God, but we also long for comfort, and salt, and a good night’s sleep, and find the two longings at odds, and often the latter one winning.
One thing’s helped (well, dozens of things have helped, but I’ll speak of one): pushing myself to engage further training. I found that if I wasn’t the champion of this, no one would be: not the elders, not the congregation, not the staff, not my friends. In the pastorate, no one but you worries about your ongoing education. I’m not saying no one notices it: many complain about your deficiencies and inefficiencies. They lament your poor sermons, weak administration, inept leadership, questionable doctrine. They wish you were smarter or faster or deeper. It’s just that no one will send you back to school as the remedy – and if they do, it’s probably a last ditch effort before they fire you.
But this is true of everyone: in most things, we’re the only ones who require excellence of ourselves. Everyone else tolerates our mediocrity, until they don’t. But by then it’s too late.
So I learned to send myself back to school. I learned to be my own Truancy Officer, to grab myself by the ear and march myself back to the classroom. Over the years, I’ve taken online courses and community-college courses; I’ve attended pastors’ conferences, worship seminars, preaching workshops. I’ve taken summer classes, covering everything from theology to philosophy to psychology to history to poetry to art to literature to leadership. The curriculum’s been eclectic; I’ve been omnivorous.
This morning, for instance, I was looking at Regent College’s Summer School for 2013. It’s got me drooling, and scheming how to fit at least one course in. What especially caught my eye is their list of Art & Faith courses – a course on J.R.R. Tolkien, one on the power of documentary film, another on Christian themes in Hollywood movies, and more. This is the sort of thing that, through the years, has stretched me, helped me stay fresh, and kept me just off-balance enough to make me moderately interesting. Check it out at www.regent-college.edu/summer.
Or I’d love to see you in class at my new digs at Ambrose College University this fall or winter.
Just decide to become your own Truancy Officer. No one else will do it for you.