Towards the end of 2013, I closed out one of the most volatile years of a young pastor’s life – Year 3. Many in the ministry say year three is a “make it or break it” year (depending on who you ask; there are variations on the number of years) and many in the profession leave, change places, callings around this time. I have heard numerous cases of young pastors having mental breakdowns, depression, suicidal tendencies in the first few years. News report: All things considered, I am ok.
And while indeed I have seen some significant volatility this past year – in the form of critics, conflict of vision and values, power struggles, and even some very sad departures – I have discovered an eery zen, a profound serenity, a trust, and a very real confidence. Truthfully, there were moments where I felt despondent, discouraged, disheartened. But these were moments.
And at the risk of sounding cavalier, I mean it when I say mere “moments”, because in the grand scale of things, the serenity I have experienced has far outweighed the panic. There are some who are apt to look at the waves in the midst of a squall, screaming and communicating to the rest of the passengers, “the ship is sinking! the ship is sinking!” and woe to the ship when it is the skipper him/herself who does this.
But as I preached through Mark this past year there was one predominant image that stuck in my mind – that of the Ship in the midst of the storm, and the Sleeper in the hold. That image has long had historical precedent as metaphor for the Church, an encouraging picture of serenity in the midst of a furious squall. I first encountered a painting of it when I spent some time at a Benedictine Monastery in Nebraska, gazing at it for a long time. I’ve since searched for a picture or a reproduction of it online to no avail, but that image has taken such a hold of me that my subconscious has begun working itself out in an actual painting on canvas that I am doing in my home studio. Throughout history, many artists have done the same:
Through this experience of pastoring a church (plant) through year 3 I have gratefully received this gift of Trust, and Serenity. Through the midst of the tumult, I have learned the secret of curling up next to the Master, asleep with Him in the hold. Truth be told and with my wife as my witness, I have not lost a single night’s rest.
My responsibility now evolves, as I rest assured, disciples and would-be disciples look queryingly at me saying, “how can you sleep at a time like this?” and I realize that young pastors are also called to comfort the timorous, encourage the downcast, look with equanimity at them in the eye, assuring them to also place their Trust in the Creator and to “have a little faith.”
If you are troubled in any way today, be encouraged; He is asleep in the hold, better to curl up next to Him. Our panicked rowing, bucketing, and fretting will not get us through the storm quicker, but we can use the process to grow. And finally, in the words of one of the greatest Ship skippers I have ever known, Darrell Johnson, he would encourage us his students at Regent College to “Come at me” – that is, “You can challenge me”, “I welcome your input”, “am not easily crushed.” I am not a fearless skipper, tying myself to the mast undaunted, sink or swim; it takes a team to row, I welcome your input.
Come at me.