One of my children felt the need to defend the family honour yesterday.
One of those schoolyard/classroom discussions about ‘my dad is smarter than your dad’ which I heard about in detail during after school pickup. He was sheepish but also certain that this course of action was the right one. “One of the things that we’re supposed to do, Mom, is defend our family. I’m a representative of the Ralph family and it’s my job to defend them.”
I love that about him.
And what was it about our honour that needed defending, you may ask?
It was a my dad is better than your dad situation. This other kid was comparing parental professions and brought in his interpretation of what it meant that my husband works at a church.
“Your dad just talks all the time.”
What an interesting perspective. You see, this other kid’s parents are in law inforcement so compared to that I guess he didn’t know or see the value in what working at a church is.
Is that how people see those in ministry? As doing nothing but talk all the time?
I can just see my ministry friends reading this and shaking their heads. We’ve heard it all. “Pastors only work for an hour on Sundays.” “What do you do for the rest of the week when you’re not preaching?
Ministry can seem elusive to those who haven’t experienced what it means to put your living and earning energy into serving others in this way.
It’s a lot of words.
That young boy wasn’t wrong. Ministry requires a lot of words. It requires emotional intelligence and spiritual energy to come alongside people and walk with them as they discover who God created them to be.
Lots and lots of words.
Words of comfort, of confession, words of encouragement and truth. And sometimes listening silence. With others doing a lot of talking.
Large chunk of my chaplaincy training day is words. Listening, searching. And lots of stairs. Lots of words and lots of stairs.
What got me wondering was not so much this young person’s idea that it was all words (I’ve heard that before), but rather, why this was a bad thing?
Why have words used by people in ministry become something that some look on with derision?
Maybe because words have been used to hurt and not heal. Maybe words have been offered as platitudes for intense pain. Maybe words have been used during that one hour on a Sunday morning to create feelings of isolation and shame.
Or maybe words were offered when what was really needed was self-sacrifice.
When I look at Jesus and how he ministered to people, he used words. Lots of words. He taught, encouraged, admonished, healed, and restored with his words.
But his words without the action of the cross would have been incomplete. His words point the way to the glory of the cross.
As I think about this young boy and his idea that words aren’t enough, I think he’s right.
Jesus modelled for us a balance of words and deeds. That’s how we can most effectively love people, too. So often what people see are the Sunday morning words and not the Monday to Saturday deeds.
Because words are first line of interaction, deeds are the love in action. And ministry requires both.
As I hear more and more the discussion about why caring for people spiritually is of lesser importance, I think it’s because others wonder what we do.
It’s complex because the nature of what we do is to be doing, but that doing is often done in secret.
Often only God sees the doing.
I loved my son’s defending of the family honour. And I honoured him for that.
But I also told him that often people won’t understand what his dad does. And that this is not a new experience.
Good spiritual care is often more a sense or memory than a list of needs checked off. It is that conversation. It is that freezer meal, that oil change for the single mom.
Ministry is the work and words twining around one another. The mouth, hands, and feet of Jesus all together.
It’s His teaching culminated by the cross and resurrection. The being with in tandem with the speaking with.
So for my son, “Next time, words, but careful words.” And hopefully through his and all of our examples, it won’t be just words.