It’s a rare seminary prospect who visits campus with his or her parents, so I clearly remember when Jeremy brought his folks with him just over two years ago. They had come from North Dakota, and as we waited in line for sandwiches at East Side Deli (just down Hawthorne Boulevard from Western’s campus at the foot of Mount Tabor), I wondered what they thought of Portland. The art for sale on the walls that month was a rather risqué set of cartoon illustrations, and I wondered if ¿Por Que No?, just across the street, would have been a better choice.
Not only is it important that we guard against criticism in order to prevent burnout, it is also necessary to not criticize others and burn them out. One of the best ways to avoid becoming a critic is to instead become very good at giving feedback.
Ministry is a rich and rewarding vocation—until it’s not. For most of the ministry leaders I know, any idyllic notions they had of life as a pastor lasted about three weeks into their call. The honeymoon phase of ministry ends and real life sets in as the tide of warm smiles and kind compliments goes out, leaving behind rocks of criticism and complaint. If you’re lucky in ministry life you will be buoyed along with enough compliments and encouragement, only occasionally experiencing the pain that comes from stepping on a sharp rock of criticism. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll grimace with every step because overly critical people litter your way with painful remarks and sharp jabs.
On its surface, this passage looks like it means that one’s eternal salvation is determined by one’s acts of compassion. Whenever we help the disenfranchised and the downtrodden of society, our entrance into heaven is all the more assured. On the other hand, as I heard one famous teacher describe it, Jesus will turn away at the final judgment from self-identifying Christians who failed to help the poor during their lifetime, saying, “I don’t want to hear it!”
I never dreamed that I would find myself so familiar with death as a pastor. I studied theology in seminary, and learned about expositing a text and church leadership. However, I don’t remember reading a book about what to do when visiting someone on their deathbed. Looking back over the past seven years as a pastor, I’m astonished at how many times I’ve found myself in that exact position. Along the way, I’ve seen firsthand how uncomfortable with death we are as a society. Most people don’t know what to do or say in those moments, and so they call for a pastor.