I Didn’t Learn That in Seminary

I often mutter to myself, “They did not teach me that in seminary.” This happens whenever I do something that is not related to the scholarly study of religion that I experienced at Union Seminary. I mean the important stuff, like unjamming the copy machine, cleaning up spills on the church floor, determining how much coffee to make, or any of my other everyday activities. In fact, most of what I do I did not learn in seminary.

One of the things I love about my work is that there is the variety of the work. Each day presents new ministry opportunities. But as with most service occupations (perhaps all jobs) the day-to-day work is often a far cry from how it was advertised. When starting a profession we focus on the interesting and meaningful aspects—in my case, preaching, counseling, teaching, and service to others. We are often not prepared for is that the actual work involves many repetitive tasks, mundane chores, and gritty details. I suspect one of the reasons for clergy burn-out is the great distance between idealistic expectations and the everyday realities of the work.

This is a dilemma that confronts all aspects of our lives. We often try to just get through the mundane chores in order to get on with the what really matters. What we need to learn is that it all really matters. While getting ready in the morning, for instance, I will think I just need to get these daily tasks done to get on with my life. What I try to remember is that the daily chores are life. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, mowing the lawn—they aren’t distractions from real life, those jobs are real living.

So it is with ministry. Being a pastor is about Bible study, leading funerals and weddings, preaching, writing, counseling, it is also and just as importantly about lots of committee meetings, keeping computers running, and joining in to wash dishes and sometimes clear toilets.

Actually, this applies to all of us in the church. We come to church to build our relationship with God. What we find is that we build our spiritual life while serving coffee hour, raking leaves, and sitting in meetings just as much as it does in worship.

Tomorrow is a church clean-up day. Twice each year the Trustees organize a Saturday session to try to keep up on the maintenance of our building and grounds. Sometimes it feels like these are the chores we need to get out of the way so we can do real ministry. The truth is that this is all real ministry—work that shows God’s love and builds our capacity to expand God’s compassion and justice on earth.

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