There is a remarkable disconnect between the symbols of authority I wear on the uniform and the actual authority I bear as a person. A chaplain has no authority. They have no command. They have no real power. They only have representative power.
This looks like invoking the commander’s name when I need something acted upon as a staff officer. This looks like owning the rank on my chest as though it actually meant something other than a pay grade.
This looks like good, old fashioned pride often enough.
And yet, when I come into a room, it is not uncommon for Soldiers to stop with foul language or they will ask for pardon, “sorry chaplain…” Sometimes, people will shift uncomfortably in their seats waiting for me to finish whatever business I have in their space and leave; hoping, it seems, that I don’t start talking to them.
Is this because I am somehow intimidating? Heavens no! I am average in every way. I am a middle to end of the pack runner. I am always pushing the deadlines on my staff work. It is a great struggle and burden to keep up with the younger, more fit, better educated officers I work with.
So what drives the discomfort?
I read this passage from a “Minister’s Prayer Book” this morning and it resonated with me.
“I was a pastor ministering at a hospital. A patient said to me, “if you were a ditchdigger, you’d have a more useful calling than you do now.” That was a long time ago, but I have not forgotten it. I thought so myself many a time as I watched the nurses performing their tasks which are so needed and desired by the sick, and surgeons and doctors performing the most wonderful operations – while I stood there making miserable attempts at pastoral conversation. If I only were a ditchdigger! But a pastor? An impossible figure! Impossible before God, the world, and even myself. For there is a tremendous gap between what is required of a pastor in his (her) ministry and his (her) authority and power. Does he (she) have any power at all?…”*
I have oft felt that angst. I have oft flited about the “battlefield” on a mission or tasking with nothing more to do than visit with my Soldiers and just “be there.” Often, I have dealt with my angst by finding busy work to engage in. Becoming an expert in suicide intervention, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Leadership, morale work, budget analysis, event planning, and whatever else I could do to make myself useful to command.
Really, I’m often just finding work to fill my day. To fill the void in my heart that seems so unfulfilled and worries that I’m of no actual use to the world I work in I create usefulness. I can own that it often came from pride.
It is noted, on the other hand, that I was raised with the maxim, “find a need and fill it.” This, combined with the embedded message of, “always look busy,” created in me a need to always have projects going. At its best, those projects were in the first vein but often, they could be easily identified as meeting the latter need.
Projects are good. Fulfilling needs and meeting goals are always healthy endeavors. For me, I’ve found that ignoring my spirit for the sake of keeping busy is injurious to my soul. They are an effort to be needed, to create some authority, please someone rather than the Someone, and by attempting to be indispensable, create power. That is inherently not good and not healthy.
It has been a challenge, growing into my ministry identity.
In a sense, I have suffered into it. 15 years into my ministry I am finally recognizing that what people need from their pastor is not programs or skill sets or leadership – they need authenticity. They need someone who knows their lane and knows their God and can represent that to them.
I love this from my morning reading:
“The pastor’s authority is based solely upon the fact that Jesus Christ ministers to him (her) through the forgiveness of sins. What do I have to do in my ministry? I have to preach, and we say, “preaching is God’s Word.” And I know how those sermons of mine were produced. Often, it is true, with prayer and fear and trembling; but also by the dint of coffee and tobacco, sometimes in a burst of effort, very sketchily and superficially, because I have seemingly more important things to do. Strictly speaking, an impossible thing – unless Jesus Christ himself is not ashamed to accept this preaching.”* – Herman Dietzfelbinger
I know how my ministry has been produced. Through suffering both external and internal. Through the battles of the soul. Through disciplining my body and my mind, failing miserably in the intent, getting up and doing it again.
I think, and hope, that this is the sort of pastor people want and need. One who suffers as they do and yet, still embraces hope; even when it’s so hard to see. It is not about the work I do, the expertise I develop, the intellect I wield (thank God), it is about who I seek to represent. Can my people see Jesus through my stuff or does my business get in the way? Can they experience Christ in my presence, words, and actions or do they experience just another staff officer doing their jobs?
Pastoral ministry is, after all, all about who I represent.
* I chose intentionally to make the passage egalitarian.