Four Things I Learned About Ministry From A Man Who Smoked A Pipe While He Skied
Probably the coolest man I ever saw was the man who smoked a pipe while he snow skied. He appeared to be in his mid-sixties, had almost shoulder-length white hair, a short-cropped beard, and was in terrific shape. He looked like a hip Santa with a beach body. He glided effortlessly over the glistening snow while puffing on his Sherlock Holmes pipe. When I saw him I immediately stopped just to watch. I was impressed. That was five winters ago and I still see him in my mind’s eye swooshing down the slopes, mocking me with his disdain, pitying me with his aloofness, taunting me with his knowing that I will never be as cool as he.
Something reminded me of him recently and I smiled. I thought about how he has the qualities of a pastor who has longevity and success. For a pastor to stay in the same church for a long time and to continue to have success he needs four characteristics of the pipe smoking, snow skiing, brother of Santa Claus.
There is no doubt in my mind that the pipe smoking ski guy embraced his own uniqueness. If you want to have longevity in the ministry, pastor, you have to learn to be yourself. God only made one you. He cared enough to make you with your own exclusive personality, skill-set, and experiences. He made a group of people that you are perfectly designed to reach and disciple. I am not suggesting that you should not learn from others. You should. But in the end you need to be yourself. You must decide if you want to be a “voice in the wilderness” or a faint echo. Trying to question God about why he did not make you with the same gifting as someone else is demoralizing, defeating, and destructive to your calling. Be OK with being you and you will last much longer.
One thing that struck me about Santa’s brother was how much he seemed to enjoy himself. He looked genuinely gratified. The ministry has many pressures, deadlines, and expectations. Pastors can easily lose sight of the joy of God’s calling because they focus on the unpleasant aspects of leadership. Pastoring s a privilege that not many get to experience. Remember that. Enjoy the journey. Sometimes I get so caught up in goals and projections that I forget to celebrate what God has done. Remember to stop and smell the roses. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Don’t spend all your life simply “doing.” You have to take time to “be” or you will experience burnout.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
I imagine that any man who smokes a pipe while he skis does not take himself too seriously. God’s work carries with it certain serious implications. No rational person believes the ministry is a joke. I think many of us, however, takes ourselves way too seriously. Even Jesus told jokes. Ancient Hebrew humor involved hyperbole – gross exaggerations. When Jesus said, “You strain a gnat but swallow a camel,” I imagine the crowds laughed at the expense of the Pharisees. I certainly would have.
I sometimes wonder how God feels about the things that work us into a state of agitation. We tend to spend a lot of time worrying about denominational labels, musical styles, and minor issues in the Christian world. Yet the most important thing – the Good News of Jesus Christ – takes a back seat for most Christians. How sad. Learn to take Jesus Christ very seriously and yourself…not so much. You will last longer. You will please God more. At the end of your life you will realize that it was never about you anyway.
Relaxed people are simply better at what they do
Any ski instructor will tell you that you must relax if you ever plan to master the ski slopes. I imagine that it takes ultimate relaxation to smoke a pipe and ski at the same time. Pastor, if you plan to have a long and effective ministry you must learn to rest and relax. It makes you better at what you do. You can only sprint for so long and the ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. If you violate the Sabbath principle (taking a day off each week), neglect your health, neglect your wife, neglect your children, and never take a vacation or a Sunday off, then why should you be surprised when you lose your family, health, energy, sanity, and ministry? Take time to rest, renew, and rejuvenate. You will get much more done in thirty years than you will in three.
Now, if I could just figure out how to smoke a pipe while I preach!