parables of heaven

As I continue to adjust to the transition from education to career I have been doing a considerable amount of reading in the area of pastoral ministry – essentially, how to be a pastor.

A book that’s been helpful personally is “From Midterms to Ministry” – a collection of stories and insights on the joys and challenges of being a pastor. This book only reinforces my view that sharing stories is one of the most effective ways we can support and encourage one another in our lives as Christians. It reminds me that I’m not alone.

I was especially encouraged by a story shared by James Kay in which he describes his unlikely journey to pastoring in small-town Minnesota fresh out of his seminary education. Like most seminary graduates, Kay had strong views on the church and how he could implement those views. But as he encountered the unexpected, the frustrating, the broken, the down-to-earth, Kay’s view of the church began to broaden. His seminary-packaged view of the church was met by a complex group of people who didn’t fit into his notions of what church should look like. But these were real people with real issues. And as Kay learned, these people had real faith. Against his theoretical expectations, the rag-tag people of this small-town embodied the gospel, for “all that is necessary for a true church is the gospel of Jesus Christ; it is this story that creates the ‘ties that bind’ the multiple stories of ordinary and strange people into the common story of the uncommon people of God.” I like that. It takes some of the pressure off of finding (or creating) the perfect church.

Now, part of what unites these “ordinary and strange” people is our common experience of brokenness and sin. No one is exempt. Not even pastors! “Sins are not confined to non-churchgoers! As Martin Luther said, ‘God saves real, not imaginary, sinners.’ Every Sunday, the wicked and the violent walk into our churches, because the line between good and evil does not run between the religious and irreligious, or between the pastors and their people, but through them all.

Kay offers a sobering message to all church leaders, one that leads me, a pastor, towards humility and openness as I relate to my church family. No matter how hard I try, I don’t (and won’t) “have it all together.” But this realization of sin comes with a declaration of hope. Kay reminds us church folks that “what keeps us going in a world like this is something called ‘heaven,’ which is not only our final destination, but which also breaks into our life and death in parables that point us to what is finally true and real about ourselves and about God.

As I journey in my faith amidst the complexities of church-life, I take joy in the parable of heaven – the stories of redemption we share with one another and that permeate our everyday lives.

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