A Conduit for Grace
By Sam Collins
Compared to involvement in ministry, it is ridiculously easy to play Chopin on the piano while wearing pillow-sized oven mitts. In ministry, difficulties arise in innumerable guises that include all sorts of people, forces, and circumstances. Issues surrounding sin, alienation, evil, forgiveness, reconciliation, life, death, and other spiritual matters are fraught with enough tripwires to make a war-zone minefield seem relatively risk free.
In addition, those who labor in the Lord’s vineyards frequently must duck missiles launched by nonbelieving antagonists and so-called friendly fire in the form of figurative bazooka blasts launched from congregational pews and multipurpose stacking chairs. Little wonder that pastors and other clergy often feel like the barely ambulatory wounded.
It is also true, however, that ministers suffer numerous wounds that are self-inflicted. In fact many of the scars that pock my own inner self have been caused or exacerbated by my own hand.
Many of our ministry-related hurts and sorrows have their origins in unhealthy preoccupations with what we have accomplished and how our efforts are perceived. Ironically, these fixations are a recipe for accomplishing far less than we otherwise might and for nearing the end of life feeling that our efforts have had all the impact of a canary feather hurled against a granite wall.
I am increasingly convinced that my primary call as a minister is to be a conduit for God’s grace. More than leading a congregation that has more attendees than an NFL playoff game, more than being an authoritative leader who elicits accolades reserved for a haloed version of Churchill or Lincoln, more than having people suggest that my writing and sermons seem to have been authored by a troika consisting of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and the archangel Gabriel, what I am called to do is live, act, and speak in ways that give people a tiny glimpse of what God’s grace looks like in the life of a fallible, forgiven follower of Jesus Christ.
Within that context, all of my frantic, insecure, defensive, obsessive, hyper, overworked, Sabbath-abusing, nontrusting, people-shaming, over-controlling, self-reliant, self-righteous efforts only serve to plug up the channel intended to flow freely with the Spirit of God’s restorative love and mercy. What I end up projecting is little different from the demeanor of a hard-driving secular professional working to send corporate and personal career growth graphs shooting upward into the rarefied stratosphere. No matter how one might view that approach applied to business and commerce, it almost certainly runs counter to the call and ethos of ministry.
Among the questions we ministers need to ask ourselves, one of the most important is this: Am I an open conduit for God’s grace? If not, we are likely wounding ourselves and a host of others.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Church of God Ministries or, at points, even the writer, but are written with tongue firmly planted in cheek to hopefully provoke a leavening bit of laughter and a smidgen of thought.