It wasn’t long after starting my pastorate in Washington State that I realized a hobby would be a good thing. I needed an activity that was far removed from ministry – something that would divert my attention away from the stresses brought on by working with people – an escape, if you will. By definition, a hobby is ‘something that one likes to do, study, etc. for pleasure in one’s spare time’ (Webster). Well, my pleasure of choice was photography. Walking in the woods taking scenic shots was delightful, and developing the pictures in the darkroom (with the DOOR CLOSED and NO PHONE), allowed me to hide while watching the wonders of chemistry unfold before my eyes.

In recent years I’ve found woodworking more to my liking. I find joy in the art of making things out of wood. Part of that delight is certainly the ability to remove myself from people and spend time alone in a creative task. And for a long time I have thought that woodworking is totally different from the work I do day in and day out. I have reveled in the realization that if I make a mistake in cutting a board, it does not affect the future of someone’s spiritual health. Wood is at my mercy. If I want to turn some oak into a shelf, the board cannot complain ‘Why have you made me into this!’

Having just finished up a cherry wall unit for our bedroom, however, I have been reminded once again of the similarities between working with wood and working with people. Here are a few observations:

All woods are unique, requiring special handling. There are thousands of species of trees in the world. Each possesses special qualities related to wood grain, texture, hardness, density, flexibility, stiffness, strength and durability. My variety of choice is cherry, due to its fine, even texture, straight grain, rich coloration, and tendency to machine easily. As such, it is a great choice for fine furniture making. People are unique, too, aren’t they! With far more varieties than wood can boast, we have the privilege of shepherding God’s lambs who are ‘wonderfully made’ (Ps. 139:14). Effective ministers understand this, and encourage their people to explore and utilize their gifts and talents in ministry.

It is also interesting to note that some woods are toxic. When cut, they produce sawdust that can cause respiratory distresses of various kinds. In the early 1900’s, before safety regulations were introduced into the furniture industry, some workers actually contracted nasal cancer from the dust of one particular wood variety – hemlock. Though it seems to surprise us, we should not be alarmed when people react when being ‘worked on’. For that reason, it’s always good to be protected; in this case by the wisdom God gives (Eccl. 7:12). Seeing reality from God’s perspective helps us see His power and purpose in ministry’s trials.

Proper tools are essential, demanding careful use. I love tools. One of my favorite TV shows was ‘Tool Time’, and I enjoy wandering through Home Depot and Rockler Tools, two favorite retailers of everything shiny, sharp and dangerous.

In woodworking, buying quality is a must. Good tools are more costly, but deliver as promised. Professional furniture makers spend huge sums for quality, saving them labor costs and producing superior products in less time. The tools of ministry, according to the Weirsbe’s in their book Ten Power Principles for Christian Service, are the Word of God and prayer. We must never substitute these for methods, fads, or our limited human efforts.

As well, it is very important to handle tools with care. Each one has a special application, and should be used accordingly. One wrong move with a table saw and ‘ka-ching’ – no more piano lessons! It of interest to note that in 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul challenges the servant of Christ to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handlingthe word of truth.” (Italics mine) The word used there means ‘to cut straight’, implying we teach the truth of God directly and correctly. Being diligent to study and present the Word accurately is necessary for people’s growth and maturity.

A final point concerning tools – they should be kept in good working order. Blades must be sharp, bearings oiled, mechanisms clean, parts replaced when worn. It does us good to check our toolboxes regularly to see what needs attention. Continued pursuit of intellectual and spiritual growth is crucial for maintaining ‘sharpness’ in ministry.

Plans are needed, calling for thoughtful attention. Building things out of wood can be as easy as making a breadboard or as complicated as a King Louis the XIV reproduction. In any case, it’s very important to have a plan before you begin. Like a vision for ministry, it lets you see in advance what you hope to create and gives you the steps necessary to complete the project successfully.

I like creating my own designs, which can be quite challenging. First comes the drawing of the model on paper. After that I try to figure how the project will come together – what steps will need to be taken in what order – what tools will need to be purchased in order to perform the necessary cuts, fittings and glue-up. Sometimes the process resembles a game of chess, demanding I think several steps ahead so everything will fit together as planned. And while changes can certainly be made in the plan, I have to be attentive to the impact they will have on the overall project.

Ministry calls for such care in planning. In dealing with people’s lives, it’s vital we seek God’s heart in casting vision, that we are flexible in carrying it out, and sensitive to the impact it will have on the lives of his people. I am mindful of those wonderful ‘one another’ passages in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 and 5, that challenge the church to pursue their journey in Christ as a loving community of co-laborers.

One last point is in order here. Many woodworkers dislike the last step in most project plans – the final finish. This process is usually tedious, requiring many repetitive steps. Yet, the effect is to see the full beauty of the wood, while protecting its surface for years to come. As we serve in ministry, the small detail work we do with people can seem endless, but diligence and patience here can lead to spiritual beauty in those we serve.