On a visit to the old mission district in San Juan Capistrano some years ago, my wife Rolane and I were fortunate to happen upon one of California's oldest adobe houses when the curator of the structure was present. A bronze sculptor by trade, this man had just been chosen from among a host of hopefuls to restore the over 200 year old home to its former glory. At once this man's zeal for his task was evident. In an animated discussion lasting well over a half hour, he described the ambitious plans to completely recreate in exacting detail the historical and cultural realities of the days of Mexican rule over what is now Orange County. What struck me about this fellow, aside from his storehouse of knowledge, was the passion with which he was engaging this challenge. He was in the process of taking a dusty old building and transforming it into a living and vibrant piece of California's past. There was no doubt in our minds that here was an individual who was enjoying his life and work to the fullest. What a refreshing encounter!
As I reflected on our experience, I wondered how we in ministry come across to others when doing what we do. Is there a zeal for the task that encourages those around us? Such ministry passion could be defined as that inner desire that drives or draws one to engage, persist, and enjoy the fulfillment that comes from doing what he or she has been called to do. Research has consistently shown that people who love what they do are more successful and effective in their occupations. Whether continuing to serve in your present location, or seeking a new ministry position, it would seem fitting that your ministry endeavors should include consideration of what could be called a 'passion quotient'. Asking yourselves a few basic questions may help you determine if your current or future pastoral work is the kind that brings life to those you are called to serve. Here are a few suggested queries for all of us to consider:
• What kind of work ignites my energies? The shepherd is a general practitioner, as you know. Yet, among the many areas of responsibility, there are probably a few that really get your juices flowing. When looking at your position, you should take care to determine how much of the real job description includes these areas. Spending most of your time doing things you marginally enjoy will eventually sap your strength. While I enjoy a limited amount of administration, most of my work involves teaching and mentoring. Were this reversed, I would find my ministry at Talbot much more stressful and less productive.
• What kind of people unleash my creativity? Your experience working with others has most likely shown you the kind of staff person(s) that bring out the best in you. An effective team reflects diversity of strengths, mutual respect, and a sense that each member sharpens the others to help them 'be all they can be'. I think the same holds true for the congregation at large. There is most likely a type of people group you most enjoy or can relate to, and thus find yourself more effective serving. Great job benefits are meaningless if you don't have a basic liking for the kind of people with whom you work. Sometimes reshuffling your ministry team can bring a breath of fresh air and excitement to the tasks at hand. For some of you, a new place of service may be a necessary and wise choice.
• What kind of challenges incite my courage? You have learned by now that every pastoral position comes with challenges. The 'greener grass' is just different, not necessarily better than that upon which you presently tread. So, if you are tempted to investigate a new ministry location or embark on a new ministry journey right where you are, attention should be given to scoping out the 'mountains' that will need to be scaled. Some will call out the mountaineer in you, others will not. And when the climbing gets tough, your passion for the adventure will factor heavily in your attaining the summit.
• What kind of future captures my heart? Twenty-eight years ago my wife and I were contemplating our future. We could find another pastorate in the Pacific Northwest, or we could return to southern California and pursue educational goals. Although well-meaning friends begged us not to bring our children to what they viewed as 'Sodom and Gomorrah', I knew that another pastorate, though a wonderful way to spend our life, would not satisfy the longings of my heart. We left for LA in June of 1985, and although the transition from the woods to the asphalt jungle was not easy, all these years later we're enjoying a ministry without limits. We are as passionate about our work now as we were when it all began. Whether pondering a new position or forging a new vision and direction for your present ministry, ask yourself if you see a future there.
The curator of that old adobe was captured by his tomorrows, and his enthusiasm made us want to return someday and absorb the atmosphere he will have created by then. Here was a man with what we could call mission passion. May we, as ambassadors for Christ, be known for this too, and draw thirsty people back to the Maker of their souls.