I used to think that part of the responsibility of a pastor was to answer people’s deepest questions about life and God and death. That’s why seminary was essential; that’s the place where we learn all the answers, right? And if seminary didn’t give us everything we needed, then we’d figure the rest out with good ol’ experience.
After twenty years of pastoring, however, I’m still struggling with those questions. I’m less sure about my answers now than when I started.
This has nothing to do with a crisis of faith; no, I am confident in my relationship with God, but the shape and form of that God keeps changing. Every time I think I have got God sorted out, God slips out from under my theology. I have to wrestle all over again with basic concepts like providence, sovereignty, and free will.
It’s also been difficult to get a handle on the death and afterlife matters. After so many funerals and unexpected deaths, I still have lots of questions myself. What really happens after the moment the body shuts down? Is there really such a place as heaven, or is it more a kind of third dimension?
Again, I have a confidence, a trust that God will be with me throughout the process of dying, including afterwards, but it sure would be nice to have some clarity.
Complicating all these matters is the fact that I don’t have confidence anymore in the basic institutions that I once did, first and foremost of which, is the church itself. We United Methodists seem destined to divide ourselves, just as Christians of other stripes have done.
And then there’s the “so-called Christians” in our country who promote heretical ideas and support white supremacy and corrupt political leaders. At times, I wonder if we share the same religion. Do we really know the same Jesus?
If I’m honest, I will admit that I have unanswered questions as the pastor of Kessler Park UMC. What are we to do about our youth program? What should our long-term vision be? How do we extend our ministry to the thousands of people moving into our community? What should we be doing differently?
Every day, I wake up with these questions on my mind, and sometimes I feel pressure to come up with a quick answer.
However, I have learned something in these twenty years of pastoral ministry. And one of the most important things is this: I don’t have to know all the answers. In fact, if I thought I did, that would be a very bad thing.
But that’s not what being a pastor is all about. And it’s not what being a Christian is about either.
We are really only supposed to follow Jesus. Following is a completely different kind of thing than knowing. Jesus rarely explained things to his disciples; he simply beckoned them forward, and they moved. Sometimes they would learn the answer to a question in the action of following; other times, they never did learn anything. I think that, most of the time, we end up learning that the questions we thought were so important, are irrelevant.
In the end, that’s the best I can do as a pastor. I just want to keep following Jesus on down the road of life. He’s led me to some fascinating places so far, and I have the feeling that the best is yet to come.