Pastors don’t get out much unless they are intentional about it. If we’re not careful, we can spend all of our time cooped up in an office being the furthest thing from in touch and relevant. In order to move out of the walls, an environment of grace needs to be created that allows us to have more flexibility and freedom.
It’s not always easy for those within our churches to understand that the very relationships that can come so easily to them through the natural intersections of life sometimes need to be created for pastors. Thankfully, I have felt that the longer I am in ministry, the more open the places where I serve are to this idea.
My church has been talking a lot about the idea of missionality over the last 4 months since its inception. Missionality means we move beyond programs to relationships. It means that we seek to meet people where they are, to build relationships with them, and seek God’s guidance, direction, and grace in the midst of those relationships and intersections.
It’s also pretty easy for pastors to come across as “experts” in everything rather than fellow sojourners. The pastors that I have resonated with the most in my lifetime have been the ones who are genuine, real, and authentic, the ones who admit that they are humans too, they simply have a different call on their lives than everyone else. If pastors aren’t careful, we can preach a lot about things and end up coming across or becoming more like professors and experts in the process rather in the praxis.
But praxis is key. If we can understand things in theory or through books, it doesn’t really matter if we never put them into practice. I can stand up and talk about car repair until I’m blue in the face, but until I’ve actually gotten my hands dirty and repaired a few cars, it’s just like I’m breathing hot air, it’s not beneficial for anyone.
With all of this in mind, my wife and I have looked at our lives through a different lens. We have to filter our decisions through this lens. If we make a decisions as a family to do something, how will it help us to live missionally? How will it provide opportunities for us to build relationships with people who are not part of the church? How will it give us opportunities for us to love people as Christ loves without making them feel like we’re trying to beat them over the head with a Bible?
Enter my children. One of the greatest tools for being missional that I have found is my children. They force me to enter into places where I will meet people who I might not normally hang out with. They force me to spend time with them as they take part in extracurricular activities that take time. And it’s all of those things that really led our family to take part in the swim team in our neighborhood.
To be honest with you, I was sort of hoping that it would slip under my son’s radar. I had heard the stories of 6 hour long swim meets and the waiting…….and as I have said in past posts, waiting is not my thing. Of course, during that waiting, you either let yourself get bored, or you get off your butt and build relationships.
So, when my son came home from school and announced his desire to take part in swim team, my heart sank just a little bit. I knew the commitment from hearing about it. After coming to grips with his desire, I chastised myself for my crappy attitude. How could I really expect to be taken seriously as a follower of Christ if I wasn’t willing to do the things that he was willing to do? How could I expect to be taken seriously as a pastor if all of my knowledge came from books and classes instead of from actual experience?
That’s what led me to taking my son to his first swim meet. The anticipation, excitement, and nerves were all racing….for the both of us. We enjoyed a father-son dinner at Chick-Fil-A beforehand and then we went to the meet. His nervousness spread to me and I was really concerned for my son. Every parent worries about their kids, I was no exception. His warm-up made me a little more concerned as he spent more time treading water than moving forward in the pool. But I just encouraged him, told him to do his best, and then prayed with him.
Thanks to some other really great kids, my son was great. He made it through his heat, his nerves calmed (as did mine…..finally), and he was excited and proud of himself. But the thing about life is that there are so many lessons to learn along the journey that you need to be paying attention. While God was using the time with my son to shape and form our relationship with each other, he also used it to continue to shape and mold me to be a better follower and example of Christ.
As my son’s event approached, we made our way to the pool to watch one of the other events. I had no idea what would happen next. Earlier during the meet, I had seen a boy with crutches fall on the hard concrete as he was making his way around. My heart broke for him as he was helped up. As I looked to the starting blocks, I saw that same boy being carried by his father to the pool. He had flippers on his feet to help propel him along because of his physical need. The father dropped him in the pool and then stepped back to watch. I was fascinated to watch this play out.
As the gun went off for the start of the event, I watched this boy make his way across the pool. He paddled and stroked and struggled and kicked. Meter by meter, he slowly made his way from one side to the other. He reached the other side as the other two swimmers in the meet were well ahead of him and nearing the finish line.
As I stood there, my eyes riveted to the pool and swimmer, I realized that the majority of people on the sidelines were intently looking on as well. My heart went out to this boy and I listened as some people had begun to call his name. Once I knew his name, I knew what I had to do. I began clapping and cheering him on by name. As he made his way to the halfway point of the pool, everyone on the pool deck began to shout his name and cheer him on. As he slowly came to the finish line, everyone erupted in applause to see this little boy with a ton of heart finish the race.
I was incredibly emotional, and it wasn’t even my son. To me, this boy had just exhibited what I had been trying to get across to my son. It wasn’t about where he placed, it was about finishing that race. That boy showed me his heart at that swim meet. He showed me that he could do something that might have come easily to others, but not to him. No, it didn’t come easily, but he did it with all of his effort and heart and motivation. I was stunned at what I had just seen. The heart that this boy had showed was something that some people work their whole lives to try to gain. Unfortunately, some of them never get there, they never achieve it.
In that moment, I cheered. But I don’t think that I was just cheering for that little boy. I was cheering for everyone who has had an impossible obstacle before them. I was cheering for everyone who stood in the face of doubt and proved that with a lot of heart, they could accomplish a lot. I was cheering for everyone who had overcome in the face of difficulty. I know that I’ve stood in the face of less intimidating and impossible situations and done it, not through my own strength, but through the strength that Christ affords me. In that moment, I was changed and I will never be the same. I hope that boy knows that his heart is making a difference, if for no one else, at least for me.