When nothing is happening
I love the movie, Boyhood. It chronicles the life of Mason as he grows from early childhood to entering college.
The movie was filmed over a 12-year span, with all the same actors. We literally watch each character grow and age as the story unfolds on the screen.
Truly a brilliant production.
It’s a movie where nothing happens, yet everything happens.
The film serves as a metaphor of pastoral ministry.
Most of the models of ministry I was exposed to in my formative years were event-oriented. Sunday worship services were the main event, a production.
The expectation (translated “pressure”) focused on producing measurable and quantifiable results. The more immediate and dramatic, the better. How many attended, how many were saved, how many came to the altar, how high on the excitement scale did we reach.
All that and do it again next week. Only better.
My Bible college paraded those who succeeded in this model. They spoke in our chapel services. Their churches, which apparently never had a boring service, were our models. We applauded their glowing reports of conversions and miracles. We were groomed to covet and compete for their success.
The message, both overt and covert, was clear–if you weren’t producing results, you were missing God and not filled with the Spirit. The real message: you were a failure.
It didn’t take long in ministry to face the angst that such models create.
Unlike the success models, hardly anyone responded to altar calls. People stared blankly during worship. Some yawned and dozed during the sermon.
It rocked my confidence and made me question my calling. Could I make the cut? I had my fair share of critics asking the same.
Over time, my ministry paradigm began to shift. As I continued to pastor the congregation, I noticed people (me included) gradually begin to reflect the work of Christ in their lives.
I’ve learned that pastoral ministry is much more a process than a production. It’s the day-in-day-out presence with people as they walk their journey of life and faith.
Most of it is rather mundane.
But it’s in the consistent work of ministry–praying, worshiping, preaching/teaching, sharing the sacraments, counseling and guiding, being present in times of celebration and grief, developing friendship–that spiritual formation takes shape. The Holy Spirit is faithful to develop enduring disciples.
Like Boyhood, pastoral ministry often feels like nothing is happening, yet everything is happening.
Eugene Peterson reminds us what one of his mentors taught him, “A lot is going on when you don’t think anything is going on.”