Monday, April 02, 2007

Warning Labels & Space Mountain

Cigarettes come with one, alcohol, medication, and even toothpaste! What am I talking about? Warning Labels. They spell out all of the bad for you, just in case you come to your senses and forego the potentially harmful task, or habit ahead.

Even Disney places warnings on some of its more “jumpy” attractions. Of course you probably won’t find one on “It’s a Small World,” but Space Mountain on the other hand yields a warning and height restrictions. It is definitely not a ride for those with weak stomachs, heart problems, small children, or pregnant women. However, despite the warnings, restrictions, and the fact that the majority of this indoor roller coaster will be experienced blindly, in the dark, people will still wait in long lines up to two hours long to rid Space Mountain!

You may be wondering what my current fascination with “warning labels” has stemmed from, or perhaps where it is stemming to… well, despite the fact that I have determined that many things in life could use a “warning label,” I am placing a warning label on “Ministry.”

After seeing far too many wounded minister, pastors, evangelists, etc. leave the ministry year after year, I want to run into every Seminary, Bible College, and Ministry Training Facility and teach a course on “The Warning Label of Ministry: Everything you need to know about ministry, but won’t be taught in Bible College.”

A little extreme, yeah, I know. It will probably never happen, but if it ever did, the first day should look something like this:

The class should take place just beyond a very crowded corridor where for every three steps you take, someone stops you to complain, or request prayer. When you finally reach the classroom, you are given a Bible (KJV only), Strong’s Concordance, anointing oil, a cell phone, an office phone, a notebook, a half-dozen hats with various titles on them (teacher, pastor, counselor, custodian, host, and family time), and a plunger.

Students are then placed on a Space Mountain simulator with a pair of headphones. As they are seat belted in, they are told through the head prompts will be given at various times to complete a myriad of tasks with the tools as they are navigating the “unknown,” courtesy of “Space Mountain.”

As the ride class begins, the headphones prompt, “Place the “pastor” hat on your head and prepare a three point sermon based on Acts, chapter 18 using the KJV Bible, concordance, and notebook.” Two minutes later a phone ringing interrupts the sermon preparation. The ministerial candidate answers the phone greeted by the voice of the Adult Sunday School teacher. She is unable to teach Sunday and needs you to fill in. They are covering the gifts of the Spirit. On goes the “teacher” hat. The simulator is really move now, twisting and turning. The cell phone rings, it is a man requesting immediate counseling, he’s contemplating leaving his wife. On goes the “counselor” cap. Suddenly, the simulator jerks and picks up speed, the darkness is overwhelming and there is no telling what will come next. As a large, simulated dip is occurring, a huge “SPLASH” of water is heard and a groan as the voice of the secretary announces that there is a plumbing problem in the women’s bathroom. Custodian hat is to be firmly placed on top of the other hats.

As the ride starts to slow down, a ring in comes in from the cell phone, it is the ministerial student’s spouse reminding the student that Susie’s slumber party will take place that evening. Ten eight year olds will be sleeping over and pizza is on the menu. The “family time” hat is going on as the ride is almost over. Just as the student breathes a sigh of relief, the office phone “message” button is blinking. The message is from the board of Elders with the reminder that they will all be at the student’s home that evening for dinner and are also requesting an “impromptu” meeting to go over the color choices for painting the inside of the storage closet. As panic ensues the student, the “host” hat is tossed up to the tiptop of the mountain of caps. The ride is over, or is it just beginning?

This is far fetched and an obvious satiric view of the demands of ministry. However, most of us are not jumping from seminary into our “dream pastorate.” No, there are dues to pay, more to learn, mistakes to make, and people to deal with love.

I have to admit, I’m one of those crazy folks who have stood in the long lines to get on Disney’s famed space travel twister. I had my first experience at the age of 9. Somehow, my mother talked me into getting onto Space Mountain. She would ride with me. As we inched our way through the long lines I was confident that my mother would never take me anywhere I might be hurt. And she knew I was a scardey-cat. I was. I was a huge chicken when it came to anything remotely dangerous.

The closer we got, the more I began to think. Suddenly a recent memory was brought back to me. I had always been terrified of the water. I’m not sure why, but it might have had something to do with the fact that my cousin pushed me in when I couldn’t swim and I almost drowned- or it could have been that I was just scared! Anyway, my mother had taken me to the YMCA under the pretense of “taking a fun class.” She failed to mention that it was swimming lessons! She just handed me a gym bag and tucked me into a locker room where I was told to change. In that bag was a swimsuit and towel. I turned around, but my mother was gone! I DID learn to swim that summer, although I had issues with my mother’s method.

As we were escorted to our “spaceship” on Space Mountain, I realized that there was only one way out of that place, and that was to ride the roller coaster. Since I was only nine, I was allowed to sit with my mother. Her arms and legs encompassed me and the seatbelt and safety bar held me in as well. I had to trust her.

I don’t remember much about that ride. My only memory of it is loud screaming (me), darkness (the ride is dark, but my eyes were shut), and my mother telling me to relax and enjoy the ride. As the ride ended and I pried my fingers away from the safety bar, I laughed. I was still alive! It had not killed me, and although I had been terribly unsure, I was proud of myself for going through with it!

As I reflect back, I realize that my mother’s methods also awakened something spiritually in me. Tenacity. From that point on, I took more risks, and I developed a taste for “going for the gusto” even if the results were not what I wanted. It was okay, because I was stronger for it.

Back to my original thought, I’ll tell you why there aren’t warning signs at Bible College. Because if we were given a book outlining every possible, horrific scenario we may face, we would never become ministers.

I will be the first to admit that the “ride” of ministry is definitely more “Space Mountain” than “Small World,” but if truth be told, “Small World” is only a “pipe dream” anyway.

No, ministry is not for the “weak hearted,” and yes, it demands much. It requires thick skin, and the ability to discern, disciple and multi-task. However, I am convinced that it is also the most rewarding job in the universe! The pros outweigh the cons, and when you are blessed to work with a dynamic team, and are cherished by an awesome church and community, the good overshadows the difficult in a moment!

One of the most important pieces of advice I can give anyone who is pondering about ministry is when you first start out, have someone experienced help navigate you. In my circle, we call this a “spiritual father and/or mother” or mentor.

On my first Space Mountain ride, it was my mother who talked me through the winds and bumps, without her I’d have lost my mind! She just held me close and told me to relax and enjoy the ride. The next time I visited Disney, I encountered the Mountain again- this time alone, however, this time I was equipped, I had been through it with a veteran.

In ministry it is the same way. Seasoned veterans are a wealth of information and experience. They are also GREAT soundboards! They can tell you to relax and enjoy the ride. They can also clue you in to the bumps, dips, highs and lows.

Although I am certain a sticker-ed warning label on the front of Seminary Course Handbook will never happen, just try your best to relax and enjoy the ride with solid relationships cheering you on! The pay-off is greater than the cost!


Anonymous said...

Awesome!! I am so thankful to have you guys, as my spiritual parents, to lead me and guide me through "Space Mountain" Love you so much, Christy!!!

Anonymous said...

LOVE this!!!! So true...