Navigating the Mess

Ministry leaders will have days like this one I had recently: I talked with someone who was on the tail end of being mad at God and at me, spoke to a man about his pornography habit that was ruining his marriage, and then got a call at 10:30pm from a member who was with a friend who was going to commit suicide and most likely was under some spiritual (demonic) oppression. Instead of heading to bed, I headed over to help. It was dark and messy. Life is like that sometimes.

As I finally got into the shower at about 12:30 that night and began praying through these things, I wondered why God ordained these events for me today. The one thing he seemed to lay on my heart was this: Pastoring is messy.

Pastoring is messy. Because life is messy. And much of pastoring is helping people navigate through the mess.

Sundays for me are hard physically and mentally, and sometimes I encounter some of the mess if someone comes back for prayer or counsel in response to the sermon, but for the most part, hundreds of our people just walk by with nothing more than a smile and a hello. Sundays are restful; they are a brief respite out of the mess as we are encouraged by Gospel truths again, singing and feasting together of the ocean-deep grace of our God—we are sabbath-ing.


Sunday Rest, Monday Mess

But then on Monday you enter back into the mess. And much of our lives are not spent in gathered worship where there is solace and refuge from the bitter winds of a life made messy. Most of our time and energy is spent in navigating the mess. As I thought on these things I wondered about this weekly rhythm: gathering together on Sunday and fighting together during the week.

Gathering for worship: We can (and should, and must!) worship outside of Sundays also; we can draw near to God in prayer, in the Scriptures, and by the Spirit. But there is something special, different, powerful about the gathering of the Saints. We need that gathering. We need that sacred triage for the messy battle wounds of Monday to Saturday. We need the Scriptures opened and expounded; we need the collective harmonies of wartime saints singing battle hymns to our God; we need the bread and the wine. The church gathered is a temple, a house—shelter from the messy weather of the outside elements.

Scattering to fight: But then we enter the week. The respite over, we encounter again Monday; then Tuesday, and so on. And if we aren’t careful we end the week worse off than we were before. But ministry is fighting together. Embrace the mess of your heart. Yes, your heart is a mess. And if you took an honest look in there you would find the remains of a battle already won. Jesus was victorious, but torn limbs and broken hearts still remain on the battlefield. And much of the Christian life is spent applying the same Gospel that won the war to the cleaning up of the aftermath. Christ was victorious, but it takes some time for us to learn how to live as victors and not victims. Embrace it, don’t numb it, don’t ignore it—preach the Gospel to it.

And other people are a mess too. Our ministry as their brothers and sisters is to embrace the mess of their hearts. Don’t be surprised by their sin—we are sinners! That’s what sinners do, we sin. But also don’t underestimate the power of the Spirit in them and in you to fight the battle of the mess in our hearts. Fight together!

Navigating the messiness of our lives and the mess of others brings about a humility and a unity in us that pleases the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) and fosters a love for one another that shows the watching world the treasure that is Jesus (John 13:35).

We can still minister to each other with “torn limbs and broken hearts”—for we are the weak made strong. For grace is our guide:

Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea
Unknown waves before me roll
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal
Chart and compass come from Thee
Jesus, Savior, pilot me