“Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?” (W-4.4003, Constitutional Questions, Book of Order 2012/2013)
I remember returning to seminary a year or two after graduation for some continuing education, and having the chance to catch up with colleagues and seminary classmates that I had not seen since graduation. “How big is your church?” “How many do you have in worship?” “How many services do you have at your church?” I remember struggling with, on the one hand, not wanting to be that person who reduces ministry to statistics and defines “their” ministry by how big their church-size; on the other hand, I did not want to reject or stifle ambition and our sense of excellence either. A full church is better than an empty church, growing statistics and upward trends are more fun to discuss than downward trends. Yet surely our colleagues are more than human measuring sticks for us to stack ourselves up against.
What interests me and lifts my own spirits are those ministers who are in the right place at the right time, no matter the size, no matter the numbers or the statistical measurements. It is so easy to tell that they are a perfect fit and are a blessing to so many in the church and community God has called them to serve. It’s almost as if they are having the time of their life and are doing such good, faithful and excellent pastoral work that the current way we quantify and measure their “results” is embarrassing and shallow because it could never adequately reflect the beautiful and faithful way they go about the work of ministry. How do we quantify going above and beyond in pastoral care to people in and beyond our Christian communities? How do we adequately explain colleagues who take time out of their busy and swamped schedules to pray for us, to learn from us, to be a true friend and colleague in the common ministry we share in Jesus Christ? How much easier it would be to only see each other as the competition or people from whom we cannot learn or people we need to impress.
As our Presbyterian church continues to exist in a time of rapid structural change and downward statistical trends, we also continue to be blessed with many pastors doing excellent ministry that cannot adequately be quantified or identified, sometimes in places we deem strategically insignificant or “not big enough to matter” in the larger scheme of things. One person doing such work is my former colleague at Mount Olive Presbyterian Church in Mount Olive, North Carolina, Steven Wicks. Steven worked as a successful businessman at Caterpillar in Roanoke, Virginia, before answering the call to ministry as a second career ministry student and now pastor in Mount Olive. He has been at Mount Olive Presbyterian Church his entire ministry, for more than ten years. Beyond being an excellent pastor and person, he was a loving colleague who did not stop his friendship and prayer for me when I moved away, but continued to stay in touch and offer support when I was miles away and in a new place. Steven Wicks is the epitome of being a friend to colleagues in ministry, supporting them, praying for them, and loving them when he certainly has lots of other things to do. He is unique but not so unique that there are not wonderful, talented, gifted ministers elsewhere in the Presbyterian church like him, many in places we might not immediately recognize on the map, serving and pastoring and loving way above and beyond anything our inadequate ways of measuring would ever be able to quantify. Thanks be to God.
CHRIS CURRIE is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport, La.