“Will you pray for me?” Rudy asked. Pulling myself out of the worship moment, I opened my eyes and nodded. “Just go up there and start praying,” Rudy said to me, motioning towards the stage area where the worship leaders of St. John’s Downtown were raising a worship ruckus for Wednesday evening Bible Study. ‘Oh, he means that kind of pray,’ I realized, as I looked up at the stage and lights and room full of strangers on my first day in Houston. ‘All you’ve got to do is go up there and talk to God,’ I told myself calmly, ‘That is something you like to do.’ It was true; talking to God was something I had been doing an awful lot of these days, and it was not that much of a leap to do it out loud.
I liked this new way of doing church. This was something different. I liked the unpredictability of it, the activity, the energy, the sense of teamwork. In this worship party, Rudy was that friend that made you stop being a wallflower and get out on the dance floor with everyone else. In this game, Rudy was the coach that got you up off the bench and sent you into the action.
From past experience, I should have known that you don’t step on Rudy’s field unless you are prepared to play, because the coach might send you in at any moment.
I was not used to that kind of impulsive action. I was accustomed to church being more like a chess game than a soccer match. I was accustomed to a world of order and predictability where full grown adults, even rooms full of pastors, sit around a table during Bible Study; and when the question of “who wants to pray?” is raised we act like there is something incredibly interesting on the table in front of us and avoid eye contact at all costs.
But here we were. Who was going to pray? I was. When was I going to do it? Now.
I should not have been surprised. When I met Rudy three years ago, he did something similar. After I introduced him to a remarkable and pure-hearted young leader from the church I pastored, Jordan Harris, he told Jordan that he was going to have him come up on stage and share his story with Annual Conference. Jordan got pulled up off the bench and into the game, and I’m pretty sure that experience changed his life.
There are many ways of being a leader. Some leaders do all the work; some leaders want all the praise; some leaders need all the focus. And some leaders look their players straight in the eye and tell them to just go out there and do it, making them believe that they can. Do what you were born to, called to, trained to do. Just do it.
After I prayed, one of St. John’s young pastors, Steven Chambers gave an excellent message where he talked about that exact phrase – Just do it. – and how effective it was for a certain sneaker company because of it simplicity.
There was a question that had been rolling around in the back of my head for the past few months, and actually the ball had been thrown in there by Rudy. He had asked me, while I was spending time with God on the island of Eleuthera, what it meant to me to be a pastor. Over the months that passed since then, I have had a lot of images, memories and experiences that have come to mind and been woven into my answer to the question – “what does it mean to be a pastor?” Yet, at the end of the day, there are many ways in which elaborate theories and answers and strategies are not what is needed. When you cut close to the bone and get at the heart of the matter, the defining moments in every pastor’s life are those moments when you “just do it.” I call those the flashbulb moments; the memories imprinted that will never go away; the moments that teach you something about yourself, God and others.
In his message that night, Steven used a clip from a sneaker commercial that featured not a professional athlete, but simply an average teenage boy running down an average back road in an average manner. The commercial closed with those words we know all to well. Just do it.
My mind swirled to the last time I went for a run like that on the island of Eleuthera in December. I had already been stopped by several families along the side road of the coastal village of James Cistern by the time I happened upon Mark and his grandfather. Along with their dog, they were walking away from the small, four-room elementary school and towards home. We exchanged pleasantries and Mark’s grandfather inquired about his behavior at the after-school program. I assured him that Mark was a great kid and we enjoyed having him. What commenced after that was a start-stop conversation as I attempted to continue running while Mark stopped me every few feet with a question, not understanding what I was doing.
“Where are you going?”
“To the other side of town, to the grocery store.”
“Why are you running?”
“Because I like to run.”
“Do you have to run?”
“No, I just enjoy it.”
Finally I was able to break away and continue my evening’s jog, picking up the pace to try to arrive at the James Cistern dock before the sun set. I knew that there would be men cleaning fish and cracking open conch shells as their girlfriends watched and talked and laughed with a bottle of Kalik in one hand and a friendly salute waiting in the other. I have a sixth sense for sunsets, and I could feel that this one would begin dipping below the horizon within minutes.
Yet, a few minutes after running past Mark, I sensed that I was not alone. Looking back over my right shoulder as I ran, I saw Mark in hot pursuit with a huge goofy grin on his face.
“I am running with you!” the sweet, Bahamian child exclaimed, delighted with himself.
And in that moment he was more beautiful than any sunset I would find that night.
There are many ways to answer the question of what it means to be a pastor. Yet, all the theories and education and training in the world won’t do us any good if we don’t know how to get out there and just do it. It is when we just do it that others start to do it too; not out of obligation or guilt; not out of the need to follow rules or check things off a list; not out of the pursuit of power, attention or self-righteousness; rather out of the pure joy of living life the way we were created to live it.
Pastor is not a job. Pastor is not a career. Pastor is not a title.
Pastor is a calling. Pastor is an action. Pastor is a life.
Just do it. Run the race. Love the race. See who joins you when you do.