In my experience in ministry it has been my understanding that every local congregation or denomination has their own particular ministerial formation program for their beginning ministers. Some churches require new ministers to read a certain set of works ranging from texts on historical theology to contemporary homiletics. Other congregations may require the new minister to sit in on various seminars on how to prepare effective sermons before they are allowed the privilege to address the local congregation. Yet, one of the things that I was taught to be essential in ministry was the look of the minister.
I was always taught that the minister needed to set the standard in appearance and general upkeep. Therefore, I did what I saw other ministers do, I paid special attention to every crease in my suit, made sure my tie was not too conservative and not too flashy, and I always made sure that I had my cologne on before I entered the pulpit. All of these things I thought were of paramount importance in ministry.
This summer I am serving as the Camp Pastor for the Passport Youth Missions team in Macon, GA and Danville, VA. If you aren’t familiar with Passport Inc., they are a non-profit organization that provides Christian summer camps for children and youth that are Christ centered and mission driven. This summer several of the staff arrived to begin a summer of camp and needless to say I arrived with the wrong orientation. I arrived in a freshly pressed pair of khakis, a starched polo, Stacy Adams loafers, and a Kangol driving cap. I quickly learned that to do the work of the ministry in this vineyard, I needed to be reoriented on what was truly essential for ministry.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus asked John three times did he love Him. After replying to the question twice before, he answers a third time, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you. [John 21:17]” Then Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”
We live in a world where sheep roam through the plains of life looking for hope for their despair, peace in their distress, and justice in their afflictions. This is the environment that hundreds of youth, dozens of staff, and I are working in this summer. We are working trying to reconcile the desperate cries and pleas of the sheep.
It is in this environment that true shepherds take their place. A shepherd is not one whom is concerned with their appearance or security, yet they are intimately concerned with all the affairs of their sheep. It is only when we learn to get beyond ourselves and live, talk, eat, pray, struggle, work, sing, and advocate for and with the sheep that we will be able to understand what it means to live by the words of 1 John 3:18 which says, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”