Thursday, September 29, 2011

Church Internship 101

"Your job," she said, "is to know Jesus."

I stared back at the Skype screen on my computer and nodded. Forget teaching Sunday School and giving morning announcements in two services, counseling with new believers and the hurting, planning our church's annual fall festival, or preparing for a Sunday night sermon.

My job: to know Jesus.

All else would flow out from there, my mentor said, from her perch in the UK, where she was working on her doctoral dissertation. If I would spend time with him each day, she said, I'd be OK no matter what came. And come it did.

In the first week of the internship, my mother-in-law passed away. We were making almost daily trips while she was under hospice care, we were there when she peacefully passed, and I was commissioned to help with the funeral. The same weekend she died, I gave announcements at church for the first time and delivered the details of her funeral arrangements to the congregation. "God will provide," my mother-in-law, Laura, had a way of saying, and so I clung to that.

A few weeks later, after the fall festival was mercifully wrapped up and the many details of the church's 75th anniversary service were behind us, our senior pastor delivered a stunning blow: he and his associate pastor wife (my mentor) were being appointed as district superintendents in our denomination, one state over. The final confirmation came a week and a half later as the staff mourned and hoped for a change of mind as they prayed together. No change came.

Last Sunday, the congregation found out as Pastor Chuck delivered the news with great tenderness and some pain in his voice. After a collective gasp, I heard people crying. I have never known a pastor with a higher shepherding gift. This couple have modeled tenderness with the broken and hurting, and as they are called on to other things, there is a collective "Why Lord?" and an understanding that God does not always tell us why. Instead, God simply offers us intimacy with himself.

I tried to focus on that as I walked into my mentor's Sunday School class after the news was given. I looked at the loss on their faces and the questions in their hearts, and all I could really do was offer up the psalm we turned to, psalm 46: "God is an ever-present help in trouble."

My job: to know Jesus.

This week at the church another stunning blow. A faithful woman of God who was in prayer meeting just last week and plans the funeral dinners for our congregation, developed a brain aneurysm and died. Still young, leaving a husband behind and two children, her absence creates a void that makes our heads spin and our hearts cry, "Why Lord??"

My job: to know Jesus.

Perhaps all of this is par-for-the-course in ministry: upheaval, tremendous loss, deep pain, questioning, feeling hurt and burdened for those left behind. Or perhaps there is something more at work here, and God longs to show me his strength perfected in my weakness. I am reeling, seeking rest, clinging to my Savior's promises, and remembering his track record in times of struggle. I stand in need of His grace, just as each one of us does.

My job is to know Him, the Savior who died and lived for me, who is seated at the Father's right hand, and who intercedes for me. What a blessed promise. And now, I'm about to wrap up this blog post and open my Bible and journal, so I can get back to my job. He is waiting for me. And by the way, He's waiting for you, too.

No matter your occupation, is your #1 job to know Jesus, believing all else will flow out from there? Do times of great struggle push you into the arms of Jesus--or away from him?