Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fine Wine

The Naked Pastor recently wrote some words that have resonated with me:
I was watching the movie Bottle Shock earlier in the evening. A vintner says don’t give the vines too much water or fertilizer. Keep it sparse because the best wine comes from vines that struggle against adversity. Vines that have it easy produce a lazy taste in a lousy wine. I struggle against my own adversity. I realize someone might say, “Quit your whining (excuse the pun). You’ve got it easy!” And in many ways I do. Some think that I fulfill my own prophecies. And I know some accuse me of holding my own pity-party. Yes, my adversity is intangible. I don’t even understand it. But my sorrow is real. That can’t be denied. Forgive me for this. It’s not really a pity-party. In fact, it’s something I feel I can boast about. It makes sense of my life. And to know this brings me peace. I just wanted to share with you what seems to be a persistent theme in my personal and vocational life. Who knows! I might be a very fine wine.
I've been sitting with this quote for a while now, because I've had to figure out why it is that this quote has struck me the way it has. First off, I'm fascinated by the philosophy about how vines are treated in order to ensure a better wine. But besides that, I think about how adversity in ministry makes one a better pastor.

I'll be honest...the culture in which the church finds itself today does not make for an easy time to be a pastor. To put it one way, the church thrived in a culture that belonged to it, that revolved around it. But that is less and less the case today. When this realization is slow to come to churchpeople used to that church-centered culture, it is difficult to enact necessary changes. It is insisted instead that we keep doing just what we're doing, or if we just bring back what we did 10-20 years ago, or keep to the methods that used to work, we'll be fine.

This is the adversity in ministry as I see it. And I've been caught up in it myself. As much as I've been intrigued by emerging and missional techniques and philosophies, I've either been slow to apply them, or I've cloaked them too much in traditional garb. I just recently realized that in my own context, generation-based fellowship groups don't work. As much as I and other members have insisted that they should, they don't. This realization has come slowly to me, but I'm nevertheless glad that it finally did. The struggle that came before it, I think, has contributed to the prevention of my own lazy has deepened it and enriched it.

The question then becomes, what happens now? It is so clear that something incredibly different needs to happen in so many smaller family-based churches that never had to ask itself that question until recently. For some, the answer is still to run the same trick harder. But I suspect that there are many more, perhaps even those who deep down insist upon running that same trick, who realize that it won't make a difference.

This adversity has the potential to enrich the entire church, to produce a better taste and a finer wine. It certainly doesn't apply just to pastors, but rather to entire churches willing to go through a somewhat painful transition into a new way of thinking about ministry.

I hope and pray that I am becoming a finer wine. I hope and pray that I'm cultivating better vines in others as well.