I used to cut firewood every Autumn with my Dad. We would drive the tractor into the woods bordering the fields of my grandparents’ farm. He would cut the trees and I would split them and load them onto the old makeshift wagon my grandfather had built from plywood and an old axle. Once we got our loads up to the house and finished all the splitting, the firewood ended up in the barn for months before it ended up in the fireplace.
The wood had to season. Those freshly cut oak and hickory logs would only smoke and smolder in the fireplace with all that moisture locked in their grains. Left in the barn over time, though, the pores and fibers would loosen with the gradual release of stored water. A good fire in the hearth takes seasons to develop.
“Seasoned”—this is a term we sometimes apply to people who have persisted over time in their vocation, to those who have endured the ups and downs, the dry and wet, the hot and cold. Consistent exposure to the elements over time… that’s what we mean by seasoned.
The seasoned minister has endured the business meetings, the hospital visits, the beautiful weddings, the somber funerals. Laboring over the texts throughout the church calendar, maintaining fellowship in the face of potential schism, fielding complaints both legitimate and illegitimate—seasoned.
But such exposure can also leave us rotten.
In my attempts to season my own firewood, I have made the mistake of storing those freshly cut logs in the wrong place and in the wrong way. At the touch of cold in the Fall breeze, I have grabbed logs to bring into the house and found them wet with mushrooms and rank with rot. No roaring fire.
While writing Faith Without Illusions, I discovered that fellow ministers were often on my heart while thinking about disillusionment and cynicism in the church. Continual exposure to the ecclesial elements can leave us sour and rotten. But that exposure can also leave us seasoned; that is, strengthened by the course of experience and time.
It is okay for a minister to be weathered. There is surely no way a faithful minister can withstand the demands and frustrations (and joys!) of his or her vocation without some degree of scarring. But those demands and frustrations can poison us so gradually that our slow decay is barely perceptible.
So… are you decaying or maturing?
Admittedly, all metaphors have their weaknesses. I think this one is useful, but I would love to hear your thoughts:
Any counsel on how we can come out of the pastoral vocation as “seasoned” as opposed to “rotten”?
What conditions induce decay in ministry? What conditions promote a healthy maturation?