In seminary we were assigned to read a book called Models of Ministry that provided a variety of different metaphors for what it means to be a local church pastor. Some pastors are prophets. Some evangelists or teachers. Some gravitate to the priestly roles we play. Others to being shepherd leaders or mystical poets. Each metaphor provides a different lens through which to understand a pastor’s particular place in a community and the roles we play.
Ever since I returned from my sabbatical last spring, I’ve been looking for a new title and job description to help me define and understand my place in this community of faith. I’ve been a counselor and preacher, a youth minister and activist, an administrator and program planner. But who am I called to be now? And the other day I thought, “What if I got to claim for myself the title I have been striving to live into, ‘Sailing Instructor’”?
“Pastor as Sailing Instructor.” In so many ways the metaphor fits exactly what I love about my work and want to share in my ministry. I want to be there “in the boat” as it were with people. I want to join them in their particular seasons of transition, change, struggle, transformation. I want to sit down with them and hear their stories and share the few simple hints I know.
I want to ask them if they can feel the wind and wonder with them from where it is blowing. Encourage them in the process of putting up the sails, preparing the lines, getting ready for a successful launch into the new. And here, out at sea, I want to hear what direction they are tacking and what it feels like for them to change directions.
I want to show the trust in them that indeed they can take the tiller in one hand and the mainsheet in the other and direct this little boat of their life across the water. I want to point out what it means to hold a course and congratulate them when they do so. And yes, to walk through the rituals of returning to the wharf, and tying up the boat. The beauty of knots, the folding of sails, the gifts of time, attention and care.
A sailing instructor has only a few simple things to teach. A lot to listen to, and a companionship, a being-with to share. Sailing instructors are heirs of the ancient craft of navigating through transitions and change, conscious of the elements of wind, water, wave, gusts, storms, rocks and reefs through which we make this passage of life. And they are always learning.
Last week, I had coffee with one of my sailing instructors, Dick. The day before he watched as one of his students crashed a boat straight into the dock. The student, the boat, were all fine. And Dick, shared all he had learned through the experience.
What if this New Year’s we all got to write ourselves new job descriptions? To play with a new metaphor to define what we are about and what we love doing. A new way to think about the roles we play in our families, relationships, workplaces and communities.
“Sailing Instructor” feels like the title, the placement of myself in this community of faith and at this transition point in my life that gives me a good way to understand how I want to go about my work each day. It reminds me of all that I still have to learn. And points to whom I am aspire to become. If I am so fortunate, I hope to be like one of those old men, like Dick, who taught me to sail. So calm, steady, encouraging, quiet, listening. Helping me see the wind, there, coming up, rising those little rippling waves across the water. Seeing that indeed the wind has shifted and I with it have stayed on course. Reminding me that I not only can do this, I am. Finding my way, and us together, sailing the sea of this unfolding mystery of life.