I recently built a backyard fire pit. I poured a concrete slab about 12 feet in diameter and put together a fire pit kit I had ordered from a home-improvement store. It turned out really well, and we’ve already enjoyed sitting around a nice, hot fire on a cold January evening. There’s something therapeutic about watching the embers glow in the dark. There’s something soothing about the sound of a crackling fire and salutary about the aroma of oak wood burning.
Then, after an hour or so of unwinding and releasing all the stress and strain of the day, relaxed and ready for bed, we go back inside the house, carrying the smell of smoke, which has permeated our clothing. It is impossible to enjoy a fire without smelling like smoke.
But all fires are not as pleasurable.
Leaders often find themselves at the other end of many 9-1-1 distress calls, constantly running around putting out fires, and at the end of the day they come home smelling like smoke, smudge-faced, and sometimes a little burned.
Forest service agencies around the country monitor the conditions that determine the risk levels of destructive fires. They measure such factors as rainfall, relative humidity, wind, and available fuel on the ground. Sometimes, a forest area becomes what is described as a tender box, which is ready to ignite with the least little spark from a lightening strike, unattended campfire, or thoughtless toss of a cigarette.
Churches far too often become tender boxes where the least little incident, or unattended responsibility, or thoughtless word can spark a destructive fire, and leaders get the call, like the first responders they are. They rush to the scene, sometimes at great personal risk, to put out the fire, or at least bring it under control until it burns itself out.
My brother has a saying he often uses to describe his work. He’s an attorney who deals with a lot of messy situations into which people seem so disposed. When I ask how he’s doing, he says, “Just been in a meat grinder?”
Anyone who leads and works with people, including pastors, knows how messy life can get. If you’re not putting out fires, you might find yourself in the middle of one ugly mess after another. It’s a grind. At the end of the day, you think you’ve been through the meat grinder yourself, feeling like hamburger!
And speaking of hamburger, back to the fire pit… One of the things I’m going to do real soon is gather my family and a few friends around the fire pit, and I’m going to cook the best hamburgers they’ve ever eaten over a bed of hot, glowing oak embers. And after we’re done, I’m going to throw more wood on the fire. Smoke will rise and swirl among us as we share fellowship together and allow the warmth of the fire and the love in our hearts to refresh our faith and strengthen our souls. We will laugh at silly things, and we will not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have to worry about itself.
Hal West spent 33 years as a pastor with an emphasis on creating effective change and transition in a traditional church setting. He is the President of Compass Coach and Consulting (compasscoachandconsulting.com) whose mission is to assist pastors and churches find the road to success. He has authored 3 books. His latest is The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish: Boomer Pastors Bouncing Back (CrossBooks Publishing, 2011)
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