There’s a line in the movie Lonesome Dove when the Hat Creek Cattle Company is about to drive their cattle herd through its first dust storm. One of the cowboys says to another (I can’t remember who), “Well, I reckon this is where we find out if we was meant to be cowboys or not.”
I find myself thinking of that line every time I find myself in a situation that seems to require a higher level of pastoral expertise than I imagine myself being capable of. It may be a phone call that requires me to give pastoral counsel on the fly, for a situation I’ve never even dreamed of. Or the visit to a member’s home that brings to light an aspect of their life that no one else knows about. It could be a trip to the emergency room or to the county detention center, when I have no clue what condition this particular soul is in—until I walk through the door.
But I keep riding into these storms, wondering to myself how I’ll find my way out. I think that this is where I’ll find out if I was meant to be a pastor. I get there and I may stumble around for a while, but usually Jesus’ words find their way to my lips. Then things seem to become more clear. Then I know that, ready or not, Jesus has called me to do this work on his behalf. He has called me to serve these people as their pastor, which means sometimes stepping into unknown places, and into a world entirely different than the one I know.
Yesterday was Assignment Day at the Seminary. We watched the call service via the internet with the upper grade students. Our teacher’s brother was being assigned. As I think back to those days, I realize that we were well prepared to enter into the pastoral ministry. By the time a candidate’s name is read, he’s ready to go, ready to be a pastor. But I find that there is a whole lot more preparation that goes on every day, with every visit, every phone call. I find that I am constantly learning what it means to be pastor, to these people, at this time, in this place.