Skyscrapers of book boxes teetered nervously in a maze around the cluttered new office; each box grunting under the weight of the heavy reading. I was grunting too, flopped down in my chair at the desk.
Why do I have so many books? I ask myself this question every time I have to move them. And why is my office on the 3rd floor?
First day at a new job. A new church body. And my first task is to haul these long-time companions to their new shelves. My head dropped to the desk just thinking about unpacking them all.
And that’s when I felt the hands on my shoulders. Big hands. Broad hands.
Startled, I lifted my head off the desk. It was my pastor.
No, not the senior pastor. Not the executive pastor. Not an associate of men’s ministry or small groups.
It was “Big Al”. The janitor.
And he was big. He stood towering over me with a broad build and bald head. Like a real life Mr. Clean, without the earring. I was pretty sure his hands could crush me and he probably wouldn’t have even noticed.
“Hey, is this your first day?” he asked.
“Yea, just getting all my books in the door.”
Big Al looks around and smiles, “Has anyone prayed for you yet?”
“Uh no, I guess not.”
“Great then, let me do it right now.” And before I can even agree, “Big Al” is praying for me to have courage, lead boldly, proclaim Christ clearly, to have passion in my spiritual journey and for my family to be strong and blessed by God.
That’s how I met my pastor. On my first day as the new youth pastor, he stepped into my office to empty the garbage. But he wouldn’t leave until he’d made sure my soul wasn’t in the same condition.
I like people like Al. People who see themselves as part of God’s divine plan to breathe life into every situation. Even while taking out the trash.
And now several years later, from time to time, Big Al will come strolling into my office to empty the garbage. And sometimes he’ll stop and look at me. And ask me a question.
“How are you doing with your relationship with God right now? Are you feeling passionate or is it becoming just a job for you?”
Yikes! How about “Hey, Nick. Nice weather we’ve been having, huh?” I mean, that’s pretty heavy for first thing Monday morning.
Except almost every time he asks me those questions, they’ve been questions that need to be asked. Sometimes I can answer that I’m doing really well and other times not. But, it’s always been a pastoral reminder to me to care more about the relationship I have with God than the job I think I do for him.
And it occurs to me that I can be honest with Al. As people who are usually looked at to have all the right answers and constantly be the epitome of godliness, it is often hard for pastors to have real discussions of their own spiritual walk. Those authentic moments of deep honesty are rare. And even more rare the people that ask it of us.
But the older I get and the longer I’m involved in professional ministry, the more I find it essential to find those rare individuals who will ask the real questions. It’s too easy to fake it. Too easy to miss it, while talking lots about it.
After all, it’s often my own soul that needs the most work. It is my wandering that needs a shepherd. I need a pastor too.
Whoever he or she is, your pastor does too.
Big Al isn’t a janitor. He’s a pastor that takes out my garbage sometimes.
And the fact that he knows that has made all the difference for me.
So may you see your true identity today. May you remember that you never need a title to fulfill your ministry. May you discover the people to pastor all around you that you could never have blessed in any other role. May you find your divine calling in the middle of the moments you label “ordinary.”
And may you be so fortunate as to come across your own Big Al. Title or not, every pastor needs a pastor. And he’s about the best there is.