There are clergy who accept the call to professional ministry because We Just Want To Serve. We want to please God. We want to follow Jesus. And, if we are honest, maybe there’s also a little of this: We Like The Attention.
Of course, the days are over when being the local preacher brought immediate respect and name-recognition. It used to be true that the calling of a new pastor was newsworthy, but today that’s simply not the case – unless you are the pastor of the tallest of tall steeple churches. And even then, the average human being won’t care.
Nevertheless, many of us spend energy trying to get our names out there, possibly for the sake of the Gospel. (Or more likely for our own sakes.) We want to be known. We want to be desired as a theologian or a writer or a retreat leader. We seek out doctoral degrees or more prominent positions. Clearly, I’m speaking for myself here. But maybe you can relate.
Some of us reach a point when we say, “I don’t have anything to prove anymore.” We don’t care if others are chosen. We don’t mind if others win. We got attention when we needed it more.
Or maybe we will always feel like we have something to prove – to somebody else or to ourselves. Or to God?
So I was thinking about Mira Sorvino who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress when she was 28 years old. Sweet. And then she did other remarkable things, only not necessarily in the movies.
Yes, she was amazing in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, but that was 18 years ago. Since winning the Oscar, Mira Sorvino has “starred in lower-budget and independent films” according to Wikipedia. As well, she’s raising four kids with her spouse and there’s an entomological process found in the sunburst diving beetle named “mirasorvone” after she played an entomologist in the movie Mimic.
This is an honor comparable to calling the exegetical process of depatriarchalizing scripture “tribling“ perhaps. So that’s pretty impressive. But again, only the dorkiest among entomologists or theologians would understand.
Ms. Sorvino also identifies as a devout Christian and her life’s ministry includes work to end human trafficking. I imagine that God finds this work more impressive than having a beetle’s defensive mechanism named after her. Or acting in 40+ movies.
This week I’m retreating with new clergy, some of whom are the age that Mira Sorvino was when she won an Oscar. Being Ordained as a PCUSA Pastor ≠ Winning an Oscar. It’s the beginning of professional service in the church, not the pinnacle of professional acting in the movies.
And yet, there’s pressure in both places. If we win early, there’s the pressure to keep winning. If we are just starting out “with the whole world in front of us” there’s the pressure to become someone who is successful/worthy/known. At least this is true for the privileged among us with options.
What is “enough” as a professional minister (or as a professional journalist or teacher or dentist or caterer or farmer?) And how do we measure our worth? Is most of our work behind the scenes (and are we cool with that?) For clergy, most of what we do best will never be known to the masses or share-able on social media:
That time a sermon moved someone to make a tough choice (and we never even heard about it for decades.) That time we sat with a woman we barely knew in the ER after her husband’s accident. That time we said just the right thing in a prayer to soothe a desperate soul. That time we helped a woman escape from her abusive husband. That time we organized a moving day for a disabled friend. That time we listened to a widow as she told us (for the tenth time) the story about how she met her husband. That time we convinced a well-heeled member to fund a project for refugees over coffee. That time we . . .
It’s a huge sign of spiritual growth when we realize and accept that we only have to prove something to God. And God’s actually fine with us making an attempt.
Image of my sister in Christ Mira Sorvino that time she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Mighty Aphrodite in 1995.