The terrible, beautiful, ugly ride

By Pat Bodenhamer

Pat Bodenhamer

Pat Bodenhamer

Special Contributor

A couple of nights a week I engage in a group text conversation with some trusted clergy friends. We’ve chatted this way for years now, and I would probably call them some of my best friends ever. Having trusted colleagues can be unusual in our profession because, like it or not, we compete with each other. But our group has not only good conversation, but I like to think the closest thing to holy conversation as I have ever had. These clergy are my brothers.

We laugh a lot, make fun of each other, hold each other accountable, give advice, dream, solve problems, coach… but most importantly, we hold each other in prayer. Not a passing, “I’ll pray for you,” but deep, intentional prayer.

The other night one of my brothers posted a message to several young pastors that he is mentoring. It got under my skin—especially when he ended it with this paragraph:

“Are you playing church? If so, it will either crush you or you’ll leave a bloody mess in your wake that you’ll answer for. As I was told a long time ago… If you can be happy doing ANYTHING else then DO IT. But… if you’re called, suck it up, say, ‘here I am, Lord’ and buckle in for a terrible, beautiful, ugly ride. Anything else will lead to your undoing. And we don’t want that for any of you.”

This “terrible, beautiful, ugly ride” is one that pastors know well. Like my clergy brother said, if you can be happy doing anything else, then do it. One of my favorite pieces of advice came from Bishop Bruce Blake: “Pat, when it stops being joyful, get out.”

Joyful doesn’t always mean happy. You can experience joy in the midst of pain. Joy can flood your soul when your soul is empty. Joy is opening your eyes and seeing the miracles all around you.

I experienced the “terrible, beautiful, ugly ride” during this appointment season. Like many of you, I waited to hear where I would serve God next. I got wrapped up in all the “stuff” and I had to ask myself, “Would I be happy—no, joyful—doing anything else?”

And now, here I sit in my new church office, buckled in for another ride. It’s a good feeling. I didn’t abandon my dreams and goals. I just opened my eyes to the miracle of joy.

I think before we experience spiritual revival we must experience joy. Real joy, the kind that radiates and makes the world wonder, what is going on with them?

To experience spiritual revival, we must stop putting our stock in the latest fad of church growth or leadership development. It’s going to take all of us going on this “terrible, beautiful, ugly ride” called being the church. It’s going to take big churches and small churches. It’s going to take laity and clergy working together to build up the Kingdom. It’s going to take clergy asking themselves the hard questions. It’s going to take our leadership getting to know the pastors and churches and loving them for who they are and what piece of the Kingdom they are working on. It’s going to take joy, real joy, to transform this world for Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to God that I didn’t jump off at the last stop. I pray that my brothers and sisters in ministry experience joy for themselves, and learn to share that miracle with a hurting world.

The Rev. Bodenhamer serves as pastor of Decatur and Gravette UMCs. She offers special thanks to the Revs. Kavan Dodson, Brad Elrod and Keith Dodson for their inspiration.