If you haven’t read the “Part 1” of this blog, that’s the one last week read that because now I want everyone to put on their theological hats. Let’s take this story of a parent teacher conference as a metaphor about God’s relationship with the clergy and the people.
If I were to assign anyone characters in this metaphor of a parent teacher conference it would be simply that God is the teacher, the parents are the clergy, and the children are the people. Now, I do want to clarify that by no means is this about hierarchy, ability, or power. What I want to clarify is that being clergy, or the people does not make one better than the other, however, the roles of such are different.
But I do sometimes imagine that as a clergy we are somewhat responsible with how the people behave. We are not necessarily considered a model of morals or ethics, but more that what we study, what we preach, and what we command is about the importance of repentance, the power of forgiveness, the importance of living well, and the necessity of loving others and knowing that you are loved. From a clergy standpoint, if we do these things well, then the people will do well and the world will be all good, right?
Well, no. And who even says that every clergy/pastor, even does all these things perfectly. Afterall, the clergy/pastors are the people too! But I can only imagine what that heavenly parent teacher conference may look like, if it would even happen.
I assume God as the teacher, looking at the clergy aka. parents are probably saying some (hopefully) encouraging things and then lay it on heavy of what the children aka. the people are struggling with and whether a change of behavior is needed.
When Eunkyung and I were meeting Norah’s teacher, Norah was super chill, just went to grab a book and started reading. Ben however was bouncing off the walls. Even at one point he climbed the teacher’s desk and just stood on top of it. Two kids raised the same, but totally different behaviors.
Now, if God was the teacher, and the clergy were the parents, and the people were the children, I can only imagine, that only a similar outcome would occur! One person would be polite, reading a book, understanding the context of location and behave accordingly, while another person would be bouncing off the walls, climbing on the Tree of Good and Evil, eating the forbidden fruit, taking multiple bites. Even though the pastor says the same thing to everyone, but the results can vary. While the clergy are sitting in front of God just sweating!
It honestly, just funny to think about. I do not think that God would be judgmental at all, but I can see God going over to the troubled and misbehaved and sit them in their lap and whisper words of kindness of love. I can imagine that God would tell the well-behaved child to keep going and continue to do good work. And God telling the clergy, that you can’t expect to be perfect, and you can’t expect people to be perfect as well. God would remind each clergy the simple rule that we often times forget. That is, “Remember, you are called to serve; you are called to love.” Love to well behaved and the not so well behaved the same. Love the ones that show you respect and love the ones that scream at you all day.
When it comes with anything, whether you are a teacher, clergy, a person that has a position of leadership or authority, a child, or parent, we must realize that there are so many factors involved in how people respond to the message we give them. Not one person is the same, it's like we are all snowflakes, individuals, different, but all clumping together on this earth. So, never get upset or feel like a failure in your expectations of people around you. Like what I was told as a clergy, you are called to love. Not to serve, not to teach, not to act authoritative, not to expect a certain result, you are called to love.
I had a parent teacher conference last night at Baker Elementary School. This is the first one I have gone and to be honest I was so stressed about it the entire week! Just because I am always hoping that Norah is doing an A+ job in everything. Not only do I hope she is excelling in all her schoolwork, but also that she is around good friends and not getting bullied by anyone.
I was terrified because well, she’s my daughter! She came from me. And to be so honest I only pray that she has better traits than me. To be honest I hope that she has more of Eunkyung’s genes than mine! Sounds a bit harsh on myself, but I can’t hide how I feel regardless of my self-deprecating statement. Eunkyung is definitely smarter than me and works harder than me. Maybe I am more outgoing than her and maybe I get less stressed than her, and maybe I’m better looking than her. That last statement’s a dang lie… I know I married up.
But I know what kind of student I was, and I know what kind of student Eunkyung was. And well, I hope Norah takes after Eunkyung more than me. When I was in her age, I remember my teacher would write the names of kid's names on a chalkboard if they misbehaved. It was an attempt that hoped to embarrass us. But it didn’t really work for me. And if we got in trouble a second time, she would proceed to write checkmarks by our names. I didn’t know what the consequences were about how many checkmarks we were “allowed” to get. Even though I never thought myself as a bad kid, I was a weird kid for sure.
Even though I wasn’t getting in trouble in class, I wondered if we kept getting in trouble that means the check marks by our names would just keep collecting. And then would it be possible to cover the entire checkboard in check marks? I thought I’d experiment. Again, I didn’t know the consequences. So, I got in trouble for talking in class. My name is now on the board. And I decided for the entire day, I would break as many rules as possible but after about hour 2 I realized that in order to cover the entire chalkboard with check marks I needed help. I got pretty far but I know that I can’t accomplish this task by myself. So, I recruited five other kids around me to act up. I told them my curiosity and they were curious as well. Even while I was explaining this, I think I collected like 5 more checkmarks. So now, with six of us hard at work, the checkmarks kept coming. And it came to the point that the teacher got so tired of writing checkmarks she just told us to write the check marks ourselves. We got pretty close in covering the chalkboard. But now I knew. Mrs. Thompson would continue to write checkmarks on the board no matter what. Oh, Mrs. Thompson, if somehow you are reading this, I am so sorry! I was a little monster that day! But now I knew the consequences, it was a parent teacher conference. Yeah, the real punishment for me was having to let my parents know what I was doing in school.
So… when I got the notification that I had to sign up on a day and time for a parent teacher conference for Norah, I was shook. I literally thought, “Oh no, was she testing the teacher by seeing if she can cover the entire chalkboard in check marks like what I did?” It didn’t dawn on me that most likely schools these days don’t have a chalk board, or that there are other more creative ways in punishing students. But I thought that maybe I have to do this conference because Norah got in trouble in school.
For the last week or so, I was secretly interrogating Norah and staring at her to see if she has a “wickedness” in her. It was hard to imagine, but then again, how am I supposed to really know. I had to think, “Is my daughter living a double life? Being so sweet, quiet, polite, and kind at home, while at school just kicking crap all around?” Man, to imagine that she would be such a brat in school was heartbreaking. But nonetheless I just had to wait on that day to hear what the teacher had to say.
The day came, and well, first thing I learned was that no longer were parent teach conferences only reserved for bad behaving kids, actually all kids are doing it. Another is to simply put; I had nothing to worry about. Apparently, Norah is super smart, super curious (in a good way), friendly, positive, and works well with all her classmates. Apparently, she is already reading at a 4th grade level and is able to comprehend more complicated chapter books. Apparently, she’s got talent in number and already understand fractions. Which I must say her understanding of fractions comes with me, because fishing has a lot to do with knowing fractions. Fishing weights and fishing lures all have fractions like 1/4oz, 1/2oz, 3/16oz, and so on. So, yeah, I have nothing to worry about.
The teacher had a lot of positive things to say about Norah. I am so proud of her! She’s not just doing great in all aspect of school life, but she is an amazing help at home. Whether it is cleaning up, playing with Ben or helping Ben, or listening to Eunkyung and myself.
There is one picture that the teacher thought was funny though. Apparently, Norah drew a picture of a family portrait about what we do. And in the picture was Eunkyung, nurse, Ben blocks, Norah on a tablet, and apparently me watching and screaming at the TV. With the words coming out of my mouth, “You got to be kidding me!”
God has blessed her with talent and given her a bright start to her future. According to Norah’s picture that is now hung in her classrooms for all the kids to see, I’m not a perfect father, well, I am probably like every father! But I know she has a perfect Father in heaven. Who can guide her better than me. I trust in him and whether Norah’s knows it or not, it is her Father in Heaven who is guiding her every day and every hour. I like to think that. So now, I know I don’t have to worry about her at all, because she is in God’s loving hands.
Now… I just have to worry about Ben. Gods got this handled, because all I can control is not necessarily how Ben behaves, but my volume when I have the urgency to scream at the football game on TV.
Oh, I asked Norah why she didn’t draw me preaching at church and she said she didn’t know how to draw that. Nice.
Being a pastor is different from most jobs. To get to be a pastor is a different feeling because it’s a position of “calling.” Which is weird to think about. That is the first step into the direction of full-time ministry is that pastors are called by God to lead a community of people.
How did this happen and when did it start and how do you know? Well to answer all those questions: I don’t know. I know, you think it should, but the only way I can explain about my calling is simply being led one step at a time until you get to where God needs you to be. Many times, I still find myself in disbelief that somehow I am a pastor.
But to be honest, the passion to be a pastor is something I can recall. Now, passion, to me is different from a calling. Now, just so I don’t sound totally crazy, my calling didn’t come from a booming voice from heaven and me understanding exactly what the voice of God is saying. Calling, I believe is a process. It is one step after another. Nothing planned, nothing expected, and most of the time it feels serendipitous to how you got to a certain place of being and feeling. Passion is a feeling, but to me often follows with a certain known path of what is going to come next. Calling, is made, regardless of planning. Because when we boil down to it, God doesn’t care about your plans, what God has planned for you will inevitably happen, no matter what. Now, can you see the difference?
Maybe, right? But honestly before I felt called to go into ministry it first started as having a positive impression on pastors. When I was younger, I looked up to my pastor that knew me from a young boy to an adult male. I still look up to him and admire him a lot! But he gave me such a positive perspective on church and doing church work. And through my years of growing up as him being my pastor, I saw him go through a lot! Stuff that honestly prepared me for the future that I didn’t know would happen.
What I saw about him, wasn’t because he gave the most amazing sermon, or that he commanded with authority, or that everything was always perfect in his life, or that he had the coolest possessions. What he possessed was happiness. I saw that immediately. I saw that he was happy.
Now, his life wasn’t perfect, he didn’t have the coolest possessions, or the biggest house, or nicest car, or kids that behaved perfect, or a marriage that was always on the cool side of the pillow, or that everyone in the church “respected” him, or that his sermons were always the most inspiring, but what he had was happiness. He had a modest life, trying to pay off debt, he went through a hard divorce, didn’t win the trust of the congregation immediately, had power struggles with the church staff, his kids weren’t angels (I would know since they were my best friends, and we liked getting in trouble!), made mistakes at the pulpit, didn’t have the best singing voice… well let’s just say he was human. He wasn’t perfect, and he wasn’t immune to the disasters that life would throw at him. And I am sure there were plenty of moments that he wasn’t happy. (Wow, now it just sounds like I’m just roasting my childhood pastor! But that’s not the intention.)
Now there were times I saw him disappointed, sad, angry, and stressed. But in general, he always had the presence of happiness for me. When I picture him in my head, I can see his smile, his unmatched kindness, his compassion.
In my life I could have any job in the world. I believe that. I could have been a doctor, a nurse, a businessman, a lawyer, a stock trader, a teacher, factory worker, a mechanic. I don’t doubt my skills because I know if I worked hard enough, studied whatever was needed to do those things, put myself in the right place to have experience in those things, I could be any of those. But I wanted to be a pastor, and I think God implanted that feeling in me even before I knew I wanted to be a pastor, through my impression of Pastor Cunningham (he’s my childhood pastor!). I could be anything or anybody in the world, but I am a pastor. Called, and lead through the grace of God. He dragged me through every experience I had since I was young and brought me to where I am right now. I could be making a ton of money, buying my bucket list $650 Shimano Antares DC baitcasting fishing reel, or a nice bass boat with the coolest truck. But to be honest, money isn’t going to make me happy. I saw that in Pastor Cunningham. I didn’t make a lot of money, but he still was happy. I could tell he loved what he did. And I wanted to feel like that.
So think about how you carry yourself in front of other people, in front of your neighbors, friends, and family. What kind of influence are you placing on them, especially the young ones around you. I don’t think they care if you are good at your job, or if you are charismatic, a true leader, or do a bunch of stuff. The important question is that do they see you as being happy? Are you happy in what you do?
I learned two important things last week when I was in Louisville. Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson told us two things that I will never forget. Being a pastor is the hardest job you will ever love. And secondly, as pastors we aren’t called to serve, we are called to love. I like that a lot. It is true, being a pastor is the hardest job that I will ever love. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. And I do not necessarily feel called to serve, but I do feel called to love. Love all people, even the one that yell at me, even the ones that tell me that they don’t love me, even the ones that are so angry at God. I am called to love.
As Christians we are called to love, not necessarily serve. Serving is only possible with love. Serving all people, friends and people who you may find indifferent from you. And just remember whatever you do, the big things and little things, are you happy or are you doing this for a different kind of motivation. Don’t worry about whether your service will have an impact on others, worry about whether they see you as being happy.
As a pastor, I am happy. This is the hardest job I will ever have and I and grateful to be where I am always. Nothing else I’d rather want to do.
Weird question. How can the presbytery or synod be better? Or does it matter? I ask this question because I work in my local Presbyterian church but also, I serve on committees on the Presbytery and Synod. And I love doing all these things. I like to serve the local church as well as the greater church. But I wonder if there is any real impact on local churches in the things that are going on in the Presbytery and Synod.
To be honest I sometimes feel like I am serving three different churches and that all of them can feel so separated from each other, which is unfortunate. Now, I have to think to myself, as a pastor of my local church, how much information do I share in my work that is being done in the Presbytery or Synod.
To me the most important thing is that we all feel connected, and we all feel included. Now, whether local churches realize it or not, what happens in the Presbytery or Synod does affect in what happens in the local church. Some meetings I have with either the Synod or Presbytery can have large impacts on how I do my ministry in my local church, or some are quite small.
But to be honest, I am not the kind of person that will stand out can vocally call out everything that I do in the regional church. But I hope that my actions show through the work of the Synod and Presbytery. Most importantly, when the time is needed for my church to get resources or help, I hope that I can direct them to the programs or personnel that can help them through any situation.
I have full confidence in my local church and the wider church. There are times in which I may not fully agree with what may be happening on the national levels, and I will put priority to the needs going on in my local church. And that is ok, because I do believe that the local church must have autonomy in these situations.
We must understand that all local churches are unique, and that is a good thing! It’s also important for local churches that they do not have to be like any other church “out there.”
The new executive Rev. Forrest Claassen said something that made me think about my local church and what is the possibility to reconfigure my ministry plan for that church. He made a statement about following “patterns.” Basically, needing to ask myself, “What patterns do I see in my church?” (Now I will elaborate more on this probably in a video post that I have been working on for some time.) Do I recognize what God is showing me in my church? Well, not just in my church but in other churches as well.
These “patterns” are found in each individual church and sometimes we find ourselves fighting against these “patterns” because of stubbornness or denial. Don’t forget every church has its “patterns” and it is possible that no church has the same “patterns” as another church. What I am trying to say is that a church cannot believe that because church B is doing this can getting success, church A can do the same and have the same results. Even more so, what we see patterns in the greater church (national, presbytery, or synod) does not mean that those patterns are in the local church. Like I said before there is a fundamental nature of autonomy out there.
I am never the type of person that pushes agendas unless I feel it is necessary, that is if the agenda is vital to a church. Hmm… now I feel like I am trying to separate the local church from the greater church! Oh no! That’s not it! Because what I see is the beauty of the greater church is that it is all unique autonomous local churches coming together to always respect one another and help one another regardless of agendas. I believe that the greater church is there to help local churches find what their “patterns” are! But the question I bring again, especially if you are a Presbyterian, is how can your presbytery and your synod be better? Do you feel that they are assisting you in helping your church find it's identity and help you see the “patterns” in your church, so that you can strengthen your autonomy as that local church and find success and growth?
Hey this is Rev. Brian Choi's random thought throughout my week. Most of this stuff, will probably be about family, church, fishing, music, movies, food, whatever I think of, hopefully it will have some sort of theological reflection (maybe).