Everything in ministry isn’t serious. I think a sense of humor is one of the most important attributes of staying healthy. Every time I read the Apostle Paul’s words that God chose the foolish things of this world (1 Cor. 1:27) I’m reminded to not take myself so seriously.
There’s a great story in the Bible were Paul preaches for so long that a guy falls asleep, topples out of a window and dies. (Acts 20:7-12). What’s even more hilarious about this story is that, after Paul brings the guy back to life, he keeps on preaching until morning. This story loosely reminds me of the time I planned a scavenger hunt at Northgate. On the night of the hunt the temperature dropped to minus twenty. I had a bunch of youth coming and so I was not about to cancel. The team that was to help me consisted of several people who had to stand at different outside locations and hand out clues. After the event was over, we came back to the church, had hot chocolate, and I then gave a thirty minute message. As I was wrapping up, Craig, one of the youth handing out clues, walked in shaking, with a face full of icicles. Through chattered teeth he asked, “Is the game over yet?” I’d sent Craig to a nearby soccer field at the beginning of the game, but I forgot to send someone to tell him the game was over. We laughed about this later, but the moment he said it I apologized, quickly wrapped up my talk and pumped him full of hot chocolate.
Northgate had given me many ministry opportunities so that, when I was interviewed by Greenfield, I was able to tell them that the only thing I had no experience in was conducting a funeral. They replied, “Oh, don’t worry. We don’t anticipate anyone in our church dying in the near future.” There’s a verse in James that states, “If the Lord wills” when discussing the future that could apply here. After three days on the job, someone died. I called Greenfield’s previous pastor for back-up, who happened to be my mentor Ralph Korner from a few years back. He agreed, but said I had to take the lead.
The day of the funeral I discovered a different side to the stiff demeanor of the typical funeral director. As we stood side-by-side after the service, guiding the pall-bearers carrying the casket to the hearse, I modeled my walk after the same serious steps of the funeral director. As soon as he and I got into the hearse and closed the door, however, he became a different person. He turned the radio up and looked at me and said, “Have you heard the one about the lawyer who emailed his client overseas: ‘Your mother-in-law passed away in her sleep. Shall we order burial, embalming or cremation?’ He got back the reply, ‘Take no chances, order all three.’” After I gave a little chuckle he gave me another. “You know, I’ve always wondered how a cemetery can raise its burial charges and blame it on the cost of living?” This continued until we reached the grave site where he became Mr. Formality again. I guess if you do this every day, sometimes twice a day, you’ve got to have an outlet.
As we drove into the cemetery Mr. Formality had an added reason for becoming serious again. I knew something was wrong when he grabbed his cell phone and started yelling, “Where? I don’t see it? What are you talking about? Well, someone screwed up? You deal with it!!!”
“What’s wrong?” I asked when he hung up.
“They forgot to dig the grave?”
“What?” I looked out the back window of the hearse and saw the family and dozens of cars pulling in for the graveside service. “What do we do now?”
“Not we,” he replied, “You. You’re going to have to go out there and tell the family they’ll have to come back later.”
So much for Mr. Funny Guy!!!
I did as he suggested and, fortunately, I had an easy going family who was able to roll with it - although I’m pretty sure they got their money back. We headed back to the church, had lunch, and came back later when the grave was dug.
Moving on to some funny stories from my next church, I’ll never forget the first baptism I did at Greenfield. Ten people were getting baptized and half of them had just become Christians in the first months of my ministry there. I was pumped! The service was organized in such a way that, after the baptisms were finished, the praise team would come up and play a couple of songs and then I would come back on to preach. Since I’d be the last one out of the water I’d only had about five minutes to change out of my wet clothes and into dry ones. Unfortunately, the way the church was set up, after you left the baptismal tank through a door that went backstage, you had to go down a spiraling staircase into the basement, run across the Fellowship Hall, head down a hallway and then find the bathroom. It was ridiculous, so I decided I’d just change back stage. No one would be back there since I was the last out of the water. I could drop all my wet clothes into a bus pan and change into the dry clothes I’d left back stage. This meant I could walk on stage out the side door when the band was finished. It was perfect and everything worked as planned. At least I thought that, until I got a report after the service.
As the congregation was thinning out and heading home a single lady in her forties pulled me aside and proceeded to tell me, “Pastor Stef, next time you do that could you please make sure you close the side doors that lead onto the stage?” Apparently, I’d let everyone sitting on the left side of the sanctuary see a lot more of their pastor than they needed. I’m not sure why someone didn’t walk up and shut the door. Maybe that would have drawn more attention. Maybe it’s because it would have acknowledged what that person had seen. Since this lady was the only one who ever mentioned it to me makes me wonder if everyone was just trying hard to deny what they saw. I obviously didn’t know the door was open and so I’m hoping they only saw my backside. I’ll never know because I never asked for details, but I’m thankful for the advice she gave that was never taught in seminary.
Another incident happened at Greenfield that shows how bad I am when it comes to medical things. A number of boxes of the book I wrote, Walking on Your Knees, arrived at the church. My friend, and fellow pastor, Jonah and I started hauling these boxes from the delivery truck and into my office. During one of the trips I noticed that my forearms looked badly bruised. I immediately started to feel dizzy and found a chair to sit on to catch my breath. Trying not to pass out I put my head between my knees. This is how Jonah found me.
“Hey Stef. What’s going on? You alright?”
“No.” I showed him my arms and then in a weak voice replied, “I think I’m bleeding internally. You’re going to have to take me to the hospital.”
Jonah took a closer look at my arms. He looked at his own. He then went over to the boxes we’d just brought in and rubbed his arms against them.
“Stef, I think that’s just ink from the boxes we’ve been carrying.”
Even as I write this down I can’t stop laughing at myself. What made me jump to such a drastic conclusion? Wow! Did that ever become the joke of the church for a while! Jonah even found a way to turn it into a sermon illustration so that he could share it with the congregation more than once.
I did get my payback. During a staff meeting Jonah was complaining about one of the bathroom doors sticking. He was worried that if something wasn’t done someone was going to get stuck in the bathroom. Later in the meeting Jonah got up and went to the bathroom. I sprang into action. I got the staff to follow me down to the bathroom and hold the door shut. When he had finished doing what he went to do, he pulled on the door and it didn’t budge. He pulled again, harder this time, and it still didn’t budge. It took everything to muffle our giggles. Thinking we were still down the hall in our staff meeting Jonah started hollering, “Hey guys. It’s happened. I told you someone was going to get stuck in here. Guys! The bathroom door is jammed. Guys! Hey, can you help me out?”
We couldn’t take it anymore and burst out laughing and let him out. Jonah was quick to remind me, “At least I didn’t think I was bleeding internally.”
I’ll finish up with a story from Bethany, the church I’m at now. It happened while visiting a senior in the hospital. While I was sitting at his bedside asking him how he was doing, I noticed leftover food and a jug of apple juice on the table about a foot away from me next to his bed. My visit was around 1:30pm and so I assumed it was from lunch and had yet to be cleared away. We finished talking. I prayed for him. And then he told me he really had to go pee. I asked him if I should get a nurse, but he said no. Instead, he grabbed the jug of “apple juice”, placed it under his covers and started filling it up. At that moment I realized it wasn’t apple juice. I had been ministering to him while sitting a foot away from a pitcher of his urine. It didn’t seem to faze him so I tried to not let it faze me, but I excused myself before he finished up and put his fresh pot back on the table.
What would we do without laughter? Probably be tempted to think we are God and try to control everything. It’s good to remember that God chose the foolish things of this world (1 Cor. 1:27). It makes life and ministry much more joyful!