Those who are clueless about the work of a minister, and they are legion, think their lives consist of praying in safe, musty studies and taking it easy until they're forced into action by the weekend sermon. Others are tempted to think that a minister's job is far easier than their own. Pastors who are fortunate enough to receive a great paycheck cringe when they hear the criticisms about the level of their salaries. They wonder if those who complain about the cushy job of the pastor are aware of the extra dimension of stress involved in a minister's work. Gospel workers are a special target. When they fail, the world loses yet another voice of hope among a skeptical, depressed mankind. Would they continue to whine if they were made aware of the supernatural forces that oppose you?
Sometimes, however, the stress level has no relationship to the attached salary. The media often focuses on the mega-church and the pastor's terrific financial portfolio, but the greater percentage of churches in North America have fewer than one hundred members. The salaries are small, and, in not a few circumstances, is non-existent.
What kind of paycheck would the minister's critics demand if they faced an enraged drunk holding a knife blade to their rib cage? My adventure began when one of my members asked if I would visit a young man in the hospital. Upon first meeting him, it was obvious that he'd had a life-changing event. His heavily bandaged feet were resting in slings suspended from a framed constructed at the foot of his bed. Wanting to talk, he related his story with gushing enthusiasm.
He worked for a tree trimming company and, of all things, had been issued an aluminum ladder to use in cutting back some obstructive branches. The limbs were interfering with a bundle of high voltage wires. It was this man's job to place the ladder and to steady it with his feet planted against the conductive aluminum. Of course, the top rungs touched high voltage lines triggering a wild race of the electricity to find a ground. The outsides of both of the man's feet were touching the electrified ladder. His shoes were blasted off along with chunks of flesh. As proof of his story, the blackened tennis shoes, with pieces of canvas blown out, had been placed on the window ledge of his room like a macabre trophy. In light of his recent experience, the patient and his wife were interested in studying the Bible. Our first meeting was scheduled for a day shortly after his discharge from the hospital.
Our appointment was set for late evening in order for his wife to attend after she'd finished work. I had invited a deacon to accompany me. On the job training of church members was an integral part of my ministry. If, by observing me, a member could gain the skill of winning souls to Christ, the benefits to the church would be inestimable.
For example, when a visitor entered the church, the trained member knew how to approach the visitor. If they were interested in learning more about the faith, the member knew how to set up the studies, how to deliver them effectively, and they also knew the art of soul winning. On this occasion I had also taken my youngest son along. Because of the long hours I was working, I had become creative in spending time with the kids. When I had opportunity to involve them in my work, I took advantage. As my son played with the other children, the deacon and I presented the study. All had gone well, except I could tell the wife was only attending to ameliorate the husband. This wasn't unusual. People have every right to be skeptical when someone talks to them about ideas and teachings that can affect their eternal destiny. The woman's nonverbal queues were clear. She was extremely guarded. I was soon to learn that the Bible study wasn't all that had her feeling threatened. We had just completed the study about trusting the Bible when there came a forceful pounding at the door. I should have had the presence of mind to know this wasn't an ordinary, evening visitor.
As the two men entered, it became obvious that one of them had been drinking in excess. By listening to the ranting, it became evident that the drunk had an issue with the male Bible student. Since I had my small son with me, I determined to stay out of it. My son was my top priority.
The conversation between the two antagonists escalated into a full blown argument. The mood became considerably agitated and increased in volume. Soon the room became inundated with violent language. I hid my son behind me. Wouldn't you know, and it's usually my luck, my Bible student also worked himself around behind me to shield himself. The Drunk, in order to get to the object of his anger, decided he'd simply walk through me. Thinking my son was still at my back, in point of fact, he had been moved to a neighboring room by the lady of the house, I didn't move when the Drunk attempted walking over me. In order to protect my son, I shoved the man away. He bounced off a few pieces of furniture, hesitated in his confusion, reached into his pocket and pulled a knife. Snapping the blade into place, he approached me.
That was when he made his murderous declaration. The sharp point of the knife pressed against my skin. Was I scared? Yes, but my fatherly courage had been piqued. I wasn't moving. "Well, you can try to kill me. But you're not going to hurt my son!" I said staring into his eyes. I also thought to myself that the Drunk's chin was sticking out a long way and I could upper cut him hard enough to send him night-night. Then a thought forced its way into my brain. If I actually struck this guy, I'd lose my job as a pastor. Violence wouldn't do. Funny how you think sometimes, isn't it?
The Drunk, seeing he had come upon an immovable object, turned on my student who had now hidden behind the deacon accompanying me. He jabbed at the male student with his knife. The deacon grabbed a chair and fended off each lunge with the expertise of a tiger tamer. The Drunk would make a stabbing lunge, the deacon would push out the chair legs in the air to parry the attack. The deacon was a full-bearded man with deep set blue eyes. He reminded me of my childhood hero, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson." All the while "Stonewall" was keeping the attacker at bay, the student made certain that he stayed directly behind his "shield" by keeping his hands on the deacon's shoulders.
I pleaded with the Drunk's friend to get him out of the house. After a few more anxious moments and a few more threats, the two intruders went off into the night. The deacon and I were left with our student and his wife again. He tried to explain that the situation was a result of a misunderstanding.
The Deacon and I kept our small talk to a minimum as we quickly gathered up our papers and my son. We bid the family a goodnight and I took my son's hand and walked off their porch and down the steps. Crossing the nearly deserted street, I found my car by the light of a street light. After putting my son into the backseat and sliding into the driver's seat, I found my left foot wouldn't stop shaking long enough to push in the clutch. I always get nervous after the fact.
I looked up to see "Stonewall" approaching my door. Rolling down the window, I waited to see what he had to say about our experience. "Pastor, you know I used to play my guitar in bars, don't you?"
Struggling to understand where he was going with the conversation, I told him I did remember him telling me a bit about his "heathen days."
"Well, we played in some pretty rough places. I just wanted you to know that none of them was as dangerous as giving Bible studies with you!"