On the evening of June 11 Kathleen and I attended an enjoyable celebration for writers in Mississauga, Ontario. It was the Word Guild’s gala for the annual presentation of writing awards — an evening to be remembered!
The Word Guild is an organization made up of approximately 400 writers and editors from across Canada who are committed to offer the public their writing from a solid Christian base, whatever the category. The objective of Word Guild is to encourage aspiring Christian writers of all ages to write Christianly for publication.
And so it was that this early summer event was held primarily to present awards for writing of all genres that had been published in 2013 – columns, poetry, song lyrics, short stories, and books of nonfiction and fiction. There was even a category for “fresh ink writers” — aspiring writers from 14 to 25 years of age.
My son Don, my editor and publisher, had entered my recent book, The Pastor’s First Love: And Other Essays on a High and Holy Calling, published by his company in April 2013. I knew in advance that it had been categorized as “instruction” (one of ten categories) and that I was one of five finalists.
And I had been asked in advance to provide a quote not longer than 100 words from The Pastor’s First Love. This request did not raise any hopes because I assumed the other finalists had been asked for the same. So I went with low expectations.
Then something in the Master of Ceremony’s introductory remarks made me even less expectant that this would be my night. I sat back with these facts playing quietly in my mind until the books categorized as “instruction” were introduced.
Before the MC spoke to announced the winner, a masculine voice I did not recognize broke into the silence and began to read into the public address system words about weddings – the very excerpt I had sent the Guild. Slightly stunned I went forward to receive the winner’s certificate, a check for $100, and an opportunity to offer words of thanks as all other winners were doing.
I was surprised and gratified to have won the prize for my category, but even more surprised when, later in the evening, my book was also announced as one of four having been shortlisted for the Grace Irwin Award, the award for the best of all the winning books. The award to the winner was $5000.
(The winner of the Grace Irwin Award had written an eminently worthy book, Carolyn Weber’s Surprised by Oxford. In it she tells of leaving Canada as an unbeliever and returning a believer, having been shocked that academics at Oxford were not afraid to discuss their faith. As a result of their openness she was drawn there herself to faith in Christ.)
But my deepest pleasure of the evening was to know that the message of a book on pastoring was being recognized by Word Guild as having significant merit.
The Pastor’s First Love is a collection of writings done over a number of years. Here in a few paragraphs is the book’s thesis:
There are certain duties pastors are expected to perform out of love. They are expected to love the challenge of preaching. They are expected to love pastoral care. That is, visiting believers and unbelievers – whether in their homes, apartments, hospital rooms, or wherever a pastoral call can be made effectively. And they are to love the administrative task of ensuring directly or by careful oversight that the business of the church is carried out with order. These are basics of the pastoral task.
But the pastor’s first love is none of these tasks. Instead it is a love for Jesus Christ from which they all are supposed to flow. Before Jesus laid the pastoral assignment on his disciple, Simon Peter, he asked him three times, “Do you love me?” Only when pastoral duties are supported by an ever-freshening love for the Lord does the pastor’s task succeed authentically.
The book then proceeds to give instruction on such matters as the significance of ordination, the effective conduct of worship, what congregations want most in a pastor, a pastor’s first thirty days at a new church, the hallmarks of a Christian wedding, sexual integrity in the ministry, and so on.
I close The Pastor’s First Love with a chapter reviewing in outline the pilgrimage in ministry Kathleen and I have made together across 66 years. We are still a team: I continue to preach, teach and write as God gives me opportunity and Kathleen is my full partner in this.
The idea intended to carry through the whole book is that if one loves Jesus Christ above all and is truly called to this ministry, one should do ministry with excellence. Also, the book is intended to reflect the conviction that pastoral ministry is a profoundly fulfilling way to invest one’s life. On the other hand, if the call is merely to do a job, lacking the primary motivation of love for Christ, its challenges can become tedious and even embittering.
As you read this, please offer a prayer that my book will find its way into the hands of many young men and women in the early stages of responding to the pastoral call.