From the Shepherd’s Nook: The Pastor’s Mt Everest

No Pain, No Gain

In the last post I mentioned that so many of us desire a cruciform life but without any pain. Most of us long to know the “power of Christ’s resurrection” without entering into “the fellowship of his sufferings.” The irony is that many of us love sports, too. What is the enduring sports mantra? No pain, no gain. Built into the very idea of being a passionate person, a passionate pastor, is passion, that is, pain. Every great endeavor includes or involves pain. I’m thinking about those who conquer Mount Everest. In high school I read The Conquest of Everest by John Hunt and Sir Edmond Hillary. Since that time I have admired those who have conquered the highest peak on this planet. In my younger years, I even imagined climbing Everest myself, but it was always too costly (and not just in money). To me, the Christian Mt. Everest is the challenge of “becoming like Christ.” That is God’s purpose for us and it was Paul’s passion in ministry (Romans 8:29; Galatians 4:19).

Jon Krakauer in his book, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster writes about the painful hardships on Everest at 23,000 feet: The wind kicked up swirling waves of powder snow that washed down the mountain like breaking surf, plastering my clothing with frost. A carapace of ice formed over my goggles, making it difficult to see. I began to lose feeling in my feet. My fingers turned to wood. It seemed increasingly unsafe to keep going in these conditions. I was at the head of the line, at 23,000 feet, fifteen minutes in front of Mike Groom; I decided to wait for him and talk things over. But just before he reached me, Rob’s voice barked over the radio Mike carried inside his jacket, and he stopped climbing to answer the call. “Rob wants everybody to go down!” he declared, shouting to make himself heard above the wind. “We’re getting out of here!” Back at Camp Two several of the climbers discovered frostbitten fingers and toes.

Imagine enduring all of these painful consequences (and worse) because of making one grand decision—to conquer Everest. None of us like armchair quarterbacks and armchair mountain climbers don’t exist. Since Jesus is the Good, Great, and Chief Pastor, then I think most pastors have made the one grand decision: to be like Jesus in pastoral work. Yet, that very decision is an Everest before us, offering both a thrilling challenge and pain-producing conditions.

I was recently in conversation with some pastoral peers and they voiced pain in their lives due to relational issues in their churches. Jon Krakauer writes about not only life-threatening conditions on the mountain, but morale-destroying attitudes among the climbers and the guides. Some of the Sherpas were convinced that some climbers angered Mt. Everest. The Sherpas viewed Everest as Sagarinatha, goddess of the sky. They believed that their deity took revenge on a climber named Ngawang who contracted HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). As if Everest were not enough of a challenge, the relationships among the teams of climbers became a burden. Just like local church work wouldn’t you say?

Julian of Norwich (CE 1343-1413) is a popular English mystic. She lived as a Benedictine nun in Norwich. She is well-known for her saying, “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Yet, Julian had a passion for the passion of Christ. She prayed to enter into the fellowship of his sufferings. God granted her requests and out of her life experiences we read some of the most poignant and powerful expressions of God’s goodness. In her suffering, Julian became enamored with God’s immeasurable love. To be like Jesus is a challenge for pastors. Let’s keep climbing!

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Jim

    Thanks, Scot. Has been the most painful year of my 40+ in ministry and that was very encouraging.

  • http://antiitchmeditation.wordpress.com jeff weddle

    Good word. There are many who want resurrection power, forgetting that in order to be resurrected with Christ, one must be crucified with Christ. From what I’ve heard, crucifixion tends to hurt.

  • http://brothergary.wordpress.com Gary Lynch

    To be like Jesus is a struggle for all of us, sharing in each others pain is sharing in his pain, as we commit to be a community of faith the very thing that sustains is that shared struggle, that shared life.
    As a pastor, our role is to make sure that no one (including ourselves) suffers alone, so that all can share all of life together. For in the doing of this we all come to truly know Christ.
    Yes may we all keep climbing…

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Thanks so much, John. More than a good reminder. And love the emphasis on relationships as well, along with the witness of Julian of Norwich.

  • MatthewS

    Great post. I am grateful today for this metaphor. It stands out, the image of someone with frosty goggles and numb feet, who can barely hear over the howling wind. So tempting to dream of other mountains but this is the one that deserves our attention.

    Interesting comments about Julian of Norwich. I don’t know much about her. You going to blog some more about her, John?

  • Tim Atwater

    Julian also suffered a lot — illness(es?) that almost took her life.
    She seems to have gotten all the closer to Jesus through it all.
    A longer version of her quote includes the words (paraphrasing)
    ‘he didn’t say it would be easy, he didn’t say it wouldn’t be very hard, but–)
    he did say all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

    thanks for the post.

    And the valleys are often even harder than the mountains perhaps?

    Blessings, all.


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