I have discovered that a pastor can learn a lot about ministry from a turkey; or, more accurately, from turkey hunting. I suppose it would have been easier to simply visit the frozen food section of my local grocery store, but then I would not have benefitted from the following ministry insights turkey hunting taught me.
Turkey hunting requires tremendous amounts of patience. One simply cannot make a turkey appear on demand.
Turkeys have their own schedules and routines. The goal of the hunter is to situate himself or herself in places where a turkey will appear. That often requires getting up, walking into the woods well before dawn, and then waiting and waiting.
Something similar is true in ministry. We want to see our churches grow in spiritual maturity and experience spiritual transformation. And, we want it now. Pastors want it now and, too often, lay leaders want it now. After all, it is often reasoned, “that is why we hired a new preacher.” Yet, there is something amazing that happens while we wait: we learn. The pastor and congregation learn to love and trust each other. And, most importantly, we learn to trust God. Waiting reminds us that it is God alone who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Turkey hunting also requires persistence. Patience is needed in a turkey blind on the day of the hunt. Persistence is needed to keep coming back to the woods. Persistence means learning what the birds are doing and adjusting what we are doing in order to put ourselves in a place to take a shot. Turkey season in North Carolina is generally from the first weekend of April until the second weekend of May. It lasts about six weeks. During my first turkey season I did not even hear a bird. In my second season I heard a bird, but did not see one. Finally, in my third season, I saw a turkey. But it took three more days of hunting to finally bag that bird.
Ministry, too, requires persistence. The essence of persistence in ministry is not losing heart. Paul spoke of this very thing in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. In that passage he talked at length about the variety of discouragements, sufferings and pressures faced in his ministry (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). He concludes that all of those things are working together to reach more people and cause God to be glorified (2 Corinthians 4:13-15). For that reason, he says, “we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Persistence is a willingness to view minor disappointments in light of the bigger picture of what God is doing. It is a reminder that our troubles in ministry are “light and momentary” compared to the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Preparation is essential in turkey hunting. In fact, when a couple turkey hunters pack up their truck for a hunt, one would think they were going away on a two-week trip. Turkey hunting usually involves some kind of ground blind (a camouflaged pup tent), a chair, turkey calls, additional bird calls, multiple layers of camouflage clothing, boots, hats, masks, a backpack with water and light snacks, and, of course, a shotgun. In addition, it is wise to have scouted the area one is hunting prior to the season starting in order to have an idea where the birds may be roosting. None of these things, by themselves, guarantees that one will even hear a bird. But, without these things, the chances of actually bagging a bird are quite rare.
Preparation is essential in ministry, too. It seems to me that in ministry there are at least three kinds of preparation that are essential: character, competence and culture.
Character here refers to a heart that is fixed on Christ and that demonstrates that in moral living. Think about Paul’s list of requirements for an overseer in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (and Titus 1:7-9). The bulk of those requirements are moral qualifications. One needs to take holiness seriously to effectively lead God’s people. Competence refers to one’s “skill set” for ministry. In the aforementioned list, only one of those requirements has to do with “skill set,” yet it is too often neglected. Paul says a pastor’s primary skill needs to be the ability to “teach” God’s word to God’s people. In short, if a pastor is not a good preacher/teacher, he is not a good pastor.
By culture I mean a missionary mindset about the culture in which one serves: both inside and outside the church. The ability to adapt to morally indifferent matters of culture, rather than criticize it is vital. If I can learn the terminology and habits of the people I am trying to minister to, I will likely be more effective in sharing the gospel with them.
The final lesson that turkeys taught me had to do with pests: ticks and snakes, in particular. Because turkey season happens when the weather is warming up, both snakes and ticks are out in abundance. In the woods, ticks can be hard to spot. If you don’t spot them, they cling to you, burrow under your skin, and suck the lifeblood out of you. Snakes, too, are camouflaged rather well. But, when I spot one, I try to move in the other direction.
Let’s be honest, ministry has “pests” too. There can be people like who are a lot like ticks and snakes in our lives. Yet, they are people for whom Christ died. When we face pests in ministry, we need to be reminded that “it is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:24b).
I admit readily that I am not a great turkey hunter. But, I do believe turkey hunting has made me a better pastor. I have learned a lot from a turkey, and I pray these insights will be a blessing in your life and ministry.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rob Pochek is the senior pastor at Raleigh Road Baptist Church in Wilson.)