Today I was shopping at Rural King and I had our dog Bo with me. Until five years ago I had rarely visited Rural King but I like shopping there now because it is one of the few places that allows dogs. So, if I need something that I think they carry, I pack up Bo and we are off.
As we were leaving the store today a women looked at Bo and said, “Is he a working dog?” Since this is a farm store I assume that a good number of the dogs coming into the store are farm dogs who serve some function. However, we don’t live on a farm and Bo’s main function is to lay curled up beside me on the couch. “No,” I replied, “He’s just a pet.” “Well, he’s a good lookin’ dog anyway,” she said. She went into the store, Bo and I walked to our truck, and the conversation ended.
But it gave me pause to think. Bo is an invaluable presence in our lives. He is sometimes entertainment. Sometimes he is a comforting huggable lump of fur and flesh. He welcomes us home with unflinching loyalty. So, does he work?
In the Bible there is a story about two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is busy doing things for Jesus while Mary is sitting attentively listening to Jesus tell stories. Martha chides Mary for her indolence and Jesus chides Martha for missing out on what is really important. For a couple thousand years this story has challenged people’s perceptions of ministry. Sometimes it is important to actively serve others with our activities and sometimes just being with someone is the more important thing. In the helping professions we call this second circumstance ministry of presence. Sometimes people need us to do for and with them and sometimes we just need to sit with one another.
For those of us who are in ministry the lines between work and the normal activities of life often blur. If we are at a high school basketball game and someone starts telling us about their latest domestic struggle are we suddenly working? If we go to a community event because we want to it is probably not work but if we go because we ought to represent the church then it may be considered work. Some of these issues get at the very nature of work and ministry. Sometimes it is difficult to say what is work and what is not.
And so I think about our dog, Bo. He doesn’t herd sheep or cattle. He really doesn’t have any discernible job description. But whatever it is that he does, it sure works for me!