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Fall 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 2 · pp. 225–228 

Ministry Compass

Why I Do What I Do

Doug Enns

“So, what do you do?” It is a common question asked while watching a child’s soccer game, out on the golf course, or making small talk at a banquet. When I reply, “I’m a pastor,” or “Minister of Religion” (the official designation on Canadian passports), it is always fascinating to see the response. Some look past me. Some quickly retract their previous comments. And some scramble to change the topic. I cannot recall anyone ever pursuing the conversation further to ask me, “Why are you a pastor? Why do you do what you do?” But it’s a worthwhile question to ask, whether one is going through a midlife crisis or just trying to solidify a sense of identity and calling.

It really comes down to that haunting question,
“Doug, do you love me?”

I found myself revisiting this question when I was asked to address students at Canadian Mennonite University (Winnipeg, Manitoba) last winter. Considering our recent pastoral relocation, this question of calling and identity took on even greater significance. I framed the issue by confessing to the students a personal preference of mine: I happen to love fish and chips. But it has to be the real thing.


Before moving back to Winnipeg (where we began pastoral ministry in the 1980s), we served a church in Victoria, British Columbia, for nine blessed years. Victoria is a place where one can golf all year {226} around, count the blossoms in February, and go down to Fisherman’s Wharf just off the inner harbor to feast on the best fish and chips on the west coast. The establishment I have in mind is called Barb’s Place—outside on the dock, under the sunshine, among the seagulls and saltwater ( At Barb’s Place they do it right. Fresh flaky halibut in thick crispy beer batter. Crunchy deep-fried chips rolled up tight in yesterday’s newspaper. There’s nothing better. I love fish and chips.

But what could ever compel us to move from fish-and-chip paradise in Victoria back to the prairie winters of Winnipeg? What is it about this pastoral vocation that creates such anomalies? Why do I do what I do?

I am reminded of Peter’s pastoral call in John chapter 21. It happens just after Peter resorts to his first love: he’s gone fishing. In a big way. He catches 153. And he finds Jesus on the shore cooking up a fish fry. It is then that Jesus poses this question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 NRSV). Love you? More than these? These what? These fish and chips?

In nearly eighteen years of pastoral ministry I have never managed to out maneuver that simple question: “Doug, do you love me?” I have found that pastoring pivots on this personal query: “Do I love Jesus?” Where am I at with Jesus? How passionate is my spirituality? It’s not primarily about my leadership ability, my theological training, my administrative savvy, or my preaching skills—as important as these may be. It is more foundationally about whether I love Jesus. That is the starting point I continually need to come back to, because if I don’t, my pastoring grows out of a love for something other than my love for Jesus. And that can be dangerous, even idolatrous.

But that is not all. In John 21, Jesus raises a second issue with Peter—that of shepherding! Do you love me? Then, feed my lambs. Tend my flock. Feed my sheep. It is ironic. Here Jesus asks Peter, a fisherman by trade, to go work with sheep. Instead of eating one’s fill of fish & chips, it is now about feeding and caring for little lambs, for hungry sheep. It is no longer all about me. It’s about community and God’s place for me among the people of God.


Looking back I remember graduating from Bible school with a Bachelor of Religious Education Degree. My major: Pastoral Ministries. That, I thought, was what I was going to do. But the next two to three years of University—rounding off a liberal arts degree, working at {227} various jobs from tree-planting to raspberry farming to grocery store shelving, ditch-digging and camp directing—turned my Bible school faith inside out.

I recall agonizing whether I should move to California, not for the sand and the surf but to go to seminary in Fresno, in those years voted the least desirable U.S. city to live in. What should I do? Well, I ended up going to seminary, but I did it to get away from the church—to pursue an academic degree in biblical/theological studies and set myself up for a Ph.D. or a career as a peace mercenary with Mennonite Central Committee in Central America.

I avoided pastor types like the plague. No divinity degree for me, with its holy voice projection and plastic platitudes. I preferred to be “fishing”—relating with real people, wrestling with real issues, in the real world—not playing church, being a religious shopkeeper. Not a chance. Give me fish and chips and dialogue with dock-side folks by the sea.

But while in a part-time job paying off my seminary tuition God used a bunch of high school students in a church youth group to show me that pastoral ministry is not about playing church and keeping shop. It is about loving Jesus and being human with people as we discover God’s grace together.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way in his book on pastoral integrity: “The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. . . . In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God” (Peterson, 2).

Do you know what I have found? There is nothing more rewarding than being with people at critical God-moments in their lives. One week it’s at the Children’s Hospital praying with a couple and their ten-month old baby boy. Days before he had barely escaped sudden infant death syndrome. Now he is facing a delicate surgery. So around that hospital bed we pray, placing this child into God’s healing hands. Talk about being attentive to God.

On another occasion it means standing with a family at a graveside as they bury a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. You sense the loss, the gratitude, and the tremendous respect for a woman of incredible faith whose passion for the next generation anchors her loved ones in the presence of God’s coming kingdom. Attentive to God? Not a doubt. {228}

And then there are the late-night conversations on a parishioner’s porch. The confessions of faith at a lakeside baptism. The tears of reconciliation as a prodigal returns home. All points of contact between heaven and earth. Divinity and humanity. God and us. And you are right there. Like a hotel porter tending the door.


Are there times I have thought about quitting the church? About throwing in the towel? And doing something else? To be honest, yes. There have been times of intense struggle. What keeps me going? Why do I do what I do? Well, it is not really the salary. Or the popularity ratings. Or the politics. Or the job security. Although, as my mentor often said, “The longer you’re in church ministry the tighter mother church’s apron strings become.”

All that aside, it really comes down to that haunting question, “Doug, do you love me?” I know deep down in my soul that those words come from the very one who created me, who redeemed me, and who calls me by name (Isa. 43:1). And I know I am not alone. For in the wideness of God’s mercy is an entire world that Christ loves. I am part of that world, and I’ve been given an opportunity to share the grace of Jesus with others. That and a good batch of fish and chips.

So the next time someone asks us, “What do you do?” perhaps we should tell them why we do what we do.


  • Peterson, Eugene. 1987. Working the angles. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Doug Enns is senior pastor at McIvor Avenue Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a graduate of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California. He and his wife, Naomi, have three children.

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