Chasing after Wind: A Pastor’s Life
One of the challenging realities about pastoral ministry is that it deals with intangibles. Over the
course of the fifteen years I’ve spent in co-ministry with my husband, I have had to find other
ways to evaluate the work I am doing. A pastor has meaningful conversations, sits with people
during challenging and painful life situations, talks about how the Bible relates to our daily living,
and prays for people who are hurting. But from day to day? Sometimes, explaining pastoral
ministry to others feels like a never ending quest to answer the repeated question from the
movie Office Space, “What would you say you do here?”
In his memoir-style book Chasing after Wind, Doug Brouwer asks himself if his four decades of
parish ministry were nothing more than “chasing after wind,” much like the author of
Ecclesiastes wondered about his own life. Were the conflicts worth the turmoil? Had he
prioritized the right things? If he had it to do all over again, would he make the same decisions?
Unlike many books in the same vein, Chasing after Wind gives a startlingly honest, yet hopeful
review of a life spent in pastoral ministry. I connected with Brouwer’s reluctance to become a
pastor. He spent much of his ministry preparation convinced he was going to go into the
Christian publishing world, just like I spent most of my time in seminary convinced I was headed
for academia. Much like Jonah, Brouwer (and I) heard the call of God and said, “Actually, I’d
really rather do something else.”
Despite his initial reluctance, Brouwer eventually embraced God’s calling and the different
directions it took him within various congregations. I appreciated the way Brouwer was able to
lament the times he did not speak up the way he felt he should have, and his honesty about
how fear got in the way of advocating for those who were being marginalized. I also appreciated
his willingness to call out the misguided notion that pastoring a bigger church means you’re a
better pastor. I, too, have encountered the idea that better pastors get “promoted” to bigger
churches, even though I have never bought into that mentality myself. Yet, even for those who
feel called to pastor larger congregations, Brouwer wisely points out that not every opportunity is
available to every person.
After retiring from parish ministry, Brouwer conducted a thorough life review. He reflected on
conflicts and situations, relationships and lost opportunities, and he asked himself if any of it had
meaning. He wrote, “Mostly, though, my life review has been about my life as a pastor, and I
kept coming to the conclusion that I, like my Grandma Brouwer, spent a lot of my life chasing
after wind, that in the end my work didn’t add up to much.” While this might seem a despairing
outlook, I found it refreshing.
As a recovering perfectionist, I resonated deeply with Brouwer’s desire to prove himself and his
worth. He found validation in moving to bigger churches and tackling bigger challenges. He prided himself in being a Presbyterian pastor–as opposed to a pastor from another
tradition–when he had conversations with other people. It was not until he had all of those
identifiers stripped away when he took a call to a church in Zurich that he realized he had been
trying to prove himself and his worth through external variables. When Brouwer identified
himself as a Presbyterian to the folks in Zurich, he discovered that it didn’t mean much to them.
He could no longer boast in the bigger congregation, a certain theological tradition, or by the
fruit of his labor.
The hopefulness in Brouwer’s book comes from its conclusion: that we are loved by God
whether we spend our whole lives chasing after wind or accomplishing great things. Even
though there were opportunities he wished he hadn’t avoided, risks he regrets not taking, and
times he should’ve spoken up even if it cost him, he is still a beloved child of God.
In the end, if we take an honest inventory of our lives and how we spend our time, I think we’ll
all come to the same conclusion. There will be things we regret, mistakes we have made,
people we have wounded, and amends we need to make. But, God still loves us and claims us,
even when we aren’t sure why God is giving us such grace and love. We may all be chasing
after wind, but I hold out hope that the wind we are chasing is the movement of the Spirit. We
will fail and fall, mess up, and stay silent out of fear, but if we keep chasing after wind, there is
still hope that we can be transformed. We will never be perfect, but hopefully we end up a little
better than where we started.