I happened across “Wooden Boats by Michael Ruhlman while browsing a used bookstore recently and purchased it for a colleague who is an avid sailor. Though not personally lured by the siren call of the open seas, as a fan of the author I read the book before passing it along. As the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher will arrive.

“Wooden Boats” describes the enduring art and craft of building seaworthy wooden vessels. Plastic and fiberglass boats are more prevalent today than their wooden counterparts due to mass production and affordability. Yet there remains a passionate and loyal market for wooden boat devotees who prefer the aesthetic beauty and craftsmanship of natural materials shaped by human hands.

The author’s intimate detail about the effort, skill, ingenuity and time required to build a wooden boat offers a parable on modern life; a commentary on the tension in our culture between convenience versus effort, economy versus investment, disposability versus permanence. Ruhlman credits the enduring appeal of wooden boats to the representation of a disappearing craft that is the workmanship of risk rather than the workmanship of certainty.

The workmanship of risk and the workmanship of certainty are terms borrowed from David Pye’s “The Nature and Art of Workmanship.” Pye thinks the workmanship of risk applies to something handmade, not mass produced. Each piece will be different, shaped by human hands and comprised of natural materials. The workmanship of certainty, in contrast, is a product stamped out by machine -- each piece identical to the next and usually synthetic in material. As much as we appreciate and benefit from consistency, conformity and mechanized perfection (gifts of the industrial age), unique, artisan, high-quality craftsmanship -- mysteriously and irresistibly -- still lures us.

Wooden boatbuilding will always be the workmanship of risk, a marvelous marriage of art and science, human skill and nature’s bounty. Ultimately the strength and integrity of each particular vessel depends upon the choices of the boatmakers. “Because the outcome of workmanship of risk is never certain, the quality of it is determined by the care, dexterity and judgment of the worker,” writes Ruhlman. A boatyard sign reads, “Upon your decisions rest the lives and property of men.”

What Ruhlman writes of wooden boat construction eloquently describes the mysterious call of the ministerial craft. Pastoral ministry is an enterprise in the workmanship of risk in a culture that largely prefers the workmanship of certainty. We serve a God who always surprises and engages people facing unique challenges and difficult situations -- no two that are alike. Leaders in faith communities face the temptation to approach ministry as a worksmanship of certainty: always looking for the expert guidance and mass produced materials to answer the current challenge at hand, tempted to retrofit templates that worked at another place and time to reproduce similar results in a particular situation. But each person, each community is unique. Any work that involves God and humankind is a workmanship of risk.

There are days when I wish pastoral leadership were more a workmanship of certainty, with predictably mechanized and perfect results, but that would remove my responsibility to prayer, discernment and faith. Not to mention that were ministry ever certain, it would be predictably and perfectly, boring.

Kim Seidman serves the people of God at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Broomfield, Colorado.