This weekend the wonderful people at Ascension Lutheran Church will be celebrating my 25 years of ministry as a pastor. These 25 years have been quite a ride with ups, downs, hills, valleys, and every other cliche that has to do with the good and the bad. It’s hard for me to believe that for nearly half of my life I have been a pastor. As I think back to my days at the seminary I recognize just how naive I was to it all. My classmates and I had eager and shining eyes when we graduated on the warm may evening in 1991.
As I both reflect and look ahead, I recognize at least five things I wish I’d known as my young wife and our infant children headed off to rural, western North Carolina.
- Sometimes the well runs dry. I like to say that Sundays keep coming. There’s one of them every week. That means there’s always a sermon, liturgy, and/or Bible class to prepare. Every. Single. Week. It means there might be seasons when creativity and drive take a dive. But you have to push through. At times like those it’s best to receive inspiration from others. Sometimes being around other pastors, doing reading outside of theology, and simply taking a walk are what it takes to get things moving again. Don’t be afraid to experiment with things that might work for you.
- Nothing should surprise you about anyone. I’ve heard it all. Sometimes people tell me things about themselves that they are afraid or embarrassed to tell. They really shouldn’t be. I’ve come to the recognition and realization that we are all poor miserable sinners in need of the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross. Nothing that anyone ever says to me could surprise me. I need God’s forgiveness as badly as anyone else. Because I know what that forgiveness means to me, I’m always happy to be the vessel who delivers it to those who need it most.
- Be ready to offer all the personal forgiveness you can muster. People can be mean and hurtful. The ones who are mean and hurtful are usually struggling with their own personal difficulties and struggles. Though the things people say and do to a pastor can sometimes be nearly debilitating, the best thing to do is to recognize “hurt people hurt,” and to respond with (sincere) love and forgiveness. It’s easier said than done, but do it.
- After God, your family comes first. There were times early in my ministry when I did things that unnecessarily took away time from my family. It took me a while to learn that though the congregation is important, my family is more important. When everything is said and done the congregation won’t always be there. Your family always will be. They deserve not just “quality time,” but quantity of time.
- There will always be someone to support you. Over the years I’ve had my share of “different” ideas and have made bad decisions. There have been times when I have not always put forth the best effort. Sometimes mean people (see #3) have taken over my thoughts and have ruined days. But without fail I have always had people who have supported me, my ministry, and my family. They have prayed for me and told me they were. People have surprised us with far too generous gifts and have written the kindest notes. I’m certain that the Lord sees to it that though we live and serve amongst sinful people we are given the gift of those who have our back. It’s comforting to know.
Though I can’t go back and re-live these past 25 years, I take comfort in the fact that there have been many lessons learned. I hope that I can share those lessons with others. And I pray that I will continue to learn important lessons as my ministry continues.
What are some of the things you wish you would have known as you began your career?