On Being a Pastor for 4 Years
I have now been a pastor for 4 years.
This 4 year mark feels different than other year marks. The ‘newness’ of ordained ministry has worn off. I’m no longer brand new to ministry. I have experience now. My opinions more and more come from experience and less and less from theory and what I’ve learned in books.
I’ve come to have a renewed sense of privilege and thankfulness getting the opportunity to get up in front of a group of people every week and say something. Hopefully, most Sundays what I say aligns with what God wants me to say. My hope and prayer is that it’s more often God speaking through me, than simply just me speaking.
There have been many times that the sermon I’m working on has multiple levels: one level to preach on Sunday, and one that is solely for me. Often they are one and the same, just different gradations. I’ve heard it said that the best sermons are the ones in which the pastor also needs to hear them. I have found that to be true.
I am glad to be called to lead a group of people who get together regularly, to talk and study and discuss and argue and sing and praise and lament. I am glad to lead a group of people who seek all of these things from a divine being, who is outside of themselves (but also somehow present inside of them). I am glad to lead a group of people who want a conversation with this divine being, and 100% feel that they can have this conversation. And even more amazing, that they believe that they will hear back. I enjoy leading a group of people such as this. The world needs a group of people like this more than ever.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Seminaries try to prepare pastors for what to expect in ministry. In the Lutheran tradition, there is even a year-long internship at a church included in the 4-year education. It’s hoped that these pastoral interns, as they are called, get to experience all aspects of ministry. As I was going through the 4-year program, I often felt I wasn’t being taught enough. It seemed like there were large gaps in my education.
Now 4 years in, I now understand how hard it is to know what knowledge a pastor will need, until they are in a church. This is because every church is unique. Yes, there are similar traits that every church has. But there are also big differences, sometimes like night and day. There is no way to prepare a pastor for EVERYTHING they will encounter in parish ministry in a 4-year education. No two churches are exactly the same, so training needed at one church will be vastly different than at another church. I’ve come to appreciate that seminaries do their best to provide the basics. After graduation, it’s then on-the-job training.
I also now firmly believe it is hard to know what being a pastor will be like, until you actually are one. There is a huge gulf between being a pastoral intern, and being a pastor. Yes, these two roles, pastor and pastoral intern, are similar. They both have ‘pastor’ in their name. But in many areas, pastor and pastoral intern are very, very different roles. Not until you are ordained and serving in a church, can you know what it will really be like.
So of course, when a person becomes ordained, there are surprises. There is more learning (pastoral ministry is a life-long learning vocation - the learning never stops).
Looking to the Future
A pastor friend is currently pursuing a PhD studying interdenominational, and specifically Lutheran and Episcopal, churches. He recently contacted me, wanting to know more about Christ United Church. He asked whether partnerships between denominations, like between the Lutheran and Episcopal church, which is the case for Christ United Church, would happen more often in the future. I told him yes, I thought it would happen more often. But not by choice. It will happen more because it will be the only viable option. As there are less people attending churches, there will be less resources available. Denominations will need to pool their resources. Being a part of 2 denominations means a church has double the amount of resources available to them (as well as double the paperwork). This will mean pastors will need to navigate 2 denominational structures, all while making sure their people have a pastor that preaches, teaches, and cares for them.
When I worked in Web development, I often was put in the middle of Web users and departments who I worked closely with, on the one hand, and the higher-up administrative structure where decisions were made, on the other hand. There often was a disconnect. This resulted in a constant balancing act between what users needed, and what those above and in leadership wanted. Sometimes these two things were the same. Sometimes they were not. I somehow had to find compromises between the two (ya know, because of a nagging inclination to keep my job).
As I start my 5th year of ordained ministry, I have a lot I look forward to. We are trying new things here at Christ United Church, while keeping up with things we’ve been doing since before I started here.
I’ve heard other pastors say that ministry is not like running sprints, with short bursts of immense energy. Instead, ministry is more like a marathon. Ministry seen this way means steady progress over a long period of time.
We’ve got a good pace set. We just need to keep it going.
Let’s keep going.
Peace and blessings,