Apparently all the cool pastors write a listicle of things they’ve learned in their first year in their role. I have benefitted greatly from some of these. But as I look back on my own first year as a lead pastor, I don’t have a list to offer (which pretty much confirms my suspicion that I am not a cool pastor). But I do have some reflections.
May 8. One year ago, having flown with my family from Baptist Mecca (Nashville, TN) to the least evangelical state in America (Utah). I stood up in front of a church to preach “in view of a call.” 95% of them had no clue who I was. 100% of me had no clue what I was doing. And yet, God worked and the church extended a call for me to be their next pastor and I accepted.
The church didn’t call me because I’m a phenomenal leader: pretty sure I ruined last Mother’s Day by not looking at a calendar when we set the date for the trial sermon.
They didn’t call me because I am a polished preacher: I hadn’t preached many more sermons than I have fingers and toes.
They didn’t call me because I gave them an exciting vision: I admitted that I had no clue what my vision for the church was.
And heavens knows they didn’t call me for my looks or fashion sense.
So why did they call me?
I’m sure some of the members are still asking themselves that question one year later.
And, to be honest, I’ve asked that question at times throughout the past year as well. Sometimes I’ve asked it humbly, sometimes I’ve asked it dejectedly, and sometimes I’ve asked it sarcastically.
And I can’t give a specific answer. But ultimately, I come back to the fact that they did call me. And, I trust, they did so because the Holy Spirit moved in his people to affirm his will. And that’s remarkably comforting: to know that I am not here because I sought it or because they had a good reason. I’m here because God had something to teach the church and because God had something to teach me. And, he has a purpose for us coming together.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that.
When someone gets offended by some leadership action I take – when someone else gets offended by leadership action I don’t take – it bothers me. It bothers me on one level because I can’t make everyone happy. It bothers me on another level because I know I’m not anywhere close to sufficient for the task I’ve been appointed to. If this were a listicle of things I’ve learned in my first year, that would be items one through ten: I’m not sufficient.
And when my insufficiency runs into the organizational needs of the church, things can get sideways in a hurry. So items eleven through twenty in my listicle would basically be apologies to the church for the times when I’ve pastored poorly through unclear communication, through insensitive changes, through forgetfulness.
Pastoring this church has exposed a lot of my imperfections, quirks, and sin. At various times, it has squeezed my lungs, drenched my cheeks, and left marks on my soul. People can jump to conclusions or ascribe motives that aren’t there, but there’s still the root truth that I’m not perfect, far from it. I’m dreadfully broken, weak, and ugly. While I’m using this post as an opportunity to confess, I’ll admit that the weight of leading the church has at times led me to the edge of the chasm of depression, something I used to scoff at as weakness. Father forgive me and give grace to those whose struggles there run deeper than mine! The little brother of Spurgeon’s “black dog” has kept me awake at night and woke me early. Sometimes the cause is readily discernible: a conflict in the church, a need in a member’s life that has no answer, a decision I know I got wrong. Sometimes, usually Mondays, I don’t know why, the weight on my shoulders transfers to my heart and spills out of my eyes.
There’s a reason why would-be-preachers are frequently exhorted with the cliched advice that, “if you can do anything else, do it.”
And if my reflections on this date, calling, and pastoring stopped there, I’d be done. I’d quit and walk away because, even though the church called me, I’m always insufficient, I often lead poorly, and, honestly, it hurts. A lot at times. And as I look forward from this one year anniversary into the future, I’m convinced that, however long the Lord has me here, those things won’t change.
But I’m not quitting. I’m not walking away. Why?
First, because of the graciousness of the church. They’ve been patient with my rookie mistakes. They’ve welcomed my family as part of their own. I’ve seen amazing love, Christ-like love, shown to me and to others. I’ve seen openness. I’ve seen friendliness. I’ve seen a willingness to sacrifice for the glory of God and the good of others. I am continually humbled by their willingness to serve, to embrace, to encourage, and to love.
Basically, I’ve seen Jesus here, in this precious group of saints. And I want to be where I see Jesus. This church, like Jesus, has graciously overlooked my failings, they’ve been patient with my ignorance, and they’ve adopted me and mine into their family. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
And I’ve learned something else in this first year: no matter how weak I am, Scripture assures me that Jesus is the Sustainer of Creation. No matter how poorly I lead, I read that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. No matter how much it hurts, I understand from the Word of God that Jesus is the Healer. Because God gave his Word and his Word reveals Jesus.
And, ultimately, that’s why I will keep pastoring. Because it’s not about me. And, ultimately, it’s not even about the church. It’s about Jesus, the hope of all, revealed in the Bible. I’ll keep going as long as God lets me because God has given his church his Word and he has given me the task of proclaiming it, leading the church to it, and pointing everyone to Christ through it. I may have thought I had something personally to offer the church a year ago, but now I know I don’t have anything to offer anyone outside of the Word of God pointing them to Jesus. And the Word is sufficient because the Jesus it reveals is sufficient.
So I’ll keep preaching, I’ll keep pastoring, and I’ll keep reminding myself and the congregation that nothing other than Christ revealed through the Word will sustain a Christian, a pastor, or a church.
And that’s enough.