Being a Pastor: My First Month

I can’t believe how people take such chances with me. I wonder if they know what they’re doing. Still, I thank God for all the people that have taken chances with me, believing in me, and seeing things that I don’t see. Thanks y’all.

      So, my situation is a little unique. I’m a young pastor in a denomination with some pretty stringent hoops to jump through to obtain that victorious stole of ordination. I haven’t completed all the requirements, but some people took a chance on me and appointed me to pastor a church as a Local Licensed Pastor (in the UMC, that means I can do all the pastory stuff within the ministry of one specific local church). Also, in the UMC, pastors are appointed to churches by an overseer of pastors, a Bishop, with help from District Superintendents. So, this church didn’t ask for me… they got me. There’s pros and cons, but in any case, I think these good people were surprised (to say the least) that they would be receiving a 28 yr old local licensed pastor, instead of whatever comes into your mind when you think of “pastor.” I know that the change has been difficult for many of them, but I have been absolutely blown away by their love, hospitality, and passion to “get to work” as we seek God’s will for our church and our city. Thanks y’all.

photo-7In My First Month

     Our first Sunday was tremendous. I remember talking to someone on the phone before I arrived. The plan was to have only one service because it was the weekend after the 4th of July and we anticipated many families being gone for the weekend. I said, “Are you sure?” Someone said, “We’ll have the room. It would be a miracle if we packed the place out.” Miracle? No problem. We packed the place out. The service was great before it began. I’m sure people were just curious about the new pastor, but it still felt good. I moved a few things in the order of worship, no one seemed bothered by it. Easy peasy.

     The biggest change that I’ve done so far, I haven’t done well. I always knew I would be encouraging the congregation to eventually receive communion weekly in the services. The importance of the ritual, of responding the word with our bodies, and experiencing the Holy in the ordinary materials is so vital to our faith, I knew that I wanted to get there eventually. Someone during that first week asked me about communion. Like a dummy I said that I’d like to eventually celebrate the Eucharist weekly. She said that people have been wanting that and that we should just go for it the next. And even though I wasn’t confident that we had prepared the church or done enough work to make such a major shift (and it is a major shift), we went for it anyway. I didn’t run it past any more people than the 4 or 5 that would be helping serve. I didn’t explain the importance. I didn’t prepare anyone. We just did it. And it blind-sided people. Well, I could’ve done better, but we’re celebrating the Lord’s Table every week, and I’ve heard of other pastors doing crazier things than that. So, I think we’ll be okay.

     What I have really been wanting to do, I’ve done okay. Before I arrived, people from the church had been asking me for what I envision and what I want to do. My first answer was always, “I, of course, have dreams and plans, but I need to know the faces of the people.” When I dream of a community that comes together, puts together its resources in order to feed the hungry, minister to prisoners, comfort the mourning, and speak love and hope to their community, I like to be able to see the faces of the people doing it. So, what I have really been wanting to do is get to know the people, learn their passions, and set them free to serve God in the ways that excite them. So I’ve been sitting down with people and learning about what gets them up in the morning, what they are passionate about, and what they think God is calling them to do. I’m trying to give them permission to seek God, ask God for what they are responsible for, and leave the rest to God.

     I went out to coffee with one gentleman in our church. I learned about his life. I learned about how God had worked in his life and cared for him through military service, disability, and the death of his wife. I learned about how this church surrounded him in his most difficult times. And I learned how thankful he was, how much he wanted to give back to God. He wanted to give back by caring for the church’s building and grounds, he wanted to make it more accessible, beautiful, and appealing. He was worried about money. I told him to let me worry about the money, and I gave him freedom to research what it would take to beautify parts of our building and grounds. He lit up at the opportunity. Every day that week, there was a note from him about the meetings he was scheduling me with sign makers, landscapers, and designers to take a look at our front entrance. He was excited and on fire. He was blessed that week to serve communion as well.

     Then he died.

     Suddenly. On a Tuesday. Heart attack. Oh My God. I hate death. I hate it so much. The pastor down the street officiated nearly one funeral a week in her first year at her church. I hate death. I don’t get it. I’m never going to be okay with it. Death will never be normal to me.

     So that was hard. I want to promise to myself that it will always be hard. I will always feel the loss. This summer, we’ve been studying 1 Corinthians. If I could sum up the book in one sentence, I think I would say, “We belong to Christ, and we belong to one another, so live accordingly.” In the memorial service, we do two things: 1) we give to God what we cannot control, and 2) we confess our hope that God is at work in the world, and will make all things right.

     So, to sum up my first month: I’m learning to hear from God what I am responsible for, I’m learning to give to God what I cannot and should not control, and I’m trusting that God is good and will do great things. 

     thanks for reading. peace to your souls.