The last day of August…marking the end of another year of ministry in Dulce. We have been here for three full years and so today I find myself with a few thoughts on being a pastor.
At the end of the first year I felt that I had spent twelve months learning to be a pastor. What on earth does a pastor really do? Looking back on the first year it seemed that answering that question in the specific place where I serve seemed to be my primary achievement. I hadn’t begun with the goal of answering that question but by the end of the year I figured I had achieved a basic level of pastoral competency.
And at the end of the second year? My conclusion then was that I had a firm identity as "their pastor," with "them" being the people who came to church each Sunday, the people I visited at the hospital and in their homes, the people I met at the park. I had been here long enough and spent enough time with them that I felt a sense of responsibility towards them, not because they were the group attending the church I served, but because I had gotten to know them as the people God called me to serve. I understood things about their lives. Their relationships. Their community. As people, they mattered to me.
And today, as three years have ended? I have a different learning of my role here. I have heard it said that it takes three years for a pastor to find out how big a mess their church is, and that it takes three years for a church to find out how big a mess their pastor is.
Regarding the church I serve I'll say that it isn't any kind of mess. There are strengths and there are areas that could be stronger. I wouldn’t trade this congregation for an opportunity to serve any other place. During the call process we were asked how long we would stay and our answer was that if things work out we intend to stay until it is time to retire. After three years we have no desire to serve anywhere else.
But as to the pastor himself, and the mess he may be? I don’t know what the members of the congregation would have to say, but I'll say that the things I feel are among my greatest strengths are also evident to me as areas needing lots of growth.
In Acts 6 we read about the early church and one of the problems it had. The apostles were overwhelmed with their responsibilities and so they created the role of deacon, so that there were people who were in charge of caring for the physical needs of the Christian community. This left the apostles better able to attend to what they felt was their primary calling, saying in verse 4:
"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
At the end of three years I feel strongly that these two tasks, prayer and ministry of the word, i.e. preaching and teaching the Bible, are the central tasks of a pastor. There are many other things that clamor for my time, but these are the two things that should always be the priorities.
They are two tasks that happen in a variety of settings. They happen in worship on Sunday mornings, over breakfast at the Inn, in a car in the parking lot, in the hospital and nursing home, in the privacy of my study. They happen in large groups, in small groups, with just one other person, and with just myself and the Lord God.
On the one hand I can see a basic level of "competency," yet on the other hand I can see much room for growth in both areas. As three years end I am thankful for everyone who prays for this ministry and for every prayer that is lifted up on our behalf. And I ask for continued prayer, not because I see myself as a pastor in crisis or that we are desperate for encouragement, but because neither we, nor any other ministry, serves on their own and separate from the body of Christ. We pray for each other to lift each other up to God, seeking that God would use His servants, wherever they may be, to bring glory to His name.
May our service in Dulce strengthen His church and bring glory to His name, or as the Psalmist says,
"From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised!"
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.