Unprepared & scared: Lessons learned after 24 Halloweens

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I was called to the pastorate of Southfork Baptist Church in Owen County on Halloween in 1993. I was a newly married, second year seminary student with a clear sense that it was time I move from supply preacher to undershepherd.

As Michelle and I drove back to the Louisville after the evening service, we talked through managing her teaching schedule that week, my class schedule, and still finding time to pack everything we owned into a U-Haul by Saturday morning in order to meet the church’s request that we be “on the field” by the next Sunday. Actually, the request was that I start my pastoral ministry that Wednesday, but I managed to convince the Pastor Search Committee I needed more than two days to move.

I was excited, nervous, unprepared, more than a little scared, and incredibly humbled that God would allow me to be the pastor of Southfork Baptist Church. The church was posting numbers in the 30s for worship attendance. Whether the number had been five or five hundred, I was called of God to preach and teach His word to them and to shepherd them on His behalf. And I felt the weight of the assignment.

This week I begin my 25th year in vocational ministry. Reflecting upon the 24 years behind me, I realize I still have much to learn but here are some things that are coming clearly into view.

First, the call to ministry is a fragile stewardship. To serve and lead the Lord’s church is the highest calling and heaviest burden I can conceive. It is both an astounding privilege and, at the same time, a hardship that is difficult to express, sometimes feeling like more of an affliction than an assignment. Many who face the challenges and expectations, ride the rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows, and endure the ongoing reality of spiritual warfare, eventually lack the strength or willingness to continue. The minister’s marriage and family are constantly tested by the unavoidable stress and erratic schedule of ministry. The minister is blessed to experience spiritual joys known to few but also carries the sorrows of all who are under his care. It is a fragile stewardship.

Second, vocational ministry is not a job but a way of life. There is no work schedule for trips to the emergency room or answering phone calls or text messages from those who are experiencing a crisis. Much of the work of the church is evenings and weekends, those precious moments when a minister’s working spouse and children may not be in a crisis of their own, but certainly need the time and attention of their husband/father. Striking a balance that doesn’t cause one to be a derelict minister or a derelict husband and father is challenging at best. And it must be a way of life.

Third, the call to ministry comes to those with feet of clay. Disqualifying sin should not be tolerated by the church but no minister will meet a standard of perfection, whether as a preacher, evangelist, administrator, husband, father, or, simply, as a man. As much as a minister needs the grace of God, the church must also extend grace. Could they find a better preacher? Maybe. A pastor with a more charismatic personality? Possibly. A man whose wife was friendlier after church, even though she had to get three kids ready and off to church by herself, then kept the nursery, and will spend Sunday afternoon at home alone with the kids while her husband goes to a funeral visitation before making the deacons’ meeting before church and the Finance Committee meeting after church? Could be. But those willing to extend a little grace will realize that, if they have the man God has called to be their pastor, they have just the man they need.

I’m thankful for the grace God, and the people of God, have extended to me by allowing me to serve as a pastor and now a state missionary. I can’t imagine a more blessed and fulfilling life.

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