This weekend marks my 47
anniversary as a pastor. That's a
time, causing some people to wonder if I was a mere child when I started. Close, but not quite. I was no longer a minor at the time, having turned 18 just two and a half months earlier. And I had graduated from high school--all of four months earlier.
But the Methodist Church only requires a high school diploma to begin serving in the role of pastor. And if, like me, you're willing to give up your youth in order to jump into the pulpit, the Methodists will let you. Of course, in order to get started, you will need to jump through a few other hoops as well...and you will spend at least decade of your life trudging through all your schooling and testing...but you will be able to serve a church the entire time. More people than you think began this route at age 18.
People often ask me, "What made you decide to be a pastor?" They want to know if
God called me to be a pastor, and if so, how exactly did that take place?
Methodists believe that you should not become a pastor unless you "hear the call." But the "call" may not always be something you can hear. For me, it was more something I could see. I could see myself obeying and pleasing God by doing this work. I could see that I had some of the raw gifts needed in those who would be a pastor: speaking ability, organizational skills, compassion for people, deep trust in the Bible, love for the church, willingness to follow Jesus anywhere...
And as I watched others who were already pastors, I could see myself doing some of the same things they did. It wasn't that I would imitate any of them. But I found myself inspired by them and thought I could
riff off what I was seeing.
In my early years, I benefited from a wide variety of pastor-models. There were the civil rights pastors (Martin Luther King and Fred Shuttlesworth). There were the mass media pastors (Billy Graham and Robert Schuller). There were the popes (John the 23
and John Paul the First). There were the bishops I saw up close (Woodie White and David Lawson). There were the scholar pastors who taught me (Walter Wink, Bruce Birch, and Jim Logan). And there were the pastors from my own family (my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather).
These models inspired me to learn the tools and techniques of the trade. I saw in them how to be tough and how to be tender; how to tell stories and how to listen to the stories of others; how to be bold and how to be humble; how to be politically savvy and how to not care what other people think; how to be submissive to the Bible and how to wrestle with it; how to be nurtured by tradition and how to challenge it; how to think reasonably and how to step out in outrageous, post-rational faith.
The pastors who most shaped me were those I watched before I was 35. Only one other pastor has profoundly shaped me since, Max Maregmen, a United Methodist colleague from the Philippines. I met Max during a 1999 mission trip to the Visayan Islands, where he was our host. His home had just been destroyed by a mudslide. And we were not able to visit some of his churches that trip because of a typhoon. In subsequent years, his ministries have been upended by earthquakes, more mudslides, more typhoons, floods, terrorism, and civil war. Add to that broken bones and illness in his family, and it makes me think twice before I complain: to consider that a bad day for me is when
the computer gets a virus.
Max's style is to face reality, rejoice anyway, stay humble, and lobby everyone and anyone who might be able to help out his people. There's always someone causing him trouble...in his churches...or in his conference...but he's always praying for them. And he always has a little extra energy and resources for starting some new ministry on the side...while working full time for whatever congregation the bishop sends him to. Max has always been poor as a church mouse, gathering and scrounging for resources...then distributing whatever he can get his hands on to whoever of his people have needs. Max is the only contemporary hero-pastor I have allowed myself.
All told, I've had plenty of
who shaped me as a pastor. If I were starting today, almost 50 years later, I would also have been more blessed with non-male models. But we take what our times give us.
The trouble with learning how to be a
, however, is that we can get so caught up trying to learn this unnatural life that we abort learning what it means to be
No wonder we often hear the odd reminder, "Pastors are human too."
There were many stretches during the past 47 years when I got caught up trying to be like my
models, simply in order to please church folks. No one told me early on that the stresses and anxieties of being a pastor will distort your personality. I should have been looking less at my
models and more at those who were modeling how to be
. More specifically, I wish I would have seen the call to be human...getting up to
speed with those non-pastors who were
grabbing hold of abundant life...relishing all the adventures and wonders being human has to offer.
If I have any regrets over the past 47 years, the number one would be this: it has been too easy to neglect my development as a
in favor of my development as a
pastor. I've been working on that in recent years, but it takes enormous courage, sometimes more than I've had.
There has never been any shortage of either pastor models or human models in my life. And those who model abundant human living for me are of all ages, sexualities, races, and religions. It is interesting that the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, loyalty, gentleness, and self-control) are all
traits, traits I see all around me...all the time.
With 47 years of working for the institutional church now behind me, I find myself most interested in what is ahead...less concerned about being the best
pastor I can be, much keener to be the best
person I can.
And all that I still lack of the pastor-stuff will amount to nothing as I notice the
heroes all around me...and riff off them.