I was asked by a couple of very thoughtful people yesterday, “When you began as a young pastor, did you feel like you were thrown to the wolves?”
It didn’t take long for me to answer, “Yes.” But the response surprised me when it came out of my mouth.
“What made you stay?” They asked.
And I rambled for a while. I said when I was about to hang up my stole for the last time, a search committee called me out of the blue, and it was my dream church. It had an amazing ministry to the homeless, it was welcoming of LGBT men and women, and it had a diverse, intergenerational congregation. The Clerk of Session was in her 20s. And it even had those elements that I wanted badly, but I felt kind of greedy about admitting it: beautiful architecture and soaring music.
It was a clear sign. And so I put the stole back on. And I’m so thankful that I did….
Even with the teeth marks, I’m glad I took the path that I did, beginning with two small parishes as a solo pastor. Not being an associate during my first call formed my pastoral identity. Preaching every week helped me to find my voice. And I developed a leadership style that wouldn’t have emerged if I had been on a staff.
But, small churches are hard. There’s no doubt about it. Some of them have open secrets that will make you shudder when you find them out. Those families have a hundred of years of history together. And the pastor’s always an outsider…
So, what would you say to the students who are reading this? What’s the best path for new pastors? Is it better for APs? Did you ever feel like you were thrown to the wolves? What made you stay?