One year ago today I became a pastor. I stood before God and my congregation and took my ordination vows and was ordained as a pastor. I’m still getting used to being called “Pastor Matthew” (and let’s face it, since most of my congregation knew me for a long time as just “Matthew,” I don’t get called “pastor” a whole lot anyway). But on this anniversary of my ordination, I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve come to realize in this new role of pastor and just how much my life has changed:
#1. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING!
You might think that’s a joke or an overstatement. And I guess to a certain extent, that’s true. But really, there are days when I think to myself – what am I supposed to do now?! Yes, I know my theology. I know how to put a sermon together and lead a Bible study. Frankly, those are easy. But there are lots of other times when I find myself feeling completely unequipped for what’s happening. How do I inspire people to mission? What do I do when someone sitting in my office shares something devastating and starts crying right there in front of me and I have no words of wisdom and I can’t fix it?! How do you take a church to the next level? The farther down the road I go, the more I realize that I don’t know!
#2. You Get Really Good at Thinking on Your Feet
I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to process stuff internally before I’m ready to formulate an answer or share an opinion. That’s not always an option for a pastor. I’ll be honest – there are times when you’re in a meeting or leading a group when everyone looks to you for an answer, and you start talking and hope you find your way to something that sounds right! (To be clear, making up an answer is never an option, especially in a Bible Study, which leads me to…)
#3. I’ve Added a Phrase to My Vocabulary
“I don’t know, let me get back to you.” You field a lot of questions as a pastor and for some reason everyone thinks you have all the answers. Yes, the Bible tells us all we need to know for salvation, but it doesn’t answer every question we have about faith and life. Sometimes it even raises more questions. I’ve learned that I need to admit when I don’t know and take the time to give an honest and thoughtful response to those difficult questions. And sometimes, the answer really is “We don’t know.”
#4. I’ve Said These A Lot Too:
“I’m sorry” and/or “I was wrong.” If you’re wondering why, go back and read #1 above again. Not only have I never been a pastor before, but we’re a church that’s in all kinds of transition. Mistakes are bound to get made and it’s best to own up to them so that you can move on instead of letting them come back to bite you.
#5. All Your Personal Relationships Change
As a pastor, everyone at church knows you and needs to see you as their pastor. And because you’re their pastor, there’s a dynamic that changes in your relationships with people. You have to become a little more guarded in what you share with people about your own life. It’s not about putting on a facade because you still want to be real with people and it’s not an excuse to hide because that’s not healthy either, but there are things that you can no longer share with just anyone because it’s no longer appropriate. In many ways, being a pastor isolates you more than you realize. I thought I was ready for this because I’ve worked in the church for a long time before becoming a pastor, but I was surprised at how much that changed. Which brings me to the next one:
#6. Pastors Need Pastoring Too…
As a pastor, your job is to be there for your people. You walk with them through difficult times, provide counsel and support, and most importantly, assure them of the grace and forgiveness they have in and through Jesus Christ. But who pastors the pastors? I had an opportunity to talk with a pastor friend recently about life and some of the burdens I was under, and in that conversation I got to hear the words that I speak each week – that Jesus forgives you – spoken to me. And I was struck at just how much that affected me and how much I really needed to hear that. It’s caused me to seek that out for myself more often and to try to be there for my fellow pastors (and church workers) who give lots of pastoring but may not receive much.
#7. …But Receiving It Is Hard
It’s easier to pour into someone else than it is to allow yourself to be poured into. Being on the receiving end is hard because it means admitting that you don’t have it all together and that you need something. I’ve always prided myself on my self-reliance, but that only gets you so far. We’re created for community and relationships because we all need people to walk alongside us in difficult and trying times. Having people to lean on and receiving pastoring from isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of being human.
While this might sound like a bunch of complaining, that’s not my intention. The past year as a “Rev.” has been an adventure, and like so much of my life has been, I thought I knew what to expect. How wrong I was! While it’s been an adjustment and there is a lot I’m still learning about myself and this role, I’m glad that God has brought me here and that He’s the one who brings me through each day. These are some revelations and growth-points that I’ve noticed, among others, that I’m looking forward to focusing on and watching God help develop me as I continue to grow into this role as a shepherd of His people.