When the news seeped into my consciousness, I was more than a bit unsettled. My colleague confronted me with research that could be summed up like this: When an Adventist pastor leaves pastoral ministry for departmental or administrative leadership responsibilities after the age of 40, he rarely if ever goes back to local pastoral ministry unless it is part-time in retirement. That meant that my years as a local pastor were likely over—22 years, good years, and, I felt, productive years. I have reflected on that thought many times over the last several years, with mixed emotional impacts.
Yet in my musings I have also reflected on the years since I “left the ministry” as one friend put it with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Looking at pastors from a “consumer’s” view of their ministry has increased my admiration for what they do—for the overall Adventist mission, for the flock they serve, and for me. What follows is prompted by a review of Romans 16. But the times and names are disguised.
I will always praise the Lord for Pastor D, now deceased, who in the early days taught me it was okay to let others minister to me when I needed it—and he taught me to recognize that I needed it more than I thought. Then there was Pastor G who, while I was rarely in his congregation, made real the transformative grace of the Lord every Sabbath. His worship team worked so well with him to maximize the impact of what it means to be both a hearer and a doer of the Word—in the right order and with the right motivation.
Every time I saw Pastor J he asked about various things going on in my role, and when I listened to him, whether from the pulpit or in his study, I heard almost a prophetic voice challenging me to go deeper and deeper in commitment. I praise the Lord for Pastor I, whose leadership skills and heartfelt caring under the most trying of circumstances continue to inspire me to greater concerns for people over policy and programs. I will always appreciate Pastor G, who still calls me just to check in. After he chides me for leaving his conference, he pastors me, and in those conversations I hope to continue to return the favor. And a different Pastor J challenges me to wrestle with the tough theological questions.
Not long ago, my family came into an awareness of a very specific, personal and real prayer opportunity. Time was of the essence but my travel schedule leaves very little room for spur-of-the-moment spontaneity. Knowing this, my pastor and his wife agreed to meet with us very early on a Sabbath morning, when it was most inconvenient for them. They were willing to make that sacrifice because they have pastoral hearts.
This past summer while attending the ASI convention and Division leadership meetings, I was geographically close enough to make a quick visit to my father’s final earthly resting place. He was a pastor for 42 years and a chaplain after that for another six. All those years, he too was “my pastor.” That legacy is a treasure trove beyond human valuation.
There are many others whom I have not mentioned. But all of them, through the wonderful gift of memory, continue to feed and water my soul and I thank the Lord for each of them.
Have you prayed for your pastor today? Have you told him or her of your prayer support? Have you said thank you?