I’m going to school to be a pastor.
That’s a weird sentence for me to say. Though I believe the level of training is involved in order to become a pastor, I believe it is also a spiritual gift. There is this idea of pastoring, of shepherding, of going alongside loving a flock of sheep. (Not that I think congregations are sheep, though I suppose, some might debate me.)
Pastor is not a title I know how to wear.
“Pastor” is more a relational term than anything else.
This summer, I served in a church in London, and the congregation there called my group (and me) missionaries. I’ve never been one to consider myself a missionary, nor did I consider myself a missionary when they called me one. While I believe everyone serves as a missionary in some aspect or another, I do not identify with the call of a missionary. So, being referred to as a missionary was foreign to me. It was a title I didn’t ever claim to wear. It was a hat I never put on—except maybe for the two months I spent serving in London this summer. Though I am attending school, pursuing a ministry degree, the term pastor also seems somewhat foreign to me.
The only time I can remember really being called a pastor was one afternoon after a long day of VBS. Some of the kids in my church were playing around upstairs until they heard me walk by, and then they stopped what they were doing. Maybe I should have been worried they were causing havoc, but maybe they quieted down because they thought they’d get scolded for being too loud. At any rate, I heard them whisper: “Shh… she’s a pastor” as I walked by.
I know a lot of pastors. I usually respectfully referred to pastors with the title “pastor” or “reverend” and then their name. However there are a handful of pastors in my life who have mentored me. Those pastors somehow lose their names altogether. To me, they are “Pastor.” That title holds a lot of weight. My pastors have each shaped me. They have shaped the way I view of how a pastor acts. They have shaped my definition of a pastor. They have demonstrated for me what a pastor really is—what a pastor really looks like.
I can count the number of pastors I consider my pastors on one hand.
The summer, while my team and I were working with the church, we got to know the pastor a lot better. Every Friday morning, we would gather at his house for prayer with some of the congregation members. Every other Monday night, we would gather at the church with the congregation where we would study the Bible. It was there in those times of prayer and Bible study we really saw the pastor for who he was. We heard stories, and over lunches together, we would really learn his heart. We saw his passion for people. It was through these experiences, that he became Pastor. We referred to him simply as Pastor. Even now as my teammates talk about our summer and we talk about the people we got to know, we still call Pastor simply Pastor. Because that’s what he was to us: a pastor.
Before I entered high school, I knew three different youth pastors. When I started high school, a new youth pastor started working at my church. He made the promise to stay for six years. He also worked as a janitor at my school. I know that’s not an ideal job for anyone, nor was it an ideal job for him. But he was willing to work a less-than-ideal job because he knew the importance of sticking around. He knew the importance of consistency. It was through those years I learned the importance of a pastor who valued the ministry of presence. He was there through a lot of highs and lows. I am sure there were a lot of people who called him janitor, but to me he was my pastor.
Then there’s my senior pastor. He’s been the pastor of our church for over twenty-five years. If you’re in one place for over 25 years, you see a lot of changes. There’s no doubt consistency and staying in one place has been important to him. And it’s important to the people around you—to the people you serve. It was by talking to him, over cups and cups of coffee over the years that I was able to decipher my own calling. It was through watching him and listening to him preach that I first learned how to preach. My preaching styles have changed, I learned how to develop sermons better than when I started, but I learned a lot of what the pastoral office looks like by watching my pastor.
My pastor has been in the hospital for the last seven months. He was in the hospital for a month before they knew what was wrong, but they diagnosed him with West Nile. It is been a long road of recovery. It is been a long road of physical therapy and relearning how to walk. Coming home and going to church felt different without him there. It was like being home, but not really being home. He will be coming home next week.
It was through his absence I learned how you hurt when people you care about are hurting. I know people throughout the world were praying for him. Even my statistics professor knew him and remembered him and his wife from his time attending seminary. Though I suppose there isn’t that much distance between North Dakota and Kansas, especially not when you realize that people from Africa South Africa and Russia were praying for him. People over the world call him pastor, too. If this title of pastor that’s really so much more than a title, so much more than a hat you put on and take off. It is who you are. It shapes every action. My pastor has modeled that.
Eugene Peterson wrote a memoir titled “The Pastor.” In it he writes:
“I came across a poem by Denise Levertov in which she uses the phrase ‘every step an arrival.’ She was giving an account of her development as a poet. I recognized in her phrase a metaphor for my own formation as a pastor: every step along the way—becoming the pastor I didn’t know I was becoming and the person I now am, an essential component that was silently and slowly being integrated into a coherent life and vocation—an arrival.
“I can’t imagine now not being a pastor. I was a pastor long before I knew I was a pastor; I just never had a name for it. Once the name arrived, all kinds of things, seemingly random experiences and memories, gradually began to take a form that was congruent with who I was becoming, like finding a glove that fit my hand perfectly — a calling, a fusion of all the pieces of my life, a vocation: Pastor.”