In a previous post I spoke about those early months in ministry. Those months seemed like years! So much took place and much learning happened and little by little I settled in as pastor. It was almost as if one day I woke up and my normal movements, thinking, and inclination was that of a pastor.
I was blessed that my first pastoral experience was as an associate pastor of a mid-size congregation. They were vibrant, always on the go, and hungry for God’s movement in them. Their Sr. Pastor was wise mentor and knew me well. This mixture of dynamic congregation and Sr. Pastor as willing partner was pivotal in establishing in me good rhythms of pastoral life.
The other day one of the ladies of our church stopped by the office with her three daughters. We checked in on a few things about the church and soon her daughters had made themselves comfortable in the space. They were climbing on chairs, playing with the toys (I always have toys on the bottom shelf of one of my bookcases), and looking at all the “things” that brother Juan (that’s what they call me here) has all around his office. The conversation was coming to a close, the mother tells her daughters “let’s get out of here, brother Juan is busy!,” immediately one of the girls looks at me and asks “What is it that you do?”
How do I explain my vocation and work to an eight year old? I turned my chair around and began to tell her about preaching, teaching, about checking in on people (especially if they were sick), and about study. So far nothing seem to impress her . . . it seemed boring! Then I said that my favorite part of my job was talking to people like her who just dropped by! With a big smile on her face she went on and soon came back with a drawing of Jesus for my office.
These are the rhythms I learned from a congregation that cared enough to teach me and a mentor who loved enough to model. Some years ago Bishop Will Willimon was quoted in an article on the Christian Century by Jason Byassee called What do associate pastors want? Team Players, Willimon says “ministry is mostly learned through apprenticing.” After these important early years of ministry I could not agree more!
After three years as an associate I was appointed as pastor in charge of a small rural congregation in my home conference. The transition was enormous, going from a dynamic, fast moving, growing congregation to a small, dying one is not easy. I no longer have partners all around me to help dream dreams and see visions. There is no longer the hustle and bustle of the small city that I could hear from my office. But every morning I wake up and remember that I am a pastor and the rhythms of pastoral life that I learned help me walk into the empty church building and lead this congregation into the fullness that God is calling it to live.
The rhythms of pastoral life become the incarnation of God’s call to this life!