My friend, Fr Rob Merola, in the DC area St Matthew’s Sterling, wrote a wonderful post about his twenty-five years of ministry, and it’s not a little moving for Kris and me because Rob and his wife (then fellow student) Linda did some babysitting for our children when they were small.
Today is the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. It seems like in the course of that time, I should have learned something about my craft, and I’d like to think I have. So I spent some time reflecting on this, and here is some of what I came up with.
1. When I look back over the years, it’s not so much “my accomplishments” that I remember. It’s the people. I think if was going to give my newly ordained self some advice, I think I’d say, “Don’t worry so much about being a visionary, or being relevant, or finding strategies to grow your church. Just love the people God brings your way, and love them well.”
2. The more “in-step” with my calling I’ve been, the more “out-of-step” I’ve been with the culture around me. Maybe another way of saying that is that being hip isn’t worth it. Being true is.3. Managing energy is so much more important than managing time. A pastor has to know what makes the fire in his belly blaze like the sun. If a pastor allows himself to become depleted, all the time in the world won’t help.
4. Whether through death or disagreement or a hundred other ways, people will always be leaving you. It will not always or even often be personal, but it will always feel personal. To the degree that a pastor is true to his calling and loves these people well, a piece of him (or her) will always leave with them. What will be left? Perhaps more than anything else, this can turn an inspired, enthusiastic new pastor into a sad, broken person. This is one with which I think every pastor must find a way to make peace, and to do so very early on. I cannot overstate how much is riding on this one.
5. As Job knew only too well, doing everything right doesn’t keep the bad stuff away. Call it what you will, but there is a capriciousness to life that can, and most likely will, cause a pastor who is honest to question everything. There had better be some good people who know a pastor well enough and love that pastor deeply enough to help carry him or her through, because there is a very good chance that absent such folks, that pastor won’t make it through all alone.
Perhaps this is the place to stop for now, and to say thanks to all those people who have helped me, and who continue to help me , not only make it through but to see God’s glory in it all. And seeing the glory of God is something I would wish for all of you as well, because even after 25 years, I have never known or experienced anything else like it.