Pastors have a very difficult job. It’s emotionally demanding, physically exhausting, and mentally draining. They’re on-call constantly, visiting congregation members in hospitals and homes, preparing Biblically sound, culturally relevant messages, performing weddings, dedications, and funerals, planning midweek programs and Bible studies, all while overseeing the business of their church and ministry. Through all the heartache and frustration and lack of pay, pastors continue to work because the reward a pastor gets isn’t the paycheck they take home. It isn’t the accolades from peers, or the advancement in career. Their reward is in seeing lives changed and renewed, which sometimes isn’t seen for years.
I’ve had the privilege of being under the ministry of many pastors in my lifetime. It would be impossible to list every pastor who has touched my life, so I narrowed it down to seven pastors who have had the most significant impact, not just on my life, but on my ministry.
Dad: the pastor who was my parent
My first pastor was my dad. He was the pastor of a church, but he was first and foremost the pastor of his family. He sat us down for family devotions every night, he played preaching as background noise for just about every activity we did, he demonstrated a love of Scripture and a personal walk with God, and if I ever woke early and ventured down to the living room I found my dad on his knees praying for his family. To this day, when I have a theological or biblical question, I can ask my dad. He taught me by example that the most important aspect of my ministry as a pastor is to cultivate my own relationship with God.
Jim and Dee: the pastors who lived their ministry
They were my pastors when I was a young child. I don’t remember a lot about their theology or their business practices or their program planning. What stands out to me is how much they genuinely cared about every member of their congregation. I was never treated like a kid who needed to be entertained and kept out of the way. I was simply a younger member of the congregation, another one of the people they felt so strongly the call to love. From my young perspective, ministry meant love, care, and laughter. Along with my immediate family, the church was also my family. I have many fond memories of church services and fellowship and long conversations between the grown-ups when I would listen in, alternately gleaning insights for my own life and being incredibly bored. I remember service projects where my pastors got to know me by working alongside me. There was always laughter when our church family gathered, because we all knew we were with pastors who loved. If there is one thing I gleaned for my own ministry from Jim and Dee, it was the value of loving the congregation, not through fancy preaching, but in the small moments of fellowship and service.
Ellen: the pastor who instilled ownership in the congregation
Through the years I’ve witnessed many leadership styles, many decision-making methods, and many justifications for decisions. I’ve heard a lot of pastors who say “This is how we’ll do it” because, “I like it that way” or “I’ve done it before so I know what I’m talking about.” Ellen was different. She took the approach that the congregation needed to be involved in decisions because it was their church. She was able to look at the big picture, realized she would not be the pastor forever, and pushed the people to give their input. I remember her often saying “This is your church, not mine.” And that’s a lesson that has stuck with me all these years. There are a lot of drawbacks to serving in a denomination that transfers pastors, but one of the strengths is the reminder that the pastor does not own the church. Ellen’s ministry still sticks with me to this day as I lead my congregation. I hope that I, too, am not taking charge of the church as if I own it, but instead, leading the congregation to take ownership of their own church.
Shannon: the pastor who pushed me
When I was a teen I got a card from my pastor telling me how much leadership and teaching potential she saw in me. She also said she was praying that God would reveal his will to me, and she suggested, ever so subtly that his will might be for me to become a pastor. I tucked the card away, but was reminded of her sincere words when I did respond to God’s call to ministry only a few months later. That simple card, probably long forgotten, was significant because it reminds me of how she was constantly pushing me just a little past my comfort zone. Under her leadership I did just about everything on the bulletin, even preaching my first sermon. As I look at the members of my congregation and see the potential each member has for their own ministry, I hope I can have the same wisdom to push them past where they are, but not so hard that I push them away.
Greg and Poppy: the pastors who were my bosses
For three and a half summers while I worked at camp, they were my pastors. Also my boss. They were the first pastors I had outside the traditional church setting. They had a significant ministry and left a significant impact on my life. When I was upset, they counseled me. When I was excited, they celebrated with me. When I had questions about God’s call and a future in ministry, they shared honestly with me. I think about those pastors often as I look at my own ministry. Long ago I decided my ministry wasn’t limited to the people who fill the pews on Sunday morning. My congregation is the child who comes to the midweek children’s program, it’s the volunteer who comes to wash the windows, it’s the staff that works in my building every week day, it’s the woman who comes to Bible study, it’s the community members I see every week in my service club. I’m thankful to the first pastors who showed me the broad scope of ministry.
Wayne and Patricia: the pastors who opened their home
When I traveled across the country to California for college, I found a church in my new town and the pastors welcomed me in, gave me a home away from home and a free place to do laundry. They eased the homesickness that came from being hundreds of miles from my family. They were an encouragement through my transition to college life, and college schedules. They gave me a place of ministry and even an opportunity to preach. In my ministry, I seek to welcome and encourage my congregation in the same way.
Heather: the pastor who was my peer
It was a cold Sunday afternoon in January when I got the phone call that shattered my world. It was a friend and colleague who had called to give me the devastating news that my infant nephew had passed away. I’ll never forget the days that followed as I joined my family in grief and funeral preparations. That same friend stood by my side as I said my final goodbyes to my nephew. Two years later when unexpected death once again took my family by surprise, my friend was at my side. When I look back to those dark days of grief, I can be thankful for a friend who looked past the traditional roles of friendship and took the time to minister to me in a pastoral role. Her ministry to me still resonates as I also find myself in situations where I am the one offering pastoral care to a friend in need.
I am thankful for the pastors God has brought into my life who have ministered to me, bringing wealth into my own ministry as I pastor my congregation. Which pastor impacted your life? Whose ministry still echoes in your ministry today?
October is pastor appreciation month. Take time to say thank you to your pastor. They work hard and sometimes don’t realize what kind of impact they have on you.