One year ago today (march 21) we pulled into the parsonage driveway in Harper, Kansas, driving a great big moving van. This marks my 5th year in ministry but my first as a full time, solo pastor.
When I initially came to Harper, I was attracted to the church because I thought I wanted to be a youth pastor. In fact, I initially told them that I wasn’t interested simply because it was a solo position and not an associate position. However, the church had (and still does have) a very large youth group which peaked my interest. It’s what got me in the door. The youth program is also what consumed the first 6 months of my time and energy as I worked diligently to paint a picture of relational youth ministry for the church. But in the last several months, I’ve begun to be consumed with other things. Namely, I’ve spent a large amount of time and pastoral energy on leading the church through a study on Spiritual Gifts.
This has partly led to a shift in how I view myself.
Coming out of Seminary I was pretty focused on being a youth pastor. For Pete’s sake my degree is MDiv with a youth ministry concentration. As I considered the possibility of taking a solo position at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church I had to undergo something of an existential transformation.
Was I a youth pastor, or was I lead pastor?
I spent many an hour talking with trusted friends, teachers and colleagues who knew me well enough to be a mirror into my soul. After going through seminary, sure I probably had the skills to pull it off, but who was I? Was my identity that of a youth pastor or of something different.
I have spent the past year asking myself what it means for me to be a solo pastor.
This question has given me pause in some ultimately very helpful ways. I came to this position a year ago not really knowing what it meant for me to be a solo pastor. I have often explicitly said that I am still figuring this thing out and that I didn’t want to over extend myself with too many tasks or obligations that I wasn’t sure that I could handle. Guided by the question “what are the right things for me to be doing” I have worked at figuring out what my routine should look like and where I need to give my time and attention. It has also meant that I have been conscious to find people to take on tasks that I know that I cannot handle or do not have the time and energy for.
When I began last year I definitely had a focus on youth ministry. While I haven’t necessarily lost that focus, I have grown into a more well rounded understanding of my job. This shift has mainly been spurred on by two things; preaching and visiting.
I have now been preaching for an entire year. On a regular basis. Every week. Honestly, I was terrified about what I was going to fill those sermons with. As it has turned out, I’ve occasionally had some thin sermons, but more often than not, I have to cut myself off so I don’t go too long. I have come to enjoy preaching, and the process of regularly preparing sermons, much more than I expected to.
I also didn’t expect to enjoy visiting people as much as I do. Yes I’m extroverted and can be high strung, which means that I’ve usually directed that energy towards the youth. The idea of visiting people dying in a hospital and home bound nonagenarians didn’t exactly give me goosebumps. However, after regularly visiting a select group of PVMC’s finest members I have grown to have a deep appreciation for the wisdom and perspective on life that they have. I have been blessed in a way that I was sincerely not expecting. All of this adds up to something of a surprising conclusion.
I think I like being a solo pastor.
I still don’t have the administrative skills to be the lead pastor on a large pastoral team, but I have certainly come to enjoy much of the work that the lead/solo pastor position entails. For someone that thought he was called to work directly with youth, the realization that I actually enjoy all of the other stuff as much or (dare I say it) even more than working with youth is definitely an odd feeling.
Once again, I have been reminded that even though I think I’m being faithful to the calling of God, that God’s plans are usually different, but always better, than my plans. Ask me again in a year, but one year out I can say that coming to PVMC was still the right decision and that it looks to be that way for quite a while.