>Image by Jason A. Samfield via Flickr
This is not an easy question.
See, in the United Methodist Church we’re famous for moving our pastors every few years…it used to be fewer than it is now. And, with frequent moves, when the spiritual or intellectual well seems to be drying up, we move on to a new location where everything is fresh and new again. The problem with this, of course, is that we often start at the beginning…all over again. We need to learn the tricks of our new environment. We need to build rapport with congregation and community. We need to adapt our styles and “learn the ropes.” We need to go through all the trauma of moving families and spouses, sometimes with new jobs and new schools.
This is not an unimportant question for me. I’ve been very clear with our own congregation that United Methodist pastors are appointed on a yearly basis. I know where I’m going to be this year. I can speak to nothing else at this point. I’m here and I will serve as best I can where I am…even though I admit that I could get the word that I’m going to move at any time. I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder for the Superintendent or Bishop coming after me. But I am honest about it.
But I have wondered about how to thrive in the ministry to which God has called me. I’ve been here ten years. How do pastors stay in churches for 10 or 20 or 30 years? How do they keep fresh?
I know some of the basic, safe, and very true answers to this: Pray…stay in The Word…never stop learning…take care of yourself and your family…make sure you take time off…find your passions.
But I like what Rivers writes:
When I entered the ministry, I went to visit my childhood pastor to ask his advice. This is a man whose study is filled with journals he’s kept for decades. I expected him to send me away with a note pad filled with wisdom for the journey. Instead, without any hesitation, he said, “Be true to yourself.”
I asked myself, “Is that all?”
I realize now that was all I needed to hear. I can’t tell you how much this simple phrase has blessed me over the years. Ministry often entails trying to be all things to all people. But there comes a point where you really do have to draw the line and be authentic. The more I’ve practiced that, the more I have enjoyed the gift of being accepted for who I am.
One of the very great gifts of Girdwood Chapel UMC has been their ability to accept me for who I am. For 10 years I have not felt like I’ve had to be someone I’m not. I haven’t felt a need to apologize for my colloquialism. I haven’t felt like I’ve had to have a different persona when I’m with church folks and when I’m not. I’ve felt like the community has allowed me that as well. It has been a great blessing.
And, as I look toward the years ahead I need to see what it is that God is calling me to in this place…recognizing that, if I’m true to myself and my God, good things will happen.