Most of the pastors I know took fairly similar vocational paths. They began by doing youth ministry or preaching (at small churches) in their early twenties, usually while working on their seminary degree. They typically have 20+ years of experience by the time they reach my age (mid-40’s).

My path has been a little different. I spent most of my 20’s in drug rehab–as a counselor, that is. I usually went to school on Mondays (working on my master’s degree at NOBTS) and worked Tuesday through Friday/Saturday at a drug treatment center in Birmingham, AL. I eventually moved to New Orleans to finish the before-mentioned degree (and spent more time in rehab there–yes, as a counselor). I invested the next season of my life (11 years) as a missionary in the Philippines.

I won’t rehash everything that happened when I returned to the United States with my wife (I’ve already written about that in my Life 3.0 post). I’ll just summarize it this way: it took us over three years to find my current place of ministry.

It’s been a full, blessed year since I became the pastor of Apollo Heights Baptist church. We celebrated this milestone with a high attendance Sunday today.

I decided to share a few reflections from this past year. I don’t claim that any of my observations are unique or original. Many of them, in fact, sound more like overused clichés.

Pastoring is a marathon, not a sprint.

I warned you about clichés, didn’t I?

But this one is certainly true of the pastorate. We’re a small church (around 80 worshipers on a typical Sunday), but it seemed to take a long time for me to learn everyone’s name. It has taken me a while to develop a “feel” for the different personalities in our congregation, but I’m still learning.  That’s just our church–it’s taking me even longer to figure out what “works” in our community in terms of outreach, etc. I think I might have Roberts Rules of Order figured out by the time I retire (maybe). You get the idea–I’m just scratching the surface after a year.

Change is hard.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t really want to be an agent of change during my first pastorate in the USA. I hoped to be more of a “game manager” (to use a football analogy) or a “maintenance” type leader. God had other plans. Our church has many strong points, but we really need to make some adjustments in order to more effectively reach our community. Studying Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church helped us to see this. Leading us through some of these first steps has been challenging, but it has also been very rewarding.

You can’t please everyone.

“If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Go sell ice cream.” -Eric Geiger

I always like to hear the bad news first so here goes: some people just can’t be pleased–including some “church people.” No need to go into details.

This probably would have bothered a younger version of me. But now I understand that trying to please everyone will paralyze a pastor/leader (or anyone else, for that matter). God has hopefully cured me of most of my people pleasing ways.

This quote also helps me keep things in perspective:

“If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” – CH Spurgeon

God’s people are pretty amazing.

I’ve shared the bad news about people, but there’s really great news: watching God’s people at work is one of the greatest joys of being a pastor. I’m constantly amazed at the way our church members give, serve, and care. Many of our senior adults have inspired me by putting their own personal preferences aside for the sake of the gospel. For every disappointment there have been dozens of these “wow” moments, and it’s a beautiful thing.

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” -Proverbs 15:22

“If you think you are leading, but no one is following, then you’re only taking a walk.” -John C. Maxwell

There’s something else I want to point out while I’m on this topic. I’ve had to ignore a few naysayers, but I know better than to disregard the godly wisdom that is available in our congregation. The advice from the mature saints in my church has been extremely valuable.

Love covers a multitude of sins

I’m sure I’ve made plenty of mistakes during this first year. My congregation has graciously overlooked them.

God is Faithful

This is the most important lesson from the past year, or the past 45 years, for that matter. God has proven Himself over and over. His mercies are new every morning, and His blessings are far greater than I’ll ever deserve.

Mare Cris and I are deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve and for an incredible year of ministry.