I was once a pastor. I hope you can find some wisdom in my journey. This is the first of a four-part series, where I envision sharing with you:
- Why I Was Once a Pastor,
- Why I Am No Longer a Pastor,
- Why I Still Am a Pastor, and
- Why I May Never Be a Pastor Again.
For many Christian churches, October is considered “Pastor Appreciation Month.” As someone who served in pastoral ministry for a number of years, holding credentials with the Assemblies of God, and who let those credentials lapse after serving nearly a decade as a Lead Pastor, I thought it might be helpful to share my journey to encourage those in pastoral ministry to remain faithful, remembering that “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18b, ESV).
For those of you who serve in a local Christian fellowship, but who are not involved in pastoral ministry, my hope is that you will come to understand the unique role of pastoral ministry in the life of the church, and “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).
WHY I WAS ONCE A PASTOR
I can convey the reasons I became a pastor with two words: Grace and Calling. First and foremost, no pastor is worthy of the call that God has placed upon them. Like all of humanity, we are under bondage to sin, with no righteousness to call our own, and our salvation does not come by superior dedication, greater holiness, or deeper spirituality. Like everyone else, we are required to recognize what the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God, so eloquently stated:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
~ Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV
God’s grace touched my life, He led me on a journey of faith, and that is why I was once a pastor. My earliest recollections include a sense of God’s presence, at work within our world, and the recognition at the age of eleven, on January 17, 1971, that Christ had suffered and died on the cross for me. He died to rescue me from my sinful condition, to understand that “… you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:13-15, ESV).
It was in an emotional encounter with God in a small Wesleyan church, on that Sunday in January, that I came to understand that Christ had died for me, and first became aware that God had called me to share that message with others. However, in spite of a powerful encounter with a living God, I refused both the call to grace and the call to ministry. I made a decision to live my own life by my own standards.
Nine long years would follow as I descended into a hell of my own making. Years of alcoholism, drug addiction, wandering, ending in a breakdown and early, but honorable, discharge from the United States Navy left me weary and broken. However, I hadn’t hit bottom yet! That would be precipitated by a motorcycle accident which left me temporarily on my back, and brought the fear of death as a strong presence in my life.
That fear was broken, when during a Sunday evening service, on August 22, 1982, at an Assemblies of God church, I walked the aisle, planted my face at the altar, and finally submitted my life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. At the ripe old age of twenty, I was convinced that I had already squandered most of my life, and the opportunity to answer the call God had placed upon it. I was simply grateful for the loving grace He had bestowed on me, by allowing me to come into His kingdom in spite of my many sins. I fully recognized that I was at the mercy of a righteous, just, holy, and loving God.
Then came the call.
I had entered into a period of fasting. I was still a bit of an odd duck, not sure where I fit in the life of the church, or what my purpose was in this new life I now shared in Christ with so many others. So, I grabbed my gigantic boom box, and my trusty Amplified Bible, to spend the day at one of Midland, Michigan’s beautiful parks. As I was reading through Scripture, I turned to the book of Jeremiah, and these words jumped off the page, coming alive in my inner being:
Then the word of the Lord came to me [Jeremiah], saying,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew [and] approved of you [as My chosen instrument], and before you were born I separated and set you apart, consecrating you; [and] I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
Then said I, Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am only a youth.
But the Lord said to me, Say not, I am only a youth; for you shall go to all to whom I shall send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Be not afraid of them [their faces], for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.
Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
See, I have this day appointed you to the oversight of the nations and of the kingdoms to root out and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.
~ Jeremiah 1:4-10, AMP
Now, I knew that this passage was referring to Jeremiah, I wasn’t experiencing a manic or megalomaniac moment. This can be difficult to understand for those who haven’t had such an experience, and not all pastors have experienced such an emotionally powerful call. But there are times, when the Spirit of God suddenly brings a passage of Scripture alive, stirs your very heart, and says, “This is what I am also saying to you!” That’s what happened on this fall day.
I didn’t feel special, significant, or incredibly gifted. I was simply overwhelmed by the grace of a God who could still call me, even though I had already failed to answer that call earlier.
I was overwhelmed by anxiety, fear of failure, and humbled by the task, even as the Lord said He would put His words in my mouth.
I was terrified to be called through the story of Jeremiah, who suffered so much in answering the call of God, and though faithful in the call, would also experience the misery of seeing his beloved city, Jerusalem, and it’s people destroyed and scattered among the nations.
So, I became a pastor, because I could do nothing else. However, this is only the beginning of my faith story…