Sunday, March 20th, was “officially” my one year anniversary at my current church as the associate pastor (or youth pastor, really). And let me tell you– it’s been awesome. There are so many things I could say, so many stories I could tell, so many people I could thank. I keep a certain level of anonymity here, so I’ll save those for people who get it. Suffice it to say, it’s been a wonderful year. It’s made my heart full. And Praise God for it. In light of the first full year I have spent as a pastor, allow me to reflect on what I have learned. Please do enjoy. Or don’t. Your call.
I don’t have any idea what I’m doing… that’s what church family is for.
With it being the first year for me, inside of that first year were lots of other “firsts.” It was my first youth summer camp. I have to plan my first curriculum. I had my first counseling session. I baptized my first student. There were a lot of firsts. About the only ministry skill I had coming into this role was the ability to craft and deliver sermons. Other than that, they hired a college graduate with a fiancé (who is now my wife) who was called to ministry. And let me tell you, to anyone reading this who has spent the last year with me: thank you for all of your help! Whether it was planning meals for my students, trying to figure out how to work the sound system, or choosing which camp we went to, two things were true: I didn’t know what to do, but someones else did. I wouldn’t be the pastor I am without my wife. And I certainly wouldn’t have had the year I have had without my church family. And that’s on my mama.
Pastoring is more like parenting, coaching, shepherding… and all sorts of other things…. in one.
How foolish of me to assume that pastoring was one-dimensional. Boy, was I wrong. I have spent years of my life in church, around pastors. I even have done internships with pastors. And I just thought I knew what to expect (those will be my famous last words). I sure didn’t know pastoring would be such an amalgamation (big word, there) of so many roles. As a pastor, you’re always shepherding and overseeing (think 1 Peter 5 or so). This requires all of the spiritual leadership you think of– teaching, praying, etc. But I also have had to be a party planner. Then, there are times when I have had to be an accountant. Yet still, there are times when I have had to step in a level a bit of soft “parenting” to a student. Other times, I have to be the bad guy, saying things to a fellow member or student that will make them upset with me. I also simultaneously lead and follow other members of my church. Being a “pastor” doesn’t mean wearing different “hats.” Being a pastor means simply being faithful and present. And that, my friends, can look like 7 different things, 7 days in a row. And honestly? It’s awesome.
Spiritual growth is best served consistently
I am a big “process” guy. I like to have habits, build routines, be consistent. Some of this comes from my days as a college football player. I like when things are predictable. The best and most successful part of the last year, as far as practicals are concerned, has been building a consistent ecosystem inside the youth group. There are rarely any surprises. We have built a very systematic environment for the kids to be in. Through this, we have seen tremendous spiritual growth because there has been no distractions. They know what to expect when they show. They are going to take the Bible, read it, understand it (or try to), and we are going to enjoy doing it. There is always a party or event on the horizon. But we have built a culture. I have tried to give the kids what they haven’t gotten for two years, and that is consistency. Kids don’t need lights, loud music, events, camps, or games. They need stability. And they want authenticity. We have tried to build that, and by the grace of God, I think we’ve gotten pretty close. Praise be to the LORD– he’s the best.
Pastoring has made me soft
One of the things we do as human beings is create emotional attachment. As a pastor, a large percentage of the day-to-day is spending time with people. In my case, it is usually students. As I have done this over a long period of time, I have really learned to truly love the students under my supervision. They make fun of me a lot because I turn into a full-blown team mom when we do things together. Just recently, I played drums for a Sunday morning service. Several of my students were singing and playing instruments on this particular Sunday for the band. As I heard a chorus of their voices sing, I just began to cry there, behind the drums, like a weirdo. When you pastor people, you see their highest highs and their lowest lows. You hear their greatest dreams and their biggest fears. It’s rewarding, but it can also be gutting. Pastoring has made me love more deeply, more often than I once did. I used to callous myself to the world, and I wouldn’t allow myself to love certain people. When you’re a pastor, you see the broken homes, the addictions, the struggle. And it forces you to either shield up, and thus forfeit being a true shepherd. Or it forces you to soften up and love those in your care with a gentleness really only Christ can provide. I’m not saying I’m good at it… but I have chosen the latter. And I’m better for it.
Most importantly, “Great is your faithfulness.”
Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 3, to the LORD, “Great is your faithfulness.” I can sum up the whole year, really my whole life, in those 4 words. Ask my wife. Ask my church. Ask my senior pastor. Where we are, all of us, right now, is purely and only a testament to the LORD. It’s been a wonderful year. I have come on staff at the best church I’ve been to. I have tied the knot with my favorite person in the whole world. We live in a great place, and so many blessings abound. When I think of the last year, my first year, as a pastor, I can’t help but just be grateful. Words really fail to describe what it means to be here, in this moment. Truly, honestly, the LORD is faithful. I have spent roughly one calendar year waking up every day seeing that in the life of my local church.
Being a pastor is truly unlike anything I thought it could be. It’s awesome. It’s hard. It’s weird. It’s fulfilling. It’s stressful. It’s taxing. It’s sweet. It’s fleeting. It’s laborious. It’s only possible through Jesus. Have I learned more than this? Of course I have. But how many words did you want to read? 96,000?
I distinctly remember those conversations I had with people about this moment. I remember talking to Magna, Pastor Miguel, Nidia. I remember meeting with Adam to tell him I just felt so compelled to pastor I couldn’t stand it. I remember Jeff affirming so many things in my life. I remember Chip telling me he wanted to mentor me. I remember Forsyth Baptist Church taking a chance on me. I remember Mom and Dad telling me they were proud of me. I remember my teammates calling me “Pastor Coop.” I remember Thomas walking alongside me, answering my questions. And now, I spend my days with my wife here, supporting me, along with our wonderful local church family.
To all those who helped me get here, to all those who are with me here, to all those who will be with me eventually, thank you. It’s only because of God’s work through you that I can even sit here and be thankful.
And to the savior of my soul, Jesus Christ, who takes away the sins of the world, I echo the words of Jeremiah: great is your faithfulness.
“May the words of my mouth and meditation of my hear be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”